November 4, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “The Affair”


There was a trainwreck quality to the final season of Showtime’s THE AFFAIR, although it managed to gather itself with some grace for tonight’s series finale, which ended with a remarkably happy conclusion for a show that was mostly built on shifting perspectives of interpersonal misery.

The Affair probably shouldn’t have returned for a fifth season after it became clear that it would be missing fully half of its protagonists, not only Alison (previously played by Ruth Wilson), who was killed off in Season 4, apparently for behind-the-scenes reasons that remain mysterious, but also her on-and-off husband Cole (Joshua Jackson).  But networks and producers hate to leave episodes on the table, so the final season was produced.  That put the focus of Season 5 squarely on Noah (Dominic West), who had left his family for Alison, and his ex-wife Helen (Maura Tierney), and it led to the genuinely weird decision to insert a soft sci-fi aspect into the series by introducing as a new perspective character the adult Joanie (Anna Paquin), daughter of Alison and Cole, who wandered moodily around a 2051 Montauk in the throes of climate change as she pondered the consequences of her mother’s adultery.

The present-day story was heavy on Hollywood caricature and meta-ness, revolving around the production of a film version of the roman a clef novel Noah had written about his own affair, to star and be directed by the odious Sasha (Claes Bang), with whom Helen began her own contrived relationship.  In case Sasha wasn’t enough, we had additional proof of Hollywood’s superficiality through Sierra (Emily Browning), Helen’s next door neighbor who was–stay with me here–also the mother of the child fathered by Helen’s second husband Vik (Omar Metwally), who died of cancer on the day the baby was born–and Sierra’s mother Adeline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), both of them actresses.  Inevitably, the womanizing Noah also became a subject of the MeToo movement, which brought allegations from almost all the women we’d seen him with over the course of the series.  The Affair should have been perfectly placed for a MeToo storyline, since He Said/She Said was literally baked into its structural DNA, but the show made little use of its own strengths when it had the chance.

It was probably for the best that little of this figured directly into the finale, written and directed by series co-creator Sarah Treem.  Instead, its present-day story took place at and around the wedding of Noah and Helen’s daughter Whitney (Julia Goldoni Telles) in Montauk, from which Noah had been disinvited by Whitney.  He remained helpfully nearby, however, and on the wedding day found himself forgiven not only by Helen but even by Whitney, who was finally permitted to be something other than ghastly.  In the future story, we discovered that Noah (who apparently remained reunited with his family) had bought the restaurant where he and Alison had met, and he was able to guide Joanie back to her own husband and children after her adultery with–long story–Vik and Sierra’s grown-up son.  Noah was even given a full head of hair for his final dance on a Montauk cliff as he recalled the dance he’d put together for Whitney’s wedding and, in one last full circle touch, series theme song performer Fiona Apple sang on the soundtrack.

This was all surprisingly charming, if not exactly in keeping with the tone of everything that had preceded it.  As was always the case with The Affair, its excesses were rescued by fine acting, in particular series all-star Maura Tierney, who navigated Helen’s journey back to Noah in a way that made emotional sense.  West and Telles were also reliably excellent, even if they bore the brunt of the writing’s flaws.

The Affair was intended by Showtime as a centerpiece of its participation in Prestige TV, but it never quite delivered on its promise, ricocheting between pulp and psychodrama, and with gimmicks that only occasionally paid off.  It compounded its shortcomings by overstaying its time.  However, it never stopped trying to be meaningful, and it provided meaty roles to several superb actors.  Like its characters, it’s earned some measure of forgiveness.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."