A happy asshole instead of a miserable hero
For the uninitiated: The Affair is a show that began with two characters, Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson), having an affair and the ongoing ripple effects of their decision on everyone else in their lives. There was also a murder mystery that was all but resolved at the end of season two, which has allowed The Affair’s current season to go in a new unexpected direction.
My reasons for loving this show continue to grow, but if I had to narrow it down the writing and especially the acting are what keep bringing me back. Very few shows are what I would consider “must-watch,” but The Affair is one of them. It is a show that focuses on its characters and the choices they make, instead of the more plot-driven shows that dominate the current television landscape.
Each season has added a new element that reinvents the show in the best of ways, while keeping the story structure mostly intact: Every episode is told from the perspective of two characters. The entire run of the first season was only told from the point of view of Noah and Alison. Season two introduced the perspectives of Noah and Alison’s respective spouses, Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney) and Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), and now season three is dealing with the aftermath of everything that’s preceded it. This brings us to episode 308, which centers on Cole and Alison’s possible future together.
Cole has been my favorite character from the beginning of the show, largely because of Jackson’s performance. He is someone who started out as being a cold, tortured man, to one of the most redeeming people on The Affair. His arc has been long and arduous, and is still far from over. What this episode illustrates is Cole’s inner struggle: being a “happy asshole,” or a “miserable hero.” Within the context of the show, it’s an impossible decision. He is a man who has worked so hard at being happy after many years of heartbreak and devastating loss. Now that he has everything he’s worked for, he’s still unhappy.
I haven’t seen a character as well-written and acted as Cole in a long time on TV. What Jackson brings to the role is nothing short of stellar: the way he plays anger and frustration mixed with empathy and patience illustrates that things are never simply black and white. The fact that Cole is struggling with his own happiness and how it could destroy his family is what makes him so endearing. Jackson conveys a lot of those feelings through expression instead of overtly stating how he feels. Oftentimes what goes unsaid is much more powerful than what is, and The Affair uses the unspoken word to great effect, especially with scenes involving Cole.
|I'm so sad. So very very sad. Don't you see my tears?|
The same can be said for Alison, a character so complicated and rich with history that a whole book could be written about her and still not be enough. Wilson does amazing work, oftentimes inviting my sympathy while simultaneously making me want to shout at the TV and ask, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!”
It’s no wonder, then, that my favorite episodes of the show are the ones that focus on both Cole and Alison. They’re great when they’re apart but as close to perfect as two actors can be when they share scenes together.
“We keep coming back to each other,“ Alison says to Cole at one point during the episode.
She continues: “Don’t you think that means something?”
“I think that means we were unfinished,” says Cole.
The same could be said about The Affair and my love for it. Thanks to its rich characters and amazing writing, I don’t think the show can ever truly be finished. The same can be said for any great work of art.
- Matt Giles