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What Should You Care About on The Affair?

Episode 203
Just another Goop-inspired dinner on The Affair. Photo: Mark Schafer/Showtime

The Affair returns for its second season on Showtime this Sunday, and the series picks up close to where season one left off, with its strengths and weaknesses fully intact. It’s a show that has moments of real drama and intrigue, unfortunately wrapped in a not-all-that-interesting split narrative. Did you know that people often self-mythlogize, especially in moments of crisis, trauma, or romance? Indeed they do. As we head into season two, here’s a list of whom and what to care about, from the most to the least important.

In season one, our only perspective characters were Alison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West). In season two, Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson) get added into the mix, too, so we get to see more of their lives sans original partners. Helen is the most interesting among the leads, especially as her life unravels before her. She’s independently wealthy, but not exactly independent of her overly present mom (Kathleen Chalfant); her children remain generalized monsters; and her divorce is moving forward with or without her input. Tierney perfected that detached weariness on ER, and Helen has a lot of Abby’s expressions this season — not helpless, exactly, but not helping herself, either.

The Affair doesn’t always hold its stories together all that well (how much time is elapsing?), but it gets a perfect 10 for its stunning locations. Every vacation house is more glorious than the next. Let’s all just make rustic, Goop-inspired dinners while looking out at the shore through our expansive kitchen windows. Pass the casually open, no-big-deal wine, and let’s make a toast to always dressing in linens and always banging on available surfaces.

Noah’s Superhuman Smugness
Noah comes across as an unbearable sonofabitch in the parts of the show that are told from his perspective, and from the perspective of the woman who falls in love with him. The show has a ball making us loathe his oblivious self-regard. But then it also fuels that by letting Noah basically earn his smugness: He wrote a novel in what, a few months? And it’s a big hit? And he banged every woman for a while there? Maybe he is the king of New York.

Remember Max? Noah and Helen’s old friend, who kissed Helen on the mouth in front of the kids? He’s back. He’s kinda weaselly, but a little bit interesting at least.

Cole’s Man-Pain
Recall that Cole is very sad, first because his and Alison’s son died, second because Alison left him, third because his family’s Montauk ranch is apparently not worth as much money as anyone had hoped, and fourth because he’s undecided about his whole beard situation. There was also a whole drug subplot that was a snooze, so just keep in mind that Cole knows what drugs are.

The Kids
There’s nothing much going on here plot-wise — just remember they are the absolute worst. The oldest daughter is the worst-worst, but they’re all terrible.

The Murder
It’s supposed to be so central to the show, but the whole murder investigation is the least compelling part of the series. Did Noah kill Cole’s brother Scotty? The investigation continues in season two, but oh God, who cares.

What Should You Care About on The Affair?