‘The Affair’ Season 2: With new narrators, the story is more confusing (but that’s the point)

Ruth Wilson as Alison and Dominic West as Noah in season 1 of "The Affair."

Ruth Wilson as Alison and Dominic West as Noah in season 1 of “The Affair.”


“The Affair” will get even more complex in Season 2 as new perspectives are added to the already diverging narrative.

“Welcome to being on our set,” actor Joshua Jackson joked at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Tuesday.

During the at times heated and defensive panel, the creator, actors and director argued about the fallacy of memory in Showtime’s multi-narrator series, which will be adding two perspectives when Season 2 premieres Oct. 4.

The sexy drama about the emotional effect of a novelist and waitress’ extramarital affair threw viewers for a loop by the end of Season 2, when the narrators Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson) had widely different recollections of major events, including a heart attack, shootout and attempted suicide.


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After 10 episodes of pining, discreet trysts and plenty of twists, Noah leaves his wife and kids for Alison, with whom he now shares a child and a new home in the city. The final moment of Season 1 sees Det. Jeffries (Victor Williams) hauling Noah off after the slaying of Scott Lockwood, Alison’s former brother-in-law. The murder investigation was a major arc in the first season.

The couple’s radically different takes on the events, said writer and creator Sarah Treem, had everything to do with the stress the characters experienced after being found out and their inability to check in with each other to call the story back up together.

“We’re not doing it to make sure that everybody understands it perfectly,” Treem said. “The POVs are integral to the show. It’s always going to be that people remember things differently, so we are actually OK if people start to think, ‘Wow, these memories are so divergent, I can’t understand how they’re the same. They’re not the same event.’

“That’s the thing about memory, it keeps compounding itself,” she added. “That’s the premise of the show. That’s how we write it.”

But that didn’t appear to be the case for many viewers, and Treem insisted they also add another layer with their own biases and prejudices. However, she asserted that there are no objective truths in the series, which she’s already mapped out for Season 3.

“I don’t think we’re so interested in whether or not it’s the absolute truth,” executive producer and director Jeffrey Reiner said. “What we’re also interested in is the consequences after those events. So [Noah and Helen] experience something in the mediations office, it’s the scenes that follow and how they react to that.... It’s just an emotional kind of journey of people reacting and looking at things differently and how they react afterwards. So I don’t think there’s a right or wrong.”

In teasers, Noah is in the throes of divorce mediation and custody proceedings with his future ex-wife, who tells Noah that she doesn’t want her kids near his mistress. Cole appears to be flying off the handle and tries to win Alison back. Noah also denies killing Scott.


Treem said that she believes TV is a relatively new medium in which nonlinear storytelling hasn’t been deeply explored. She’s excited that her show is pushing the envelope when it comes to format.

“I’m terribly confused,” joked West, “The Wire” alum who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role. " I thought I got it down, but now I’m completely confused. I thought it [made sense to me].”

Each episode will again be told in flashbacks next season, using each character’s markedly distinct memories to guide viewers through important events. The big change, though, is that Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson), the cheated-on spouses of last season’s protagonists, will tell their versions of the story, adding more distorted memories to the already complicated story.

“Really, from an actor’s point of view, my main concern is that everybody likes Noah, of course, everybody loves him,” West quipped regarding his increasingly less-likable alter ego. “Every time I go to Sarah saying, ‘He can’t be such an ... ,’ and she says, ‘It’s not your point of view.’ That’s what makes it very interesting to play because you get to play two extreme characters, almost two different characters. I really relish that this season. You get these perspectives that are more pronounced and especially characters who are not fully in love as we were last season but really torn apart “


Wilson, who won the Golden Globe for her turn as the emotionally damaged Alison, said that in Season 1, viewers saw more consistent versions of the characters because it was only Alison and Noah’s point of view. In Season 2, that changes and the actors play four versions of their characters.

“Your version [of the character] is your version, but I sort of drop into everyone else’s very occasionally. So it’s not so consistent,” Wilson said. “It’s that moment at that time, what that character is like. It’s not consistent from week to week or episode to episode.”

For example, Helen has been seen as a trendy but not overly showy Brooklyn mom. In Season 2, she “is a lot more of a baller,” Tierney said, and she’s flashing her wealth more than she had before because it was a sore subject in her relationship.

She added that when she started filming, she shifted from Noah’s default version of Helen to portray that she’s “a little bit more responsible for the offense and complicit in the weakness of their marriage.”


As for Cole, he’s much more damaged than he ever appeared in Noah and Alison’s Season 1 memories, Jackson said.

“By allowing Cole to have an interior life, it allows me to show him in a way that being Noah’s recollection or Alison’s recollection just doesn’t,” the “Dawson’s Creek” alum said. “You can see those insecurities and frailties. Particularly when we find him in Season 2, those feelings of inadequacy and just being desolate are not possible to see when you’re in someone else’s memory. People’s [memories] tend to flatten things, making them two-dimensional, so it’s opened up for me a whole new world for this character.”

Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.



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