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Showtime's 'The Affair' Suffers From a Severe Case of Weak-Lead Syndrome

By Clare Maceira | TV | February 6, 2017 |

By Clare Maceira | TV | February 6, 2017 |

Let’s get this out of the way: I love The Affair.

Or, perhaps I should say: I loved The Affair.

The Showtime series is about how an affair impacts the people involved and around it, employing a Rashomon-style storytelling of showing the plot through different points of view. Starting with the unfaithful, Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), it branched out to their spouses Helen (the brilliant Maura Tierney) and Cole (the underrated and underused Joshua Jackson) in season two. It was an interesting story about loyalty, sex and one’s self with layered performances (the actors would even change mannerisms and line readings depending on the POV, it became a fascinating display of acting). Awards were won! Twitter live-tweeted with side eye emojis and treated the characters as if they were our friends making stupid decisions, it was fun!

Somewhere along the way in season two, however, the show stopped being fun and started getting frustrating. The show continued to make Noah completely irredeemable, from the way he treated his now ex-wife Helen, to the recklessly delusional, self-centered, self-pitying way he ran his life, to the sexual assault of his new wife Alison against a tree. Yes, all of the other characters were selfish and had their moments of cruelty and self-destruction, but none were on Noah’s level, a character whose own children resented him.

What began to throw me off was those involved with the show didn’t seem to understand why viewers had begun to hate Noah, with live-tweets expressing their aggravation at the sight of the black “Noah” card before his segment, and demanding more Cole, an everyman cowboy of a character with a dark side who grew in popularity due in part to Joshua Jackson’s performance. As season two went on, I began to realize the more interesting story lay in Alison and Cole’s story, high school sweethearts who were torn apart by both the death of their young child and the affair that followed. The town of Montauk, where Alison and Cole resided, became more fascinating than the New York debauchery of Noah and Helen’s world, with viewers even asking if Helen and new boyfriend, the blunt, grumpy but ultimately likable Vic (Omar Metwally, totally selling the “you people are fucking crazy” vibe necessary) would move to Montauk.

Noah, an entitled man-child who cheated on both wives, showed no desire to be a father, whined, had problems understanding compassion and consent and was generally unremorseful about his behavior, and was completely irredeemable.

Then, in season three, the show made a huge mistake: they began to give Noah a sympathetic storyline which was unearned. They pulled out a storyline about Noah having a sick mother that hadn’t been hinted at by anyone in the two seasons before, as if that explained his behavior. They introduced a French professor (nicknamed Professor Sex French by fans), who was as damaged and selfish as Noah, shared the same views of passion vs consent, and who was obsessed with sex, Noah’s book and Noah’s magical penis which had every woman on the show in a tizzy (another ridiculous, continuing character trait of all the female characters excluding his daughters, thank God). She was an utter stereotype and something in line with Noah’s ridiculous storylines.

As season three stumbled along, with way too many episodes focusing on Noah’s mental breakdown and his relationship with the professor, viewers began to get frustrated. We don’t see Alison and Cole until episode three, and then barely see them for the rest of the season, the show bizarrely opting to give the French professor a point of view and expecting the audience to care about her (instead of, say, Cole’s new wife Luisa, introduced in season two). Cole and Alison embark on an affair both emotional and physical, a rather complex storyline highlighting the never-ending connection and understanding of grief-stricken parents given a second chance with a new child (the pair had a one night stand in season two, resulting in a daughter). Their storyline was too layered for the minimal screen time given to them, a former couple who acknowledged they will always come back to each other, and the new spouse realizing she can never compete with the history and love her husband had for his ex-wife, and the question of whether it was better to be selfish but happy or loyal but unhappy in a way Noah’s storyline never could. And over in New York, the show began to commit character assassination to Helen, having her act more irrationally and cluelessly in her confusing infatuation with Noah.

The show itself had the same damaging obsession with Noah as Helen, and by the final episode, which focused entirely on Noah and Professor Sex French, viewers were pissed, calling it the worst episode/finale ever. Season three was a total redemption arc for a main character who didn’t deserve it at the expense of the other main characters, which is unforgivable and just plain bad writing.

So where does The Affair go from here? Showtime has renewed the show for a fourth and possibly final season, and shows no slowing down in their love affair with Noah, a severely divisive main character whose actions don’t warrant the sympathy — or admiration — received. There’s anti-hero characters … and then there’s Noah, whose deplorable behavior puts him on a new level of unlikability and at the expense of the other more engrossing characters. And how long will viewers put up with Noah and his man-pain before they say enough?

Hell, does the show runners even understand the problem here which is now affecting the bigger picture of the show?

Since I’m self-hating like the four lead characters, I’ll be tuning in for the possibly final season, ready to be used and abused with Helen and Cole’s willingness. But will everyone else?

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