Can a cheater be a great man? 'The Affair' Returns on Showtime

Category: Television


My lifelong curiosity about ‘people’ makes me psychoanalyze everybody and everything. In the last few years, the only show that allows me to do that to my heart’s content is Showtime’s The Affair.

The Affair has been exploring the emotional and psychological effects of an affair that shattered two marriages and the crime that keeps the star-crossed quartet intertwined. The first season (2014) was told from the adulterers’ perspectives; Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson). Sarah Treem, co-creator/executive producer, explained her stringent efforts not to judge them. “We kind of go into it believing that these were two good people who were committed to their marriages, that they weren’t serial philanderers. They weren’t looking to destroy anybody else’s happiness. And by chance, they’re both in very vulnerable places, and by chance, they meet somebody who they ultimately come to think is their true love.”

In Season 2 (2015), Treem added the perspectives of their spouses left behind, Helen Solloway (Maura Tierny) and Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), and depicted the devastating aftermath of the affair. Due to my personal experience of being left by my husband, I related to them in so many ways. When Noah refused to unleash Alison from his Muse status and see her as flesh and blood with emotional baggage, I even saw bits and pieces of myself in her. The only character I never identified with is Noah. Trust me. I’m not judging…I just didn’t get him until he showed his true colors towards the end of Season 2. Noah confessed his dilemma to his therapist, ’Can a cheater be a great accomplished man at the same time?’ Seriously? It sounds like a narcissistic statement disguised as a conundrum. Or is this a male ego thing? You know what they say. Once a cheater, always a cheater.

So you can imagine my amazement when I read Treem’s answer to the NY Times reader’s question in ‘Ask a Show Runner’ dated November 18, 2015. “People are always like, ‘You must hate Noah.’ And I’m like, are you kidding? Noah is me. I love Noah. And, actually, I think the whole writers’ room feels that way. We are Noah’s biggest fans because he’s the character we most identify with.” I don’t hate him, but identify with him? Not!!!

Season 3 picks up three years after Noah was incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. He tries his best to disconnect from everybody while a man with agenda keeps him in constant torment and anguish. Helen, Alison, and Cole are all drowning in their guilt, shame, anger, and frustration. Noah’s reclusive life makes you wonder…Sure, he took the rap for Alison, his new wife, and Helen, the mother of his four children, but was that out of the goodness of his heart? He might have unconsciously chosen to be locked up in order to escape from the gigantic mess he had created. The fifth P.O.V. is provided by Noah’s kindred spirit, Prof. Juliette Le Gall (Irène Jacob), a French medievalist who escaped the harsh reality in search of dangerous liaison on campus.

Treem promises to double down again on the idea of perspective this season. “We sort of asked ourselves, like, do we all know ourselves that well, or is it possible that we have a conscious self and that there is also a dark side that we are not particularly conscious of, another self, sort of shadow self that is actually controlling a lot of our actions.” This certainly is better than reading Debbie Ford’s enlightening guide, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. I will just sit back and enjoy the pages unfolding on screen every week.

The Affair returns Sunday, November 20, 2016 on Showtime.

About the Author

Meg Mimura is a TV critic who actually watches shows zealously in search of human drama worth watching. She is a member of Television Critics Association as well as Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.