Ce n'est pas le vrai Paris
After a tumultuous year for Noah (Dominic West) following his release from prison, the excellent third season of The Affair concluded Sunday night with an episode-long epilogue in Paris.
Earlier this season, the show added a fifth perspective, Juliette (Irène Jacob), presumably to show how Noah’s life was saved after he was stabbed in the season premiere (Juliette showed up right in the knick of time). Since then, however, we’ve seen very little of Juliette, so it was refreshing to have this new character feature so prominently in the finale.
Juliette represents a new hope for Noah. She’s someone who has come into his life unexpectedly and offers an objective opinion on everything that’s happened to him. Most importantly, she accepts him for all of his flaws and has a certain understanding about love’s failures due to tragedy in her own life.
I mentioned last week that this season feels different in many ways, not the least of which is where the writers have chosen to end all of the other characters’ arcs, aside from Noah. The finale is fascinating because of its postscript-like nature. Last week’s episode felt like Noah’s finale: it resolved a season-long mystery around his attack, and explored a lot of Noah’s personal history to explain his mental break. This episode wasn’t so much a finale, nor did it feel like premiere material; it was an afterward.
Can Noah begin anew? Will his family forgive him? Is there any hope of salvaging his relationship with his daughter, Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles)? The finale offered hints at what’s to come in Noah’s life, while simultaneously leaving no clear path for him to choose. It’s fascinating storytelling, and quite admirable to begin and end a season of a show that’s largely built by its ensemble with one character, who, up until now, has been the least likeable.
If season three has been about the consequences the other characters face as a result of their actions, so too has it been the story of Noah’s redemption. Juliette is both a symbol and a living embodiment for the happiness Noah desires. But while the finale was filled with hopeful imagery (Paris at Christmastime, for one), there were, as always on this show, not so subtle hints that things could be headed in a bad direction.
Juliette at one point says, “Ce n'est pas le vrai Paris,” or, “This is not the real Paris,” implying that what Noah sees as a fresh start may not be real. Sure enough, by the end of the episode Noah is forced to realize that he needs to take Whitney home, which in turn forces him to reconcile his past and future.
Executive producer and showrunner of The Affair, Sarah Treem, deserves more praise than words will ever accurately convey. She has continued to build and reinvent The Affair each season without making it feel cheap or gimmicky. She, like many great writers, let the characters determine the direction of the story rather than forcing the characters into certain situations to serve the plot. And speaking of story direction, the show was recently picked up for a fourth season, which Treem has hinted will be its last.
While it makes me sad to learn that I’ll probably only get one more year to explore these characters’ lives, I’m also grateful for writers like Treem who understand the importance of character when it comes to building a story. Treem, and The Affair itself, give me hope that we’re merely at the beginning of exploring the possibilities television can offer.