The Affair: California girls and zinging one-liners keep the spark alive

Sky Atlantic
Sky Atlantic

It’s been a long affair. Five years ago we saw Noah, a writer from New York on holiday with his family, fall in love with Alison, a waitress at the Lobster Roll restaurant in Montauk.

This show was intoxicating because it broke new ground in TV’s treatment of relationships, with half the episode being told from one character’s point of view and the second part switching perspective, often diverging radically.

In a casting coup, British actors Dominic West and Ruth Wilson played Noah and Alison, with Maura Tierney (Abby Lockhart from ER) and Joshua Jackson (Pacey from Dawson’s Creek) as their respective partners, Helen and Cole.

The infatuation may have been all- consuming at first but taking it to a second series felt like a stretch. By the third I had given up. It seemed they were going through the motions and it was verging on being a tired soap opera.

Drama: The series is returning for a fifth season (Sky Atlantic)
Drama: The series is returning for a fifth season (Sky Atlantic)

A change of scene reinvigorated the romance in series four, with Helen moving to Los Angeles, to a mansion with a covetable open-plan kitchen, two huge fridges and beautiful mountain views. Now there are new characters, new affairs and nobody is talking about Alison any more (although there are plenty of theories on the internet about her fate).

It’s almost a different show entirely — except the divisive theme tune remains, Container by Fiona Apple (some have downloaded the song, others race to mute it). This final series goes straight in with high drama — literally life and death. Noah has a funeral to get to. Helen’s new partner, Dr Vik, has died of pancreatic cancer and Noah is feeling protective towards his ex-wife. She is narked off that it’s taken him until now to learn how to put the bins out. There are flashbacks to Vik’s last days — made more painful for Helen because Vik’s death coincided with Sarah, their free-spirited Californian cliché neighbour, giving birth to Vik’s child (keep up, the clue’s in the name of the show).

Vik and Sarah had an affair too, making Helen the martyr yet again. Luckily, Tierney is excellent at conveying decades of suppressed rage, disappointment and sadness with one look. She is often seen flopping down on a sofa or pouring herself a large glass of wine. Sarah adds much-needed humour to the show — in series four she did goat yoga, now she is having a natural home birth with a holistic midwife who wears a designer boilersuit and rails against the patriarchy.

Tense: Dominic West as Noah & Sanaa Lathan as Janelle (Sky Atlantic)
Tense: Dominic West as Noah & Sanaa Lathan as Janelle (Sky Atlantic)

There’s a subplot set in the future, with Anna Paquin playing Joanie, Alison and Noah’s daughter. It’s a bit Black Mirror, with virtual firework displays and plants tended to by drone. Going futuristic is a new direction for the show, though there are the same emotional struggles. Joanie is popping pills to cope with her unhappy relationship and there are gratuitous sex scenes (this has always been a show that you have to be careful about who you watch it with).

The original spark that came from Noah and Alison has fizzled out but there are still plenty of knotty relationships, zinging lines and even a larky cameo from Danish actor Claes Bang as a self-satisfied Hollywood star who wants to adapt Noah’s book into a film. This affair seems far from over.

Series 5 of The Affair airs on Sky Atlantic at 9pm

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