It has now been a week since I watched the final ever episode of The Affair, and despite following the show throughout all its seasons, I did not have too much invested in the finale due to the shows mixed results in the last few seasons. However, the couple of episodes that led into the season finale were some of the best the show had done in years, and the finale itself completely took me by surprise by almost perfectly wrapping up the show and providing some of the most emotional scenes I have seen on TV in a long time, one of TVs best finales ever, and it left a huge impression on me.
This post is not going to be a review of the whole show, or of season 5 specifically, and it is more just a comment on the surprise effect that the finale of this show had on me, and why that may be, focusing specifically on the character who has been central to the five seasons. The first and most obvious point to make is that when this show first launched, it immediately became one of the best and most unique things on tv due to the narrative decision to show the same events from two differing perspectives, and the incredibly strong performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, Maura Tierney, and Joshua Jackson. Over the years the show has been a mixed bag in the different stories it has chosen to tell, but the characters themselves have always remained fascinating; flawed and likable at the same time. Following Wilson’s shock exit which led to her death storyline, the show was always going to be deeply affected by the loss of both Wilson and Jackson, and that was felt heavily in season five, until the story came into focus later in the season.
The second half of the final season very much came to focus on Noah and the way he has behaved towards women throughout the show, and looks at what consequences he should face. Although it is initially handled clumsily as the women coming forward are dismissed as lying or seeking attention by getting in on the ‘me too movement’, and even though we know Noah has been incredibly thoughtless and rude towards women, we are still made to believe throughout the years he has never crossed a legal line. This makes for uncomfortable viewing as it is hard for us to not slightly side with Noah as he seems to be wronged, but we also don’t want to not believe these women, especially after the last few years have brought to life so much of the horrors women have had to deal with and how brave they are for speaking out. However, the season quickly corrects itself by having Noah realise that he was in the wrong and stopping trying to disprove these women, and instead trying to becoming a better person for everyone in his life, which is something he eventually achieves. As Helen says to Noah in the penultimate episode, she is “unsure how he can be so compassionate at some times and so cruel at others”. This is a question I have been asking myself for a long time as a viewer, as all the other characters have very distinguishable things that explain why they act like they do, but this isn’t the case for Noah, and this makes his actions and potential redemption all the more intriguing.
In the end, we are asked the question of if a man like Noah deserves redemption. The answer is maybe not, but that doesn’t stop it from being the right thing to happen in this situation. He doesn’t get his success back, but he gets the family he so nearly lost. This then flashes forward almost thirty years to the story of Joanie, who has just discovered that her mother Allison was murdered but is struggling to deal with the memory of her. This leads her back to the lobster roll (the restaurant Allison worked at and first met Noah) just before she leaves town and the place is deserted apart from its owner, non-other than an old Noah, who it is revealed moved back to Montauk soon after Whitney’s wedding. He has an emotional reunion with the woman who he raised for a few years as a child, and he finally sets the record straight for her about who Allison really was, and how resilient and kind Joanie’s mother was. Joanie finally realises how much her mother cares, and is now able to return back to her life, without the self-destructive tendencies she had been displaying. This is the final part in the decades long saga of the families effected by Noah and Allison’s initial affair, and it is the final step in Noah’s redemption story.
The final scene of old man Noah, who has been in Montauk for many years (the place where so much has happened over the decades due to his actions one fateful day) features him dancing on a clifftop to the song ‘The Whole Side of the Moon’, which is what he taught everyone to dance to for Whitney’s wedding, something he was unable to witness himself due to his past actions. The cover of the song is done by Fiona Apple, who sang the iconic opening number for the show, and it perfectly encapsulates how the finale played out, and how effectively they closed the story of The Affair and of these characters we have come to know and care about, and the ballad of Noah Solloway. “I saw the crescent, You saw the whole of the moon”…