If everyone is an unreliable narrator of his or her own life, then are there really reliable accounts of anything when you bring human nature in, when you factor in different perspectives and psychological issues and even memory? Even a recording–even the cameras used to film this show–may not display the full picture, and that’s an idea that is ever so pervasive throughout this pilot.
The Affair experiments with narrative structure by placing Noah’s story alongside Alison’s story, the two of them separate half hours but entwined tightly around similar events, around the same encounters. The differences are noticeable right away: in Noah’s story, Alison’s the seductive lady who’s all dressed up at the diner, who says “You found me” to an approaching Noah on the beach, who strips and makes use of her outdoor shower while glancing leeringly at the man standing uncomfortably next to her. In Alison’s story, she’s meeker, and Noah’s the one who pursues her, who says “I found you” as he approaches her on the beach, who initiates a kiss while they stand next to the outdoor shower.
In the end, we are unsure of the veracity of each story, but several instances transcend a simple “he said/she said” narrative: the differences in cigarettes, for example, or Alison keeping the marble–the one Stacey chokes on while in the diner–in Noah’s story. Memory may certainly be a factor here, but the complexities surrounding each event seem to suggest something more than memory; after all, unreliable narration is not merely the result of one cause. The layers that make up the past play a crucial role in the way each person narrates.
For example, Noah isn’t privy to the fact that Gabriel Lockhart, Alison and Cole’s son, passed away. It’s a major source of tension between the two, and at one point, Alison expresses her anger at the fact that Cole seemed happy, saying that she thought “it was almost evil to be happy”. It’s a common feeling to want others to experience the pain you feel, to feel bitter when others are able to let go of the thing you can’t let go of, and we see the way this has profoundly impacted Alison and Cole over the years. They connect sexually, but are extremely distant emotionally, something we see the opposite of when Noah and Helen are constantly interrupted by their kids.
And so, with this knowledge in mind, we can understand why Alison is the way she is in her own story (and why, therefore, she isn’t this way in Noah’s story). We see that she’s struggling emotionally, very much not the seductive waitress we see early on and very much the victim of various forms of physical and emotional abuse. She reads to her son at his grave, she lashes out at Cole when she sees him with Jocelyn, and she walks around as if she’s in a dream, a daze. She also saves Noah’s daughter, and we know that she wishes she could’ve saved her son.
If Alison’s perspective is deeply colored by psychological issues rooted in the past, then Noah’s seems to be more about issues like dissatisfaction regarding work–his first novel fails–and sex, and tension between him and his kids. “1” spends a considerable amount of time observing his family members as they pack for their vacation, and here, the show sets up all the dynamics expertly; there’s even a scene in which his older son, Martin, pretends to hang himself, and it causes Noah to angrily ask him: “Can you think of anyone other than yourself?!” Interestingly enough, Noah thinking about himself is exactly what causes him to have the affair. He’s structured his whole life around thinking about others and catering to their wishes, but now, he’s trying to satisfy himself and himself only.
All in all, though, we must not forget the context: an interrogation. This is a show about an affair, but it’s not a show about an affair in and of itself. It’s about the ramifications, about the past informing the present, about something that happened as a result of the characters’ infidelity. We don’t know what it is yet, but we know that it brought both Noah and Alison into an interrogation room. We are caught between two stories, two people, two lives, and there may never be a way out.
-More Noah/Alison differences: in Noah’s story, he has a reason to go back into the diner–a tip–while in Alison’s, it seems like he’s seeking her out. In Noah’s story, she says she’ll be back to take their order–her taking the initiative–while in Alison’s, he has to ask her (him taking the initiative). In Noah’s story, he finds her crying–evoking the stereotypical image of a woman in need of saving/protection–while in Alison’s, she composes herself, but is perpetually on the verge of breaking down.
And of course, for the Cole-Alison sex on the hood of their car, Noah sees it from afar and assumes that Cole is physically abusive, that he rapes her; this once again evokes the idea of a woman in need of saving, and therefore makes the affair possibly more justifiable to him.
-On the opening scene: Maybe the woman pursues Noah because he comes off as available. Maybe Noah doesn’t see himself as coming off as available; it’s like he misinterprets his own behavior, and therein lies a problem with listening to him. Something similar could be applied to Alison, as well.
-Lots of Gone Girl similarities, aren’t there?
-There are common romantic tropes in here, but the series looks to be building upon them, or perhaps even using them to question the idea of expectations regarding affairs. I can’t wait to see how the show develops from here on out.
-I am not used to seeing Peter Bishop like this.
-Each episode title is apparently just the number of the episode.
-I’m guessing this will get regular coverage. It’ll be difficult the next two weeks–Boardwalk Empire‘s final two episodes, plus Homeland–but I’ll get them done by Monday afternoon at the latest.
Photo credit: Showtime, The Affair