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'The Affair' Season 2 finale review: Showtime's LI-set show drives off into a Montauk fog

Cole (Joshua Jackson) still has my attention in

Cole (Joshua Jackson) still has my attention in "The Affair." But Noah (Dominic West) not so much. The second season is over, but the third season seems daunting after Sunday. Credit: Craig Blankenhorn

Here's absolutely what we learned from the second season finale of "The Affair," which aired Sunday: Never drive down a foggy Montauk road at night with a Chris Isaak song playing on the radio that invokes a foggy city while you yourself are in a fog.

Or better yet, just call a cab the next time you want to make a quick exit from that wedding party from hell ...

But "The Affair's" second season wrap may have also confirmed my worst fears -- that there is really no place to go after this. We now do know everything -- presumably everything: Circumstances, motives, who was driving, who was not, and exactly what poor, misbegotten, sodden Scotty Lockhart had to drink, and where he slept (a boat, and not one in the water, either).

At least the Isaak song was a good one: "San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights."

The problem, a big one, is that we've already made up our minds (or I have) about the one immovable object in this story going forward. His name is Noah. Helen (Maura Tierney) got it exactly right about dear, muddled Noah (Dominic West) a few episodes ago when Alison (Ruth Wilson) came knocking at her door one fateful day.

At first, Helen explains, he seems like the greatest guy in the world, and then as time goes by, he takes all his failures and dumps them on YOU, and of course, by that point, he can't love you anymore because not only has he confided in you, but you are to blame for his failures. It's the circular emotional logic of a casebook narcissistic, and in Noah's case, an almost pathologically nonintuitive one.

Worst yet, we learned this season that he's a terrible writer. Ploughing away on his book, which seems like a dumbed-down, soul-depleting knockoff of "Fifty Shades of Grey," albeit with bigger words, we also now learn he needs to go to France for first-hand research on battlefields, when all he really has to do is turn on the History Channel.

The fact is, Noah is a cad. Worse, he is a weak, lachrymose cad. Worse even more than that, he's a thumbsucker who needs to constantly be coddled, loved, cherished, stroked.

Paulie, the lobsterman, had him dead to center Sunday night: "Who's the -------- in the beamer?" he asked Ali.

We know who he is, Paulie, and so obviously do you.

Those last-minute courtroom theatrics -- the heroic confession, like Tom Sawyer confessing to the ripped textbook, with Becky Thatcher looking on, with love and gratitude in her soulful eyes?

Bravo, Noah. Clap, clap. You could have saved us all the trouble if you had done that in the first place.

Actually, you could have saved us all the trouble if you had simply called the cops; believe me, tragically, the cops in the East End have seen far too many people like you and Helen out late at night. They know what to do. They've done it far too often.

So that's where we stand with "The Affair," or where I stand, unfortunately. It's simply impossible to get beyond Noah -- who is on a very fundamental level a person who neither deserves our pity nor will ever have it.

Creating unlikable lead characters is the art of narrative fiction, arguably one of the most important parts of that art. By creating some compensatory feature, something that forces us to see -- however dimly, however uncomfortably -- a facet of that person in ourselves is where the craftsmanship comes in.

But "Affair" creator Sarah Treem has instead fashioned someone who viscerally repels us -- we want to see nothing of ourselves here. He's more instructional, in how NOT to be.

Is this a problem? Hell yeah, because we've now got a third season to get through.

I think -- or I'd humbly suggest -- Helen now takes more of the focus, more of the heart of this saga. Tierney's portrayal has been so rich and so evocative that -- even though she's a poor little rich girl from a Hamptons "cottage" and a million-dollar Brooklyn duplex who had the great bad fortune to marry a heel like Noah Solloway in the first place -- she is someone we care about.

Or someone I care about. Her parting words to the heel -- "I still love you" -- sounded genuine. You're left to wonder why she does, of course.

The other character who needs our attention, or at least continues to draw it, is Cole (Joshua Jackson).

In Alison's telling Sunday, it was most assuredly Cole who set this Lemony Snicket series of unfortunate events in motion in the first place, by telling Scott he needed to go back to rehab before he stood even a chance of becoming a partner in the 'Roll ...

Scotty (Colin Donnell) promptly fell off the wagon, bellowed out a cover of "House of the Rising Son" (and wrong again, Scotty -- everyone knows exactly what that song is about), then got Ali to parenthetically tell Noah that Joannie is not his daughter after all.

The rest of the sordid tale is now history.

But at least Cole is still interesting: His sibling decisions and impulses have been selfish, reprehensible, tiresome. But his ties to Alison and now to Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) appear to still offer fertile -- pun intended -- ground for continued and engaging narrative.

Nevertheless, the key problem remains.

His name is Noah.

We have to care about him.

He's impossible to care about. So, too, his book.

The third season, like that fateful road, is therefore officially fogbound, too. 

(Meanwhile, speaking of Isaak, this song could have tracked over the scene when Noah and Helen were lolling in the waves...And since we're all on the topic of Isaak, I almost wonder if his inclusion in the season finale of this Showtime hit was a sly reference to a possible role in "Twin Peaks." I think he was in the movie. His long-ago series, as you know, was on Showtime...) 

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