Adultery entertainment: The Affair is back for a third season
Executive producer Sarah Treem says lack of vilification has been key to success; this season will introduce another lover and explore lead character Noah Solloway’s complexity
The show about two couples and their families entwined by the adulterers in their midst had something of a slow start. But The Affair was so searing and vivid that people could see themselves in the flawed, dysfunctional relationships being enacted on screen – so much so, that it has won a number of awards, including a couple of Golden Globes, for best drama, and for one of its lead actresses, Maura Tierney.
About to start its third season on November 22, The Affair is lifted from potentially being a soapish, self-indulgent mess by its structure. The story is told from four points of view: the errant male, Noah Solloway, played by Dominic West; his new paramour Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson); and their respective spouses. Noah is married to Helen (Tierney) and is a New York teacher, author and father of four, living with his family in a Manhattan brownstone. Alison’s husband is Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), a strong and silent ranch owner from a large family.
In the first episode, Dominic goes on holiday with his family to Montauk in Long Island, where he meets Alison, a married waitress in a diner, who is recovering from a tragedy of her own.
Their paths cross again, and again – until the inevitable happens. At the end of the second season, a now-committed Noah and Alison are dealing with the aftermath of the accidental death of Alison’s ex-husband’s troubled brother, Scott, for which Noah takes the fall.
Executive producer Sarah Treem has succeeded with The Affair because nobody in the series is vilified – not even the ‘other woman’.
Treem says that she wanted to take this approach because that “archetype of lover in an affair hasn’t been explored in a complete, humane way yet”.
“Sometimes you’re the wife, sometimes you’re the other woman, you’re still the same person,” she says. “We have this idea on the show that everybody is part angel and part devil, if you see us in one light we are a hero, if you look at us in another light we are a villain. There is no truth there. It’s just about the way you approach the scenario.”
Jackson, the Canadian-American actor who plays Cole Lockhart, will come into sharper focus this season, specifically in relation to Noah’s ex, Helen.
“For me, one of the joys of working in television is that you never actually have to figure the character out completely because if it’s done right, if you have good writing, it is going to continue to grow over time,” says Jackson.
“These events happen in their lives, whoever the character is, (and) they react to them in the ways that they do and that leaves a mark and you build up a new personality that’s being forged over the course of the storyline.”
Certainly, while the first couple of seasons were based on the actual affair – Noah and Alison meeting, giving in to temptation, the dissolution of their respective marriages, all the moral quandaries that appear along the way – by season three, the focus shifts quite decisively.
Treem says that the characters have more or less hit rock bottom and now they are “having to take stock of who they actually are ... they are all very much at odds with themselves this season. They are interacting with each other, so it could be a surprise in what happens, but they are also really kind of at war with themselves, all of them.”
It is now three years since the second season, which ended with a courtroom cliffhanger. The time jump, explains Treem, was necessary.
“It just felt kind of like an organic place to start a third season. Partially it has to do with not wanting to repeat ourselves. I try to start every season off with a bit of hypothesis.”
Now, a few years on, there is another perspective – that of a character named Juliette Le Gall, played by French actress Irene Jacob. Not surprisingly, another affair looms.
“We’re really excited about it,” says Treem. “She is amazing. This season is really about accountability because you saw from the end of the last season that all of the characters were somewhat responsible for Scott Lockhart’s death – except for, maybe, Noah Solloway.”
“I think the fact that Noah took the fall for a crime he didn’t commit is really one of the central questions of the third season. It is going to get explored in depth this season.”
The alternating perspectives have always been a compelling hook of the show, they illustrate how people have different memories of the same event. Tierney says it was “like four actors, but 12 characters. Just to make sure that you are really being fair to (those) viewpoints,” says Treem. “The idea behind this show is that there is no such thing as objectivity because we all approach a situation through the prism of our own perspective.”
The Affair Season 3 starts on Nov 22 on RTL/CBS Entertainment (Now TV channel 517)