‘The Affair’ returns for a final season – and a glimpse of the future

Hank Stuever

THE WASHINGTON POST – The Affair – do you still care?

Some of us remain deeply enmeshed in Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi’s intricately structured and satisfyingly grown-up Showtime drama about the endless aftershocks of what transpired between a married high school English teacher and a married Montauk waitress all those summers ago on Long Island. It seems like eons have passed since the show premiered. Turns out it’s been a mere five years.

Showtime assures us that this fifth season will be the last, but every season of The Affair had a way of feeling like a final season. Constructed in a way as to always leave the objective truth in doubt, the series returns doing what it does best: offering wildly different perspectives on the same events, depending on which character’s viewpoint we’re watching.

We rejoin this unhappy bunch where we left them last year, in beachy Southern California, as an emotionally and physically exhausted Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney) endures the funeral and reception for her now-deceased second husband, Vik Ullah (Omar Metwally), while also nobly accepting the fact that their dopey, doe-eyed, next-door neighbour, Sierra (Emily Browning), has just given birth to Vik’s son, the result of yet another affair. If nothing else, The Affair is extra-accomodating to the notion that we all struggle as monogamous beings. This show was about emotional deceit.

It all comes full circle here. The Affair is certainly worth watching from the beginning, but if you start here, it will probably look mainly like fan service. The first three episodes are fine as they are, even if the loss of two of the show’s best characters and cast members is difficult to overcome.

Noah Solloway (Dominic West), once regarded as the show’s vital erogenous zone, just grows more pathetic as the story moves on. In addition to teaching English at a school in South Los Angeles, he’s on yet another ego trip, serving as the on-set writer/consultant to a movie adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel (Descent), which recounts the affair that ruined his marriage.

Showbiz gives Noah precisely the kind of attention a guy like him doesn’t need, even if it puts him in the shadow of a far larger egomaniac, Sasha Mann (Claes Bang), a franchise-movie megastar who sees in Noah’s novel the chance to direct and star in a serious film. It isn’t long before Sasha, in the name of method research, starts coming on to a still-grieving Helen. In classic Affair form, an episode is split between Noah’s and Helen’s perspective on these events. Whatever healing had occurred between them unravels.

As always, it takes The Affair several episodes to warm up – particularly as it fusses over extraneous characters from previous seasons, such as Janelle (Sanaa Lathan), the school principal with whom Noah began a relationship; or Bruce and Margaret Butler (John Doman and Kathleen Chalfant), Helen’s hideously snooty parents. Also there’s the matter of all of Noah and Helen’s kids – it seems a constant threat that the show will once more turn its gaze to their oldest and brattiest, Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles), who inherited a combination of her parents’ worst traits.

Yet, to be entirely honest, I’d probably follow these characters (even Whitney) for an indefinite number of seasons because The Affair can never be completely considered down for the count.

FROM LEFT: Dominic West as Noah, Julia Goldani Telles as Whitney and Maura Tierney as Helen in The Affair