Warning: This contains spoilers.
You’d think you’d seen it all when a typical extra-marital affair leads to deceit, destruction and death in a small East Coastal town. Well, you’re wrong; desertion, alimony and prison soon come into play in the third season of The Affair, television’s most captivating and authentic drama.
The end of season 2 saw Allison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West) face the biggest hurdle in their already complex relationship, after they were both involved (alongside Noah’s first wife Helen, portrayed by Maura Tierney) in the accidental death of Cole’s (Joshua Jackson) troubled brother, Scottie (Colin Donnell). (See our review of Season 2’s finale here.) Although Helen was behind the wheel, and Alison was the one who abruptly pushed Scottie in front of the moving vehicle, Noah was the one who pleaded guilty in a bid to save the mother of his children, as well as the new love of his life.
Season 3 kicks off three years later, where Noah has now served his three-year jail stint, and we see him in the midst of a divorce from Alison, as he attempts to get his life back on track. However, his post-prison life sees him haunted by the events that took place during his incarceration; events that are being revealed piece by piece via flashbacks, as the series progresses. And while all this is going on, Alison is also attempting to get her life back on track, after we discover that she suffered a breakdown six months prior, which resulted in her abandoning her young daughter. However, yet another spanner is thrown into the works when Alison succumbs to yet another sexual relationship with Cole, while keeping a distance from Noah in a bid to convince child services that she is not a threat. West and Wilson are so convincing as their complex and conceited characters that you forget that a. they’re British and b. it’s not real. That’s the beauty of this show and exactly what you want with any drama you dedicate yourself to.
Despite Alison, Noah and Cole being undeniably fascinating to watch (and by “watch”, we mean “judge”), the series’ most captivating character by far is Helen. Since the events that subsequently took place the night of Scottie’s death, Helen has felt extreme remorse for allowing her ex-husband to take the blame. We now see her in a somewhat divulged relationship with her boyfriend/tenant, while trying to reduce Noah’s sentence and raising four children. (Newsflash: real women are complex. And bear in mind that it is both Wilson and Tierney who have won Best Acting Golden Globe gongs for their performances in The Affair – proving once again that women are interesting to watch.)
The Affair is reminiscent of 1970s New Hollywood dramas; a time when good acting, good directing and good writing was all that you needed to keep a viewer entertained. The Affair takes time its time in unravelling its sequence of events and obtains such attention to detail – from the way a character glances to the refined, coastal setting – that qualities like this could often get overlooked these days, especially now that we have zombies, superheroes and CGI to compete with.
One of its most commendable components (and there are many) is that these lead characters are in no way likeable – in fact they are fairly detestable. The fact of the matter is that people are not always likeable and they’re not always going to do the right thing. Seeing characters like this unfold, therefore, is not only compelling but also relatable. Furthermore, while the programme’s leading female characters are both wives and mothers, these roles are not all that define them; women are confusing, infuriating creatures – and, again, this is refreshing to see on the screen.
Three seasons in, The Affair remains one of the best dramas gracing TV today. Formulaic, authentic and detailed viewing, it is patent proof that you don’t need to be shooting zombies or raising dragons to be entertaining.
Season 3 of The Affair is on Sky Atlantic at 9pm every Monday. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to other Sky channels, including Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) and FOX UK (The Walking Dead). Season 1 and 2 of The Affair are both available as box sets.
Photo: Phil Caruso/SHOWTIME