I don’t watch nearly the amount of television I used to, and even when I do, I don’t much feel the need to write about it like I once did (compulsively). But as I finished watching the final season of The Affair, I felt like I wanted to chronicle the various feelings I had as it came to a close. (For not being that invested in The Affair, I have written about it twice before… hmm. Clearly, over time, I warmed to it.)
What struck me most as the series ended and core characters drift back together is that it is truer to life in many ways than the extraneous drama of the series (or any series) would have us believe. Critics and viewers alike would criticize The Affair‘s frequent introduction of (in the big scheme, peripheral) characters who really didn’t fit or factor in (like the high school principal Noah gets involved with (Sanaa Lathan) or the French visiting professor, who seemed caricature-like in an uncharacteristically cliched performance from Irène Jacob)). Sometimes these characters – or events they prompted – come back in ways you don’t expect and are very important to the narrative – surprising the viewer in an almost This Is Us kind of way. While this can be both surprising and interesting for the narrative (as well as misleading, because we are getting only one perspective on something that may not have happened the way it appeared), it is also random in the kind of way we often experience in life. We have fleeting encounters that come back up later – for better or worse.
Some of these “surprises” or twists are more satisfying than others. I found the whole Sasha Mann story superfluous – it added nothing to the final season of the show. The Anna Paquin “future” scenes were awful, all the more because Paquin, if possible, is becoming a worse and less believable actress as her career continues (and she wasn’t great in the first place). Her storyline in the final season is completely unsatisfying, and the random people who pop up in her narrative thread feel very random until the story pops the surprise at the end, even if that part doesn’t feel gimmicky. But were these narrative missteps (the Anna Paquin/Joanie story) as much as they punctuated the very real theme of The Affair – how people come into our lives for intense, but often quite casual and temporary, moments and disappear just as rapidly as they moved in? Meanwhile other connections are lasting – like the central characters we have come to know in Dominic West‘s Noah and Maura Tierney‘s Helen. (And who on this earth doesn’t love Maura Tierney?)
Similarly you see in the end, through the eyes of both Noah and Helen’s eldest daughter Whitney, and Joanie, that when we are young we often see things in very “black and white”/”right and wrong” ways that tend to blur (significantly at times) with life experience and age. Things seem very “all or nothing” to the young; “old people” (anyone over 35) have lost their edge, mellowed, sold out, but it’s more a case of realizing what does and does not matter, how tangled, and intertwined our connections and relationships are, and how much pain and hurt rigidity and judgment of “right and wrong” can cause. For the characters in this often flawed story (and what else could it be, dealing with flawed characters, told from each of their distinctive, subjective perspectives?), the power of forgiveness over time transforms their relationships and lives.
By the end of the series, it felt a lot like we were watching a completely different show from where it all started. Two of the four leads (Ruth Wilson‘s Alison and Joshua Jackson‘s Cole) weren’t in the last season at all. But the story had moved forward in any case, even if the presence of both characters continued to be felt. Yet their absence came across very much like the ‘real life’ feeling I took away from the series as a whole – sometimes people who play meaningful, real and serious roles in our lives are nevertheless temporary, whether it is because we grow apart, we find our own insecurities welling up and causing us to destroy our relationships, because people die, because people move to other places, because we find ourselves at different stages in our personal development than others who have been in our lives before… this is the stuff of life. We continue to move and grow, and those around us do, too. And through it all, we are weaving our meandering way through the lives of others, sometimes igniting a brief spark, sometimes leaving a deep mark.