The Affair was one of our favorite new series, let alone dramas, last year, and we certainly weren’t alone in that assessment, as it won the Golden Globe for best drama series. In its exploration of the emotional and psychological effects of an affair that shakes two marriages, Season 1 followed a Rashomon-style format by examining the memories of the two participants in the affair — Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson). Unsurprisingly, their recollections of the moments before, during and after the affair often differed wildly, and it was fascinating to watch West and Wilson play almost different versions of themselves, as depicted in the different memories.
In The Affair Season 2, expect that to be amped up considerably, as now, in addition to Noah and Alison, we also get to see the perspectives and recollections of their betrayed spouses — Noah’s former wife, Helen (Maura Tierney), and Alison’s former husband, Cole (Joshua Jackson).
Watching the first two episodes, the various memories do seem to differ even more greatly than some of those in Season 1, and you really wonder how two people living through the same moment can be worlds apart in their remembrance of the event. Some critics at a recent press conference thought the producers and writers might be cheating a bit, and it led to a discussion on the nature of human memory.
“I know it’s frustrating, actually,” said series creator, executive producer and showrunner Sarah Treem. “But the truth is, in situations that are quite stressful, people’s memories really start to diverge. I mean, some of the research that I think is the most interesting is the stuff about eyewitness accounts where people remember things that are just patently false and are revealed as such by security cameras or something like that. But they will swear up and down with their hand on the Bible that what they saw actually happened.
“So, as our characters got put in situations with more and more stress as the series went on, their recollections started to diverge. And as they themselves got sort of farther and farther apart from each other because of circumstance. Because they had told their spouses and they were no longer able to be together, again their memories started to get sort of radically different because they weren’t able to check in with each other anymore and retell the story together. So that was the principle that we were operating under.”
With all that being said, be prepared to pay even closer attention to The Affair in Season 2, as it continues to be thought-provoking and challenging — but rewarding — viewing. And in that viewing, it may not even be most helpful to study it in terms of finding out whose memory is “right,” but rather just to watch it as a fascinating glimpse into the complexities and tricks of the human mind. For good or bad, to each of these characters, what they are remembering is, ultimately, the “truth.”
The Affair Season 2 airs Sundays at 10pm ET/PT on Showtime beginning Oct. 4.