The whole of the Moon as seen in The Affair.

Karolina Fotyga

Raise your hand if you don’t watch TV series. Seriously. I guess it’s not the question of ‘if’ but rather ‘what you like best’. Depending on who we are and what our personality traits are, we might choose different things. Obviously:) So if you’re looking to start an affair (pun intended) with yet another show – I have just the one for you. This one’s finale has just aired, so you’ll have five seasons to catch up. (warning: there are spoilers ahead)

The story

The Affair is a rich and deep story that’s captivating on many levels. It’s about people who experience… well – life. The storyline is simple. At least in the beginning. One summer, a family is visiting an American coastal town of Montauk. When you look at the map, you’ll see it’s the very end of one of the Islands New York City is situated on – Long Island. This itself is very symbolic, but we’ll get to that later. Long story short – Noah – a father of 4 and a husband, starts an affair with Alison – who works as a waitress there. She’s also married and lost a small child a while back, which left her traumatized. 

The man then leaves his family – wife (Helen) and kids and starts a pretty turbulent and eventful life with his new love. Noticed the passive narration for those women already? “He starts”, “he leaves”. Women seem to be merely following. Focused on the family, on the man, on their parents’ expectations. Up until now, it seems pretty simple. We know many stories like that, so how come this one is different? Well, it’s not actually. But the narrative the creators of the show decided to have is pretty original.

The Affair is a story about transformation.

About how life can be absolutely dreadful and how it can lead through the intricacies of one drama after another. Then when you finally feel you have a chance to breathe – another apocalypse happens. “Life is how you react to the crisis”. The question is – are we dealt the cards, or do we choose them ourselves? Or maybe it’s what we do with what we were dealt that matters…?

Reasons and consequences

The refreshing part of The Affair storyline is that the creators make it pretty apparent that there are at least two sides to each coin. Each choice has an underlying reason for it. Conscious or unconscious. Like with Noah, who decides to “rescue” Alison so that he can earn his redemption. He does it to feel needed and worthy. All of which he couldn’t feel when he witnessed his little brother die as a baby. With each choice, there are also consequences. The tricky part is they are not something we can easily foresee. When you decide to have kids, you may not know life with such ‘anchors’ might get mundane and unbearable at times. When you choose to get married, you might expect to always love your partner – with the same pure love. And you may be surprised. When you’re in your 20s, you cannot possibly know what the relationships you have with yourself and others will look like in 20 or 30 years. If they even last. 

Many of us like to believe in happy endings and beautiful turns of events, but life isn’t always this way. We’re not responsible for 100% of the ‘screenwriting’. But we better believe we have a say in the crucial parts of ‘casting and directing’.

A variety of genres and the dualistic approach.

The series is five seasons long and – mind you – those seasons were not created equal. They just weren’t. You may be confused – it can seem like a melodramatic love story that then changes into a crime story. We get the soap opera and suddenly some wild bohemian episodes on top. Above all, it’s always a family saga. Multi-generation, multi-layer saga full of infuriating characters acting insane. You will get moments like, “My mother is your mother’s ex-husband’s ex-wife’s new partner”. Honestly, though – it’s not like life is always that easily explained anyway. 

Something that is so different in The Affair – to all the other shows – is how the story is being told. It’s dualistic. Each episode is shown from a different perspective – as experienced by different characters. It shows pretty significantly how we often bend the reality to fit it to our own narrative. One could argue – it sometimes feels more like creating our own reality, so to say. Not all seasons were sensational, but they are all worth the binge. It also feels like a metaphor for life, won’t you agree? Or are all your years equally beautiful?

Authenticity and’ one true love’.

The Affair is a show with great screenwriting. You get to appreciate the characters that seem real and authentic. You won’t find the usual Hollywood glam and happy endings here. (And yes – the last season finale was pretty surprising).

On the contrary, the show tends to be on the deeper and darker side of things. We get to know the real people with their struggles and weaknesses. Although some critics say the show does show the ivory tower, I wouldn’t fight that battle. There are some questions in life many people have. Like: Can everything be healed. Do we only have one chance for’ true love’? What love really is, and does it have to hurt? There is a pretty stubborn common expectation that TRUE love exists, but it only happens once. What “The Affair” managed to show beautifully is how people’s love can be different but equal. That they can be felt and experienced differently, but also – as long as we live and breathe – a strong connection with another can happen. And it may be equally important.

We are capable of change.

There’s a chance for a change as long as we live. We are capable of growth and forgiveness as long as we choose to. We are never just stuck and finished until we’re gone for good. I said forgiveness, but I could also add – we are capable of letting things go. One character whose life might be an excellent example of the change and healing is Alison. After her own traumatizing experiences – through misery and a series of wrong choices – she discovers a path to herself. Through her resilience and love, she has for her daughter. She does it to the point she starts helping other people heal as a therapist. 

When we think forgiveness, what then comes to mind is redemption. And here we have Noah, who keeps making the choices that bring him even more complicated consequences. His transformation throughout the season – with the culmination in the last episodes – is pretty spectacular. He’s the one we see in the last scenes of the finale. Dancing as an old man to the symbolic hit from the 80′ – “You saw the whole of the moon” (The Waterboys) performed by Fiona Apple.

The island of men


When we think of an island, we often think of the exclusion, of being alone. The town of Montauk is situated at the very tip of Long Island. In combination with this family’s stories, this is a pretty accurate symbol of – well – life. Just like that island – it seems excluded. It is connected to the mainland with dozens of roads and highways; we too are one with the rest of humankind. Sure we feel different, we feel like we’re one of a kind at times, don’t you?;) Now remember those teenage years, or your 20’…. We do share that DNA; we do have the same common emotions. We also have the same needs – like the basic need for security, belonging, and love. Sure they may manifest differently; sure, we go for it in different ways. All in all, though, we go through very much the same struggles. Some of our own “life episodes” may seem like a screenwriter’s nightmare at times;)

Life is messy, and there’s no other way. 


It’s either that or you see only the “crescent of the moon”.

I didn’t focus on all of the other uber interesting threads – the Noah and Helen’s relationship, Allison and Cole, their daughter, the climate crisis (do Teslas really have the apocalyptic switch??), the “me-too” other side of the coin and so many others… But I hope those of you who didn’t see it – might watch it and this way I saved you all the spoilers:)

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