The TV show that behaves like a novel with a lot of unreliable narrators, The Affair returns on Sunday night for its second season. We’re still neck-deep in the same emotional mess — the busted marriages of Dominic West’s Noah and Maura Tierney’s Helen on one end, Ruth Wilson’s Alison and Joshua Jackson’s Cole on the other. We’re still following the fall-out from Noah’s arrest as the suspect in a killing. And of course The Affair retains its signature structure: the same scenes shown from different points of view.
But the new season increases those views. In addition to Noah’s and Alison’s perspective, we now get Helen’s and Cole’s as well. This is good. Certainly Tierney and Jackson were doing work last season fully the equal of West and Wilson, with the former pair actually becoming more interesting than the latter as that debut season went on — but was part of the reason for that because we knew less of their motives, and read more into what they were thinking and doing?
Now we know: Helen and Cole are shown to be the complex people we suspected, with their own takes on the anguish hurt spouses suffer.
The premiere includes a lengthy marriage mediation session for Helen and Noah with a slippery mediator played with great skill by Jeremy Shamos. The script by series producer Sarah Treem pushed me nearly beyond my capability to accept that the same meeting could yield such differing memories by Noah and Helen, but, okay, I’ll buy into it for the sake of the wonderful acting being done here. Then too, Jeffrey Reiner’s direction is superb, the rhythm of his framing and the cameras’ points of view underscoring without intruding upon the drama. (I also really commend the show for leaving in a street-scene take in which Helen’s voice is nearly drowned out by a passing truck — Helen/Maura Tierney’s look of annoyance at the vehicle even as she continues talking certainly seemed like an example of excellent acting in-the-moment.)
The truth is, a drama about married couples, infidelity, and family dynamics is something I’d watch every week even if it wasn’t done as well as The Affair. (Hey, I watched all of The Slap, didn’t I?) The Affair certainly has its moments of tedium, it can definitely be irritating, and occasionally, I want to throw my shoe at one character or another who is particularly selfish or self-absorbed. (Most of my shoes would be flung at Noah — he must be a good novelist, because he certainly lives inside his own head.)
But I’m not a masochist; if The Affair wasn’t putting forth a solid effort at the start of its second season, I’d be warning you and starting to get an itchy finger on my remote. That’s not the case in the two episodes I’ve seen so far.
The Affair airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.