If Revenge is a pulpy romance novel that imagines the Hamptons as a candy-coated Long Island version of Beverly Hills, the new Showtime drama The Affair is a dense work of literature that presents Montauk as a beautiful, flawed character all its own.
That’s not to say one show is better than the other; the two couldn’t be more different. Revenge is a guilty pleasure fantasy, while The Affair looks to be a brutally honest character study. Telling the same story from several different points of view, The Affair has the potential to be a gripping new drama, so long as the characters remain compelling and the central mystery has some movement.
Manhattan author Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Montauk waitress Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson) are separately interviewed by a detective who is looking for answers on a mysterious incident that the two were involved in one summer in Montauk. They each tell the story of the day that they met each other, with very different perspectives. Noah recalls Alison as an enigmatic, ethereal flirt who is uninhibited and forward with her intentions. Alison, on the other hand, sees Noah as the instigator to any flirtation and interaction. The Alison presented during her own version of events is a depressed woman who can’t find a way to go on living after the death of her little boy. Also introduced are Helen (Maura Tierney), Noah’s wife, and Cole (Joshua Jackson), Alison’s husband. Helen is a hands-on mom who juggles four kids with a confident but stressed air. Cole is a rugged surfer who appears to be dealing with the loss of his son better than Alison but has pent up frustration that is constantly threatening to boil over. Both couples appear compatible and functional, but sex—or in Noah’s case, a lack thereof—proves to be a major issue for both. The pilot doesn’t reveal what incident Noah and Alison are being questioned about. The episode doesn’t get too bogged down in the mystery, which is refreshing, but does tantalize the viewer with a few significant revelations.
The performances are solid across the board, but Wilson is absolutely magical as Alison. In both scenarios, Wilson presents a wounded, deeply vulnerable woman in Alison, with an unnerving instability lurking just beneath the surface in Noah’s story, and a withdrawn, angry complacence in her version of events. Every other character in The Affair is subtle and somewhat under-developed (this is likely intentional), but Alison can’t hide the pain and grief of losing her child, and she becomes the most relatable character as a result. Wilson, the least well-known actor of the principal cast, is riveting in every scene she appears in and was perfectly cast. West is impressive as Noah, exuding a disarming sexuality that works to great effect.
Montauk is very much a central character in The Affair. Noah and Alison have their fateful first encounter at the Lobster Roll (aka Lunch), and Alison and Cole’s home is right on the dunes. Cole has a sun-soaked tan and dresses appropriately for someone who spends a lot of time surfing and lounging on the beach. There are scenes filmed in Amagansett, Napeague, the Deep Hollow Ranch and other East End locales.
The Affair’s first episode ends on an ominous, sexually charged note that hints at dark times ahead for all involved. For audiences who aren’t phased by explicit, frank sexual content and enjoy slow-paced storytelling that focuses more on character than plot, The Affair earns an easy recommendation.
The Affair premieres this Sunday, October 12, at 10 p.m. on Showtime.