‘The Affair’ Review: Noah Turns Into a Madman

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As of this past Sunday, we are halfway through the third season of The Affair, and the affairs of the main characters are in disarray, as is the series itself. Remember when this show started and it adhered to a pretty strict, he-remembers/she-remembers structure in telling the stories of its four main characters: Noah (Dominic West), Helen (Maura Tierney), Alison (Ruth Wilson), and Cole (Joshua Jackson)? Well, that framework was dismantled a while ago — or, rather, I should say, you still have scenes introduced as “Part 1: Alison” or “Part 2: Noah,” but the show plays fast and loose with the content of those scenes.

One result is a slackening of the pace of the series. On Sunday’s episode, for example, “Part 1: Alison” recalled a larky tryst with Noah on Block Island, but in “Part 2: Noah,” there were a few overlapping memory-contrasts of scenes similar to Alison’s point of view, but we also got a fair amount of Noah’s recovered memories of prison abuse featuring Brendan Fraser’s hulking, growling guard Gunther. One of those memories, in fact, ended with Noah recalling himself as a snarling, rage-filled, popeyed beast throwing himself at the cell bars in an attempt to get at Gunther after the guard had done something I’ll only refer to as obscenely naughty to a photograph of Alison.

That’s not the only kind of mad Noah got in this episode. He insisted that Alison spend the day with him on Block Island as a condition for his signing their divorce papers. And that free-spirited novelist — fresh out of three years in prison and an even more recent neck stabbing — decides to break into the property of some rich guy with a hot tub, take off all his clothes, give a Tarzan yell, and hop in, guzzling the guy’s wine and encouraging Alison to do the same. These arty types — they never learn — always prone to fits of crazy madman antics.

Honestly, it’s tough watching a full hour of Noah’s high jinks (and, inevitably, his emotion-crash low-jinks) plus all those close-ups of Alison’s down-turned-mouth worried looks. Especially when Maura Tierney’s Helen — always a bracing figure who frequently provides backbone to an episode — is not featured at all. The Affair used to operate well by having a narrative framework you could rely upon even when the unreliable narrators were busy remembering things differently. Now, things just seem to happen willy-nilly, almost at random, although I’m sure someone in the Affair writers’ room would throw a pencil at me for saying so. Nevertheless, since we have reached the seasonal halfway point, with the next new episode on Jan. 1, the dawn of the new year, I hope the remaining five episodes are pulled together more tightly. And no more naked-butt shots of Noah howling at the sun god, please.

The Affair airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.