The only bright side in having bronchitis the days after Christmas is that it gives you a chance to binge watch whatever TV you might have missed in the previous season. In my case that meant the second season of The Affair. The rapid fire viewing allowed me to construct a theory about the show: the melodramatic, vaguely sleazy murder plot line is actually an in-show homage to Noah Sollowy’s second novel “The Descent.” It’s the only way to explain how writers who so carefully and accurately developed the plots and scenes about broken homes and loves could so heinously blow a simple murder mystery.
As I said after the end of the first season, The Affair at times comes so close to boarding on excellent TV that the low points are just that much more frustrating. The performances are still as phenomenal as ever. And the show is still at its best when it’s dealing with the actual fallout of the affair; the ways in which our parents’ dysfunctions continue to affect our love lives, the tenderness that people show each other only after they know they’ve got nothing left to fight over or for, the ways in which connections made with people over years can’t ever really be broken even when we want them to be. At these moments, it’s a show for grown-ups that deals with the ways in which grown-ups fall in and out of love with each other.
The show also did well by expanding the perspectives to Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson’s characters’ narratives. It’s not just that Helen and Cole in most ways are significantly more likable and sympathetic than Noah and Allison, but having the additional perspectives adds another layer to the yarn wall. Piecing together whose version of the truth is present in multiple perspectives changes how you feel about the story, the character and the scene. It’s mesmerizing TV. And when the plot is uncomplicated, it’s beautiful to watch.
When the plot is complicated though? Good goddamn lord is it painful. Telegraphed, predictable, trashy nonsense that if found on the most ludicrous soap operas would still elicit a “It’s kind of obvious, Robert.” And the salacious subplots don’t just make the show worse because they’re present, but also because they require set-up scenes. Scenes with Helen and Noah’s children. Scenes with Cole’s family. Scenes with really anyone other than the four leads talking directly about the affair and their grief. In order to have a really great TV show, all The Affair needed was to show the heartfelt deceptions of deteriorating and emerging relationships. In order to have a spectacular show, all they needed was to add the varying perspectives. Instead they’ve added some cheap sex scenes and a cheaper murder mystery. Unless they explain why they needed those in the third season, we should all be pissed that they’ve robbed us of what should be our favorite show.