‘The Affair’ Season 1 Episode 1 Recap: “Pilot”


There’s a hoary old quote out there, attributed to someone long gone, that says that there are three sides to every story — your side, the other side, and the truth. Regarding the premiere of The Affair, written by cocreator Sarah Treem, we have two examples of the little Rashomons that make up our daily lives. Whether that storytelling style keeps up remains to be seen, but for now: Here’s what happened in that twenty-four hours, from our new friends, and presumable future affair-havers, Noah and Alison.

Noah’s Story: (Played by Dominic West, graceful of torso, forever McNulty from The Wire to all TV connoisseurs.)

He sliced through the water. A champion. His daily laps were one of the pleasures of his life. When a woman loomed above his prone body in the pool, asking to split a lane, he smiled. She followed him out of the club, smiling at the showers, saying hello on the stoop.

“I could hit that,” Noah thought.

Home. A masculine musk wafts off his body. His wife (Helen, played by Maura Tierney), drowsy in their bed. The alarm rang. “We can’t,” she murmured. He kissed her. Sex scene #1: Married Couple, Morning Sex. Helen is hot for it. She moans. A child’s cry pierced the air. “MOOOOOOM!”

Coitus Kid-terruptus, every fucking time. One kid was fine. Noah had no idea how he ended up with four. Four gauntlets of attentions, fears, and endless yawping need.

But his life was pretty fucking perfect. He had a Brooklyn brownstone (paid for by his father-in-law), a job as a public school teacher, a first novel that’s done decently enough to get a contract for a second novel. The kids are chaos: the two little ones were all over the place, teen boy had a habit of staging fake suicide attempts in the bathroom, teen girl Whitney (played by Bunheads‘ Julia Goldani Telles) was trouble in a romper. All legs.

En route to Montauk, the Solloways stopped at a diner. Whitney was a brat about the food. The hot waitress handled it, though. Her skirt was short. Her hair was long, spilling over her chest. The boys played marbles. The youngest little girl was choking — but Noah saved her with a well-timed push. He went to the bathroom where he bumped into the waitress, who was crying. She said her name was Alison. He wanted to know more.

He wasn’t sure if he could last the summer on Montauk. Tethered to his father-in-law’s palatial manse, paid for by his series of commercial books (that are either Stephen King-ish, or Nicholas Sparks-ish, or maybe a fantasy-world James Salter/Robert Caro-type? We don’t know yet). The way Bruce (played by The Wire‘s John Donan) spoke to Noah felt like when Rawls would bitch out McNulty on The Wire. “Everyone has one book in them. Almost no one has two,” was his father-in-law’s response to his book deal. What a dick.

At night, when Noah tried, again, to have sex with Helen, it failed, again. He said, “Look in my eyes.”

She laughed.

Another kid came in the door. Had a nightmare. Couldn’t sleep. Well, Noah couldn’t sleep either but nobody thought about him now, did they? It was time to take a walk on the beach.

The ocean called to him. Soft. Giving. Like a woman. There was a bonfire up ahead. A beautiful girl in a spaghetti-strap dress.

“You found me!” It was Alison from the diner. She had cigarettes. Her strap kept slipping off her shoulder as she talked. She liked the book Peter Pan. Thought it was dark. He walked her home. She lived in a small house on stilts right on the water. “I have an outdoor shower,” she said.

She wanted him. And outdoor showers were one of his passions. The freedom! The visibility! The way you could be out in the open air, cleaning yourself ritually! She said he could try it out. She took off her clothes and walked into the stall. He looked. He was a married man. He had to go home. He ran away.

But the sound of fighting from Alison’s driveway brought him back towards her house. Alison, in a towel, was arguing with a handsome man. He couldn’t figure out over what. The man got rough with her, pushed her over to the car hood and started having sex with her. Noah looked at Alison. Her eyes said no, they were fearful, but then she saw Noah watching. He turned her on. His presence made her horny. She liked it —

And Noah’s story ends with no resolution, as Noah’s sitting in a police interrogation room, telling a man with a badge something. Did something terrible happen?

Alison’s story: (Alison is played by British actress Ruth Wilson. Her American accent is better than McNulty’s.)

It’s the saddest day in the history of sad days in my sad life. My little boy, four years old, would’ve had his birthday today. I woke up in my family beach house — shabby, made with foraged wood from shipwrecks, but with great light — and I made love with my husband Cole (Joshua Jackson, familiar to all women of a certain age as Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, among other things). He has a great butt. We’ve done it over a thousand times, he noted. It was intimate but I didn’t feel anything. The only feeling I had in my heart was for my little boy, gone for a year. Maybe the ocean took him.

The only thing that heals my pain is a symbolic and melancholic outdoor shower shower. I like to sit on the wood slats and let the water just wash over me, like an ablution. But I have to go to my stupid job.

I’ve been at the Montauk diner for years. Since I was sixteen. I wore my uniform dress, which hit my knees, and pulled my hair back, like every waitress worth her salt. I ignored the boss, I talked with my friend, I tried to be a hero and take the six-top waiting at the door. A handsome guy in a fancy green button-down and his four mewling kids, including a ridiculous teen girl with Lolita glasses. His wife looked tired. Their little girl started to choke. He grabbed her and put her upside down — what an idiot! — and I thumped her back so that the marble got dislodged. Once that happened, I’m pretty sure the father wanted to marry me. He introduced himself to me in the bathroom. Noah. Probably thinks I’m more authentic than whoever he meets out in Brooklyn.

But the thing is, I am so fucking depressed. Sometimes I ride my bike out to the ocean to see the angry waves. Sometimes I see the world like I’m looking through a tilt-shift camera lens. Sometimes I read Peter Pan to my dead child’s grave, and sometimes I’m late to stupid Cole’s stupid constant gigantic family dinners. I have to be so many people all of the time.

My sister-in-law read my Tarot and according to her, Lucifer is coming. It’s the card of temptation. I walked down to the bonfire at the beach, shawl wrapped around my shoulders. There he was. Noah. Cole was busy talking to some blonde at the bonfire. Noah wanted to smoke French cigarettes. He wanted to talk to me. He offered to walk me home.

I didn’t know how I felt. He seemed rich. When I showed him my outdoor shower, he enthused over it like he’d never seen a shower before. He said goodbye, going in for my face in a weird way. He left.

Cole returned. That blonde gave him a ride. We fought, we always fight since our baby died. “It hurts so much,” I said. He started to kiss me, he took me over to the hood of the car. I just wanted to feel something. I was starting to feel something. I heard a rustling beyond the driveway; it was Noah, looking at me creepily. I still had the first orgasm I’d had in while. It felt like freedom. Like an outdoor shower —

And a quick cut to the police interrogation room. Alison has shorter hair, a bob, and is wondering if she can leave, so she can “pick up her kid.” Either time has passed, or this story is not what it seems to be.

I can’t wait to see where it goes.