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‘The Affair’ Season 3 Review: Showtime’s Drama Still Intrigues, Despite Its Worst Character

As much as we love Dominic West, the emphasis on his character does this relationship drama no favors.

Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson, Maura Tierney and Dominic West in "The Affair."

Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson, Maura Tierney and Dominic West in “The Affair.”

Steven Lippman/SHOWTIME

Because “The Affair” is not a show that takes a delicate approach to discussing or depicting sex, the simplest way to approach Season 3 of Showtime’s complex relationship drama is like this: Do you want to fuck Noah Soloway? Because if the answer is no, you might struggle with the new season.

The series has always functioned largely as an ensemble drama, led by Dominic West and Ruth Wilson as Noah and Alison, two people who imploded their respective marriages for newfound passion. But while the first season very formally balanced the show’s switchoffs in points-of-view between Noah and Alison (occasionally switching the order in which we saw them), in many ways the show has always felt oddly driven by Noah in particular.

And that leads us to the central question of the episodes made available to critics prior to Season 3’s premiere. With three episodes to evaluate, theoretically “The Affair” should present us with a large assortment of perspectives… And yet, it all comes back to Noah.

Part of the reason for this is that in Season 3, we are officially clear of the flashback structure that was a major facet of Seasons 1 and 2. No longer is the show haunted by the question of who killed Scotty Lockhart, Alison’s brother-in-law and keeper of many secrets. (Well, the audience at least knows who killed him; only three characters in the show are in the loop.) Instead, we’re a few years beyond the death of Scotty and Noah’s conviction for his death; Noah is awkwardly reintegrating himself into society, while Helen, Alison and Cole deal with the ramifications of what his incarceration has done to their lives.

Dominic West and Irene Jacob in "The Affair."

That’s right, it’s an awful lot of Noah, especially when you add in Juliette (Irene Jacob), a libertine French professor who almost immediately forms a connection with him. In total, Noah gets the focus of an episode and a half (of the first three episodes), and we learn an awful lot about what he’s suffered after falsely confessing to murder at the end of Season 2. Prison, it turns out, isn’t a fun “writer’s retreat” (as Noah tries to paint it at one point) especially thanks to Gunther the guard (Brendan Fraser, just recognizable enough from his 1990s movie star self to be startling).

Gunther’s impact on the third season remains as yet an unquantifiable element, but it does seem to indicate that “The Affair” feels it needs a clear-cut villain in order to function as a narrative. This is consistent with past seasons — the show has always existed largely as a relationship drama, but it’s also heavily relied on the surface-level murder mystery element to move the plot forward. And a big moment in the first episode of Season 3 seems to indicate that showrunner Sarah Treem and her staff are more than aware of this; the premiere pushes us toward a new mystery that keeps the stakes of the show in the life-or-death realm.

But what if that weren’t the case? What if the show was only driven by the relationships at the core of its premise? Would it still be sustainable?

The answer to that question is not encouraged by the show’s emphasis on Noah in these early episodes, because to be honest, Noah is probably the least likable character of the show’s core quartet. Not only does he exemplify all the worst biases and attitudes of the privileged straight white male, but the show often tends to showcase him in those moments. As just one example, the fact that “The Affair” is interested in exploring the consent issues it’s raised in previous episodes is admirable, except for the part where (so far, anyway) that never really seems to go anywhere. We spend a lot of time being told why we should care about Noah, but seasons of bad behavior have left us unconvinced.

On an acting level, the cast remains consistently mind-blowing, though only West gets any real showy moments in the first three episodes. (Wilson’s fragility, however, is on display in some unexpected ways.) And for those on the fence about the show’s occasionally deliberate efforts to confuse us with differing versions of the same scene, know that it’s relatively subdued so far — for the most part, we’re simply getting caught up on the major events that have occurred during the time jump.

“The Affair” continues to keep us intrigued, which is always an accomplishment worth noting; we’ll definitely be watching as Season 3 proceeds. If only because the show has built up a rich tapestry beyond its most problematic character. And we look forward to seeing more of it. Dominic West is great, but Noah can go fuck himself.

Grade: B

“The Affair’ premieres Sunday, November 20 at 10 p.m. on Showtime. Episode 1 is streaming now on YouTube and various online platforms. 

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Comments

Adrian

Is Noah dead?

Tobias

Why do you say Noah is the worst character? Clearly Helen is the worst character, allowing for Noah to go to prison and sacrifice himself for her, a slouch who has not a single redeeming quality…

Tobias

This reviewer is wrong on so many levels, one can only hope Indiewire did not have to pay for this. Allison did not implode her marriage when she meets Noah – she is already in the process of separation at that time and traumatized.

Karen

You care about him because he took responsibility for all of them. Both of the women had a part in the death of Scott Lockhart but he went to jail for it. Yeah that’s not going to make you a very nice person that’s going to give you some demons. This reviewer lacks the empathy to give opinions about characters.

Merce

Are you kidding? Noah is the main reason why I watch the show. Loved the scene where Noah has sex with Allison against the tree.

Eddie

“Not only does he exemplify all the worst biases and attitudes of the privileged straight white male” that’s where you lost me.

Eddie

Just to explain my reaction above, come on! If we have learned anything about Noah it’s that he is anything but privileged. Apart from the time his book was a success the man was broke all his life. Moreover, the series has constantly hinted at a hard upbringing and, maybe I am wrong here, an abusive father? Also, he clearly was mistreated in prison and remember he ended up in prison trying to protect the women in his life. Your review just reads like an anti-male account of this series. Noah was wrong to cheat and can be an ass, I agree. Eh, but hello? Did Alison not engage in similar behaviour? Bashing men is just so popular now…..

Jill
Jill

Disappointing start to the season – less French professor, more Noah and Allison!

CAM

I’ll not be watching the Affair. Maura Tierney should keep her liberal Hyde Park Buchanan views to herself about Donald Trump. Hollywood needs to get over it. If they don’t like it here because he is our president they should MOVE

CAM

I should have just said it Bitch views

Lisa

I agree with the reviewer. I can’t stand Noah anymore. And this French professor story line. I think I’m done with this show.

Marie Robinson

I love this show. I especially like the story line of Cole, Louisa, and Allison. Cole has always loved Allison. Even when she cheated on him with Noah he was willing to take her back. Louisa was so MEAN to Allison at Joanie’s birthday party…Wow! Then that same night Cole’s dream came true! I loved episode 3.

Marie Robinson

Ooops I meant episode 4

Kay

OMG I’m thinking Alison is the one who’s in danger! You know the creep guard is probably going to take her to get Noah’s attention!! He’s jealous of Noah from high school & the swim meets– he wants to be Noah. I’m not sure after just watching episode 5 if these things are really happening with Noah seeing him everywhere from the parking lot to his dreams, or if Noah is paranoid. I’m on the edge of my seat for episode 6 now & I love the characters in the show. I can see Cole being a controller of Alison & she’s weak enough to allow to see her daughter. Noah hit the nail on the head when he told Alison how it would go down with Cole! Idk about any happily ever after but I’d welcome a Noah in my life. LOL

Ryan A.

Decent review until you lapsed into the usual, tired leftist trope about “privileged white males”. Was politicising this review around your bias really necessary?

Allison Craig

I was so bored I could have cried, or is it died? I could have done both watching the Juliette character try to seduce noah. She us not one thousandth as fascinating as Allison. Her sad story of a husband with dementia is not all that different than the realities that face most of us dealing with aging oarents these days. If the producers are trying to set us up for another love triangle this time involving allison and juliette, it would be beyond unconvincing. No one would believe there would be aNY difficulty choosing allison. I have no interest in seeing another second of juliette. There is no chemistry between she and Noah. I really hope the producers follow viewers comments and rewrite season 3 before we are all too bored to continue watching.

Sally Haas

Agreed. No more French professor. No chemistry.

Alexa Smythe

This season has more holes than swiss cheese. Famous writers do not go to regular prisons they go to country club establishments. Unfortunately drunk drivers who commit manslaughter never go anywhere. In fact son-in-laws of famous industrialists would be out in 30 days. There is no guard. Noah is hurting himself. The guard would have to be supernatural to follow him everywhere. There is no prestigious university near Livingston New Jersey. Princeton can not be reached unless you have a car. Noah has no car. Universities hire criminals all the time full time if they are famous. No one is even halfway sane anymore. They are also all unpleasant. Helen is a whiner, Allison is borderline, maybe Cole is ok. And who the hell is Juliette? AUdrey is too obnoxious.The bottom line is I don’t care.

Ned

If they show me Noahs ass once more I’m done!!

Marie Robinson

I think Noah is having hallucinations. At the end of episode 5 when the car he was driving was supposedly hit by a truck driven by Gunther, in the last scene when the camera showed the rear of the car, there was no damage. If that truck had rammed the car the way it was depicted there would have been substantial damage to the back of the car.

Tara

I feel sorry for Noah! As much as I hated him for cheating , i feel bad that he sacrificed himself for the women and for the love of God, why won’t Helen at least tell her children what really happened?! I think Noah is hallucinating at least most of the time when seeing Gunther. Did Gunther stab him or did he stab himself? I didn’t mind seeing Vic leave, depending on which version I believe , Vic is cold and Helen will never love him the way she loves Noah.

Dana

I am one of those who does not want to fuck Noah; I simply do not get the attraction (now, Cole is a whole other story). Therefore, I am thoroughly bored with this season and embarrassed to watch otherwise interesting and intelligent, albeit flawed, women throwing themselves at a man who is entirely unworthy. Ho hum.

Just a thought – is Noah making up or hallucinating the prison storyline involving Gunther? Is he, in fact, writing another novel and creating a story that is being presented as fact to the audience? There is an otherworldly tone to Noah’s segments, dreamlike or, if you will, fictional.

You Leigh

This finale is the worst tv that I have ever watched!!! The entire storyline all season with Noah and whatever her name is is the most boring storyline ever and makes zero sense the way it was told.! I’m not undermining the French actress not at all, it is not her fault she was given this lame storyline! The writing was no where near last two two seasons! What did they do ? Besides store noting storylines as well as destroyed Noah characters! Last week was the most excited episode. First time Allison and Helen spoke about the accident! And now this. Suggestion step it up so we can see more of the The Affair over the next few years! How about being making Oscar and wife, never showed once Cole’s mother brothers after all she buried a son and brother! I didn’t know they died as well , they have business so much could of been done differently!

Marie Robinson

I agree, the season finale made absolutely no sense at all. Not interesting in the least. C’mon “Affair” writers, step it up or give it up!

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