Take a Drink: for each difference in narratives you spot
Honestly, that should do ya, but bonus:
Take a Drink: whenever the cop shows up
Take a Drink: for phone calls
Take a Drink: for soft focus
Take a Drink: for passive aggressive references to class differences
Do a Shot: whenever you think you’ve figured out the “right” version of an event
Do a Shot: for sex, of course
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
This year, America was captivated by the story of a very bad man and his relationship with a very bad woman. We hear their story from both of their perspectives, which just muddies the waters. Who is lying? Who is the better person? A murder investigation blurs the lines between fact and fiction still further, until Tyler Perry shows up…
Ah shit, let me start over.
The Affair tells the other tale of a disintegrating marriage and a horrible crime told from the points of view of two quite possibly compulsive liars. One-time novelist Noah (Dominic West) and waitress with a tragic past Alison (Ruth Wilson) are both married to other people (Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson respectively), but that doesn’t stop them from starting a torrid affair. We learn this story as they tell it, separately, to a homicide detective trying to ascertain their involvement in the murder of another principal character from that ill-fated summer.
The central conceit of this show, adeptly ran by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, is simply brilliant. Basically speaking, each episode is divided into two 30 minute halves, one from Noah’s perspective, and one from Alison’s. At first the two halves covered the exact same events, but as the season goes on, sometimes they continue each others’ stories, only overlap for key scenes, or even show entirely different ones. Regardless, “The Truth” remains a giant blurred, indistinct area somewhere in between their two tales.
Guess who’s point of view this is from…
This makes for utterly fascinating viewing, as we learn about these characters both from their own self-image and their partner’s view of them, and all of the other characters through those two’s eyes. Figuring out what is real and what is embellished or even straight up manufactured is engrossing, and as we get to know the characters more we discover new motivations to lie or tell the truth. Even small imperfections in the stories feel like strokes of genius, as we filter them through the lens of the story the characters are telling.
The acting jobs in this show are particularly challenging, as everyone essentially has to play two versions of the same person. In support, the stacked cast is almost uniformly strong, but Alison’s in turns supportive and stone cold manipulative mother-in-law Mare Winningham, and Maura Tierney, a bit of a bitch in Alison’s perspective, but a complex figure full of privilege, earned indignation, and a veneer of coldness overlaying a core of love and what may be weakness in Noah’s, are the standouts.
Whitney’s an asshole in both versions, though.
This show belongs to West and Wilson, though. Wilson’s story, and acting, revolves around a deep past sadness, and her half of the episodes feels more emotionally deep and affecting, even if you can tell who she has grudges against and who she’s perhaps being too easy on in the retelling. In West’s perspective, though, she’s more of a dream girl, and in general his story is more novelistic, romantic but too pat and perfect. He generally seems to be more full of shit, but also more evenhanded with everyone but himself.
The filmmaking style also seems indebted to David Fincher, full of dreamy soft focus, high contrast foregrounds and backgrounds, and an expressionistic use of light and darkness.
While the dual perspective structure of the episodes remains throughout the season, it was a bit disappointing when they started to stray from covering the same events. The first episode, which told the exact same story from both sides, felt like an audacious, incredibly well-realized artistic choice, but as the season has gone along Treem & Levi seem to be retreating to safer stylistic waters.
The crime story, which, supremely mild spoiler alert, seems like it will be the main focus of Season 2, is also fairly underdeveloped, which is fine considering the character arcs deservedly were the main focus of the season. Still, when they introduce the homicide detective’s perspective in ways neither character would know anything about, it creates a problematic third perspective that is entirely exposition-driven. And damn, Oscar is pretty much only a plot convenience catch-all, eh?
Need a plot-driver? Who you gonna call?
The Affair is one of the most striking, captivating new television shows of the year, with near endless rewatchability and a stylistic conceit that ensures that you’ll be locked onto your screen for every minute.