Step aboard writer Sarah Treem’s trireme and come along to Long Island, just be sure to keep your pants up or knickers in a teasing twist. Such is the tantalising task of Dominic West and Ruth Wilson in the first episode of the lazily titled: The Affair. It is like calling Mad Men: Advertising Executives and Creative Directors in Skyscrapers, Manhattan. Both Brits say no, but with their tongues tasting flesh, they seem set for the inevitable, well, uh, Affair.
One thing for certain is we know things are going to get wet. Starting in the swimming pool. Happily married Noah, has sons and daughters, two by two in his New York arc. In the opening scene, a pool lane becomes an unlikely site for dogging, West’s Noah being damp and dangerous material on the local scene. Replacing his wedding ring after the work out, he rejects a mutinous bird looking for some loving. We do hope this is not what friends and family do at the lido on a Friday night.
Such blasé behaviour is before Bleak House’s Esther (Wilson) enters the fray in a tight skirt and apron, baring buttocks before serving baps. Long Island Ice Teas all round as frisky things hot up. Or not…Anyone watching this for some brief nocturnal encounters between the ‘Brexports’ will be bitterly disappointed. Downing a bitter in a cloud of disquietude. Instead, Wilson, perhaps a surprise vixen, but post Luther (the show, not the reformation scholar), has quite a claim to the strings of lust. The scarlet lip pout and shapely, curvaceous body, draw in West’s writer/teacher on America’s East Coast. Dominic West’s chameleon of a face plays the American dream: house, career, family, security…He looks set for some Boyhood Patricia Arquette syndrome, “is this it?”
Wilson nearly steals the show from West, the two Ws inevitably in nearly all scenes. The foreplay is over a four year old girl choking, which is quite some fetish if ever I’ve seen one. Fetishism is a wave The Affair looks to ride, its corny tagline reading “Danger lies in losing control.” Sound familiar? Well, Valentine’s Day went mad for Fifty SOG’s line “Lose Control.” The only relevance to 50 Shades is Cole, a character who looks like a knock off version of Jamie Dornan’s Grey: Primark bondage wear, perhaps. Cole is the snare in Noah’s path to destruction; a hubby who spends the first half as a vintage American abuser and the second as a tragic figure of loss. One is from the perspective of Noah, the other from the rarer angle of the adulteress, Alison.
The first episode is schizophrenic, split down the middle between the focal points of the protagonists. Wilson’s talent is displayed best as she transforms from femme fatale first half, Noah’s perspective, to a more melancholic majesty of maritime brooding. Like a Venus born from the surf, she looks out gazing over the vast expanse of Atlantic. Then, this being America, the voiceover announces: “I used to like a place down by the lighthouse. The waves seemed angrier than I was…” or something to that effect. Virginia Woolf, this ain’t, but in terms of lost soul in the expanse of wilderness, she wonders closer in literary allusion to the likes of a Hardy or Daphne du Maurier castaway.
Sarah Treem’s objective for The Affair was to raise television to art. What she must realise is that this feat has been achieved. Mad Men is the most stylish art on air, at least for another week or so until it leaves the waves and strikes the box set book shelf. Instead, The Affair is yet another condemnation of marriage. It is now so hackneyed that a dissection of marriage has become a standard form of norm. What is perplexing, without being gripping, is the advent of a review of events. The voiceover comes from the involved parties years after the events unfold on screen. We have a weird, True Detective style interrogation, only without the compelling mystery of McConaughey.
By contrast, the use of interviews gives the theme of extra-marital relations a kind of pre-sexual revolution stigmatism that seems strangely antiquated. Like criminalising an affair, the pair are in detention as they answer deep, psychological questions on the start of their relationship. What’s next, anti-abortion clinics? No, the next step is getting down, deep and dirty. In the meantime, this is a taste bud sizzler, enough to whet the appetite, not satiate the thirst. Tune into episode two, if you choose.