Follow TV Tropes


Series / The Affair

Go To

The Affair is an American television drama series produced by Showtime which aired from 2014 to 2019.

The series explores the extramarital relationship between Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson) and its effects after the two meet in the resort town of Montauk, Long Island. Noah is a New York City schoolteacher who has had one novel published, and is struggling to write a second book. He is happily married with four children, but resents his dependence on his wealthy father-in-law. Alison is a 31-year-old waitress trying to piece her life and marriage back together in the wake of the death of her child.

The story of the affair is told separately, from the male and female perspective, complete with distinct memory biases.

Created by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, renowned for In Treatment, the series premiered on Showtime on October 12, 2014. A second season was greenlighted shortly after.

Provides examples of

  • Adaptation Decay: In-universe, Bruce despises the movie adaptations of his books because they make a mess with his material, so he just gives nominal support, cashes the checks and shows up at the premieres.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Noah loosely bases his new novel on his affair with Alison in Montauk. He paints a pretty unflattering picture of the Lockharts, making them out to be a hardcore organized crime family. Alison herself is also turned into The Vamp.
  • Amicable Exes: After a bitter custody dispute following their seperation, Noah and Helen eventually settle into this for the sake of their children.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Helen ends up doing such three times.
    • After their separation in Season 1 she admits that she misses Noah and wants him home.
    • Right after Helen has killed Scotty Lockhart, Noah has determined to take the fall for Helen. She declares that she loves him.
    • She blurts out that she loves Noah during the series finale while having an argument.
  • Attempted Rape: One of the reasons why Alison didn't reveal to anyone that she was with Scott right when he died in the hit and run accident with Noah and Helen is because he had previously attempted to force himself on her and it would make her look guilty.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Nina to Helen: Who was driving the car that killed Scott Lockhart?
  • Awful Wedded Life: Bruce and Margaret. She knows about his affairs, but she stays with him for the money. Even they acknowledge it themselves. They're finally getting a divorce in season 2. But then they reconcile in later seasons.
  • Big Applesauce: The Solloways live in New York, and spend their holidays in Montauk, Long Island.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: The theme song is sung by a woman whose death wail caused an avalanche that killed a man. The man's widow "met your daddy, and they made you."
  • Blackmail: Oscar tries to blackmail Noah with knowledge of his affair with Alison. Noah asks his afluent best friend to loan him the money, but out of guilt he admits what happened to his wife anyway and tells Oscar to go screw himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Noah reconciles with Helen and improves his relationship with his children, but his professional reputation is still in tatters. In the future, Joanie comes to terms with her mother's death, but is unable to bring Allison's killer to justice.
  • Blatant Lies: As Noah and Helen make love in the series-finale Helen, after previously making an Anguished Declaration of Love, insists that what they are doing "means nothing". She immediately begins to cry mid coitus.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In season 2 Helen calls out her mother Margaret for wanting to see her daughter's marriage fail out of resentment for being in an unhappy marriage herself.
  • The Cameo: Journalist and author Sebastian Junger as himself.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Noah took serious offense at (of all people) a college student for his book review of Descent that he almost in a drunken rage, almost punched him.
  • Control Freak: In season 3 Noah's sister Nina accuses Helen of having control freak tendencies, and that she was mostly attracted to Noah because she wanted to nurture someone who was in emotional pain (Noah's mother had recently died when they met in college). She seems to be mostly oblivious to this, coming across as much more emotionally manipulative in Noah's POV than her own.
  • Demoted to Extra: Some characters become much less prominent in the second season as the setting mostly moves away from Montauk, such as Bruce and Oscar.
  • Drunk Driver:
    • After a pile-up of misfortunes earlier that day, Helen proceeds to pick her kids up from school while she's drunk and stoned. She crashes the car and gets arrested after assaulting a police officer. It single-handedly undermines her case for sole custody of her and Noah's children.
    • It happens again to Helen, this time, when she's driving home Noah from Cole and Luisa's wedding before she runs over Scotty Lockhart.
  • Dude, Not Funny!:
    • Happens out and in-universe when Martin Solloway fakes his suicide.
    • Whitney's involvement in the "Skank Ho" incident.
    • When Noah relates to his agent and friend Max that his daughter is expecting a baby from Alison's brother-in-law, Max can't keep a straight face.
      Max: Jesus. I thought I fucked up my life. I'm sorry. I... [Laughs]
      Noah: Fuck you [...] If you don't stop laughing, I'm gonna kill you.
  • Easily Forgiven: Cole gives Whitney a ride home to New York after she tries to ambush Scotty. While she notes that he pointed a gun at her, Cole doesn't remember it that way but still apologizes and gives Whitney some life advice. Whitney gratefully gives him an innocent "thank you" kiss on the cheek.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: John Gunther, the sadistic prison guard stalking Noah throughout season 3, gets incredibly pissed off after Noah visits his mother in his parent's hunting store.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: Noah's new love interest in season 3 is Juliette, a French college professor who specializes in medieval Courtly Love literature.
  • Family Rivalry: The Lockharts and Hodges have long, tension multiplied, history.
  • Happily Married: Noah, according to him.
  • Heel Realization: Alison has a bit of a freak out when Yvonne starts to treat her very coldly and discovers that it's because she's basically portrayed as a homewrecking nymphomaniac in Noah's novel. She's shocked to find out that people see her that way and actually tries to apologize to Noah's ex-wife Helen.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Noah has an affair with Alison, a rather striking redhead. His wife is a Brainy Brunette.
  • How We Got Here: The affair is told in flashbacks in season 1. This format is abandoned in subsequent seasons for more straightforward chronological storytelling.
  • It's All About Me: Good grief, where to start? Noah is the worst to be sure yet it's showcased how Allison, Helen, and others can all have incredibly self-centered views that put themselves above everyone else.
    • In the final season, Helen is rocked to realize that Sasha is the one behind women accusing Noah of sexual harassment, all so he can get a writing credit for the movie. When Helen yells at him not caring about the damage done to her or her family by this, she's appalled when Sasha says he "cares about my script" which he didn't write a single word of.
  • Jailbait Taboo: Noah's 16-year-old daughter Whitney had sex with Cole's 30-year-old brother Scott during the summer and became pregnant as a result. Her parents threaten to press charges for statutory rape and Noah attacks Scott when he runs into him. This makes him the primary suspect when Scott's murder is being investigated.
  • Jerkass: Bruce is a successful novelist who is also crass and condescending towards pretty much everyone around him.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Helen says that she married Noah because she didn't want to marry someone like her father, but that she didn't realize that she married someone like her mother instead.
  • Likes Older Men: Whitney likes older men to a fault. This includes 30-year-old Scott in season 1 when she was still underage at the time, and a 40-something artist in season 3 who has a daughter 2 years her senior.
  • Loony Fan: While Noah was in prison between seasons 2 and 3, a prison guard from his Pennsylvania hometown named John Gunther becomes obsessed with Noah and envious of his success as a writer. He regularly torments and assaults Noah in prison (at one point even returning Noah a picture of Alison that he had stolen now covered with semen) and continues stalking him after he gets out, culminating in an attempted murder.
  • Love Dodecahedron: It starts out as a fairly straightforward case of infidelity with two members of different married couples cheating on their spouses with each other, but the entanglement of relationships gets increasingly complex over the following seasons, including multiple instances of break-ups and make-ups with the same two people.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: When Noah is separated from his wife, he takes advantage of his bachelor status to sleep around a lot. One of them is another teacher at the school he works at, whom he takes to his locked classroom at night to have kinky sex. Deconstructed when a janitor happens to see them and he's suspended for improper behavior.
  • Male Gaze: Noah's recollection of events feature a lot of shots from his POV where he certainly notices Alison's figure.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Noah has just published his first book when the story begins and is thinking about the second. Being an English teacher writing about adultery makes him a textbook example. His father-in-law Bruce Butler is a famous writer who remarks with contempt that everybody has a book in them, but almost no one has two.
  • Missing Mom: Athena is bonafide this trope. Like most examples of this trope who come back into the picture, her attitude is marginally expectant but progressively redeems.
  • Momma's Boy: Cole.
  • Next Thing They Knew: After Noah and Helen break up, he runs into the swimmer who flirted with him in the first episode, who tells him she's now engaged. Commence sex scene.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In a rare moment of non-condescension or judgment Bruce invokes this to Noah, when revealing he had a love-affair with a student. He admits that he regretted not leaving his wife for the other-woman and only stayed with his wife for the sake of his daughter.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: As Alison begins an affair with Noah, the amount of compliments she gets for being such a great wife to Cole steadily increase.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws:
    • Noah hates Bruce, and Bruce is quite patronizing and contemptuous towards Noah. In a bit of hilarious metacasting, it couldn't be any other way, given the reunion between arch-enemies Dominic West and John Doman from The Wire, whose characters Jimmy McNulty and Bill Rawls were in a similar position.
    • Margaret can also be worse than Bruce.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Alison and Cole lost their son Gabriel in 2012. She blames herself for it, as they saved him from drowning and then put him to bed, only for him to die in his sleep as a result of secondary drowning (fluid retained in the lungs).
  • Parental Favoritism: Noah is implied to have been closer with his mother than his father. Conversely, his father was closer with his daughter than his son.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Whitney calls out her father's affair with Alison when he admonishes her for her fling with Scott.
  • Parents as People:
    Noah: Being a parent is hard, and I know we haven't done it perfectly, but I learned from my parents' mistakes, and your mother learned from hers, just as you'll learn from our mistakes and be better with your children until someone, someday, many years from now, finally has a perfect childhood.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Noah and Alison give slightly different versions of the story, diverging significantly where it matters.
  • Raging Stiffie: While they're staying at Yvonne and Robert's mansion, Alison helps out with Robert's physical therapy after he fires his housekeeper. After massaging his legs and telling him about her passionate affair with Noah, she realizes that he's rock hard.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: An amusing example in season 3 when Noah (American) visits Paris with his girlfriend Juliette (French). In Juliette's version all the French dialogue is subtitled to indicate that she's a fluent speaker, in Noah's version none of the French is subtitled to indicate that he only knows English.
  • Self-Harm: After Noah sees scars on Alison's legs, she admits that she cuts herself to cope with the death of her son Gabriel. Later in the series she's seen doing it again during an emotional breakdown.
  • Self-Serving Memory: The central theme of the series, mixed with Unreliable Narrator as each episode divides the point of view between Allison and Noah as they embark on a relationship. Each one has a different view of things from who started the affair to how they were dressed on a certain day. In later seasons, we do not always see the same events from different perspectives, only one, making the whole thing even more ambiguous.
    • In season 1, Noah and Allison remember the broad strokes the same, but usually recall the details in a way that makes themselves look better at the other's expense. Sometimes inverted, though, with one of them actually coming off better in the other's version than in their own. For example, in Episode Eight when Allison recalls Noah giving her a long, insightful speech about needing to let her dying grandmother go, something that Noah himself apparently has no recollection of doing.
    • The second season expands to the views of Noah's wife, Helen, and Allison's husband, Cole, who naturally have a far different view of this "romance."
    • Allison tends to think of herself as more the victim in things and sees herself as dowdy while Cole and Noah see her far more attractive and Helen views her as a conniving woman.
    • Noah remembers showing up for a meeting with Helen and their attorneys in a nice suit and professional while she's hostile. Helen remembers Noah in jeans and a leather jacket and a jerk while she was cordial.
    • Noah and Allison each remember being the one who saved Noah's daughter from choking at a diner.
    • Noah remembers coming to dinner with Helen nice and calm and he was doing his best despite being harried at his work. Helen recalls Noah being semi-drunk and cursing. Noah also recalls being okay with his son being gay while Helen saw him as being in denial.
    • Allison and Cole share a kiss that Allison remembers as slow and romantic to reignite their old passions. Cole saw it as rushed and frantic and a huge mistake.
    • A truly dark example in the penultimate episode of season 4. From Ben's perspective, his talk with Allison is warm as he pours his heart out to her, troubled by his issues as a soldier and they make love. We then see Allison's version of events where a troubled Ben admits he shot a man he knew was unarmed, tried to rape her and when she pushed him away, ended up killing her in a fight.
    • In season 5, Noah and Helen recall the Hindu-themed funeral for a friend with a few folks in light garb. Noah's new girlfriend, Janelle, a black woman, sees nothing but people dressed in white. Also, Noah remembers his ex-father-in-law mistaking Janelle for a waitress because of his memory problems (he still thinks Noah and Helen are married). Janelle only sees a man showing casual racism of her despite her dress (which is far nicer in Helen and Noah's recollection).
    • Noah recalls meeting an actor for the movie version of his book, the guy flashy in a cafe and women coming up to get his autograph. Janelle (not a fan of the guy) just sees some nondescript figure in a baseball cap.
    • Lampshaded during the filming of the movie based on the book which basically tells the entire Noah/Helen/Allison affair as the director is soon fed up by how Noah and Helen keep arguing over how true the events actually were.
    • Lampshaded again when Noah meets a woman he once had an affair with and shocked she later claims he harassed her. He openly says "I have a very different memory of that night" and how he recalls her coming onto him and turning her down. Noah is later forced to admit both their versions are much the truth.
    • Noah's daughter, Whitney, confronts her ex on how he had sex with her in front of another man and jarred he thinks they "made love." Worse is when she asks why he once hit her in the face during a trip in Paris...and he claims to have no idea what she's talking about, saying he never cared enough about her to even strike her.
  • Sex at Work: Noah gets himself in very hot water with the school board when they discover that he and one of his colleagues used his classroom for "inappropriate purposes". Even if it was outside of school hours, it's still a serious breach of etiquette.
  • Sex Montage: When Noah is seperated from his wife at the end of season 1, he's shown hooking up with a number of women in quick succession.
  • Sex with the Ex: Neither Noah or Cole seem to be able to stay away from their exes for good, even if they're in other relationships.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: After he becomes estranged from his family Cole gets a phone call from his brother Scott, but doesn't answer it. Scott then says hi from behind him, having used it to test him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Peter Pan is discussed and featured. It's the book that Alison used to read to his first son.
    • Noah teaches literature and Romeo and Juliet is one of his subjects.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The second season gradually moves away from "Rashomon"-Style to show differents parts of the events with rotating POV characters but without overlap or contradictory accounts. Subsequent seasons mix it up more.
  • Surprise Incest: Thankfully it doesn't get that far, but when Noah finds himself at A Party, Also Known as an Orgy thrown by a Hollywood producer, he checks out a Two-Person Pool Party before realizing that one of the two kissing girls is his daughter Whitney. He quickly makes himself scarce.
  • Tarot Motifs: In the first episode Alison has her fortune told and draws The Devil, representing a primal and amoral force coming to change her life. Cue her meeting Noah the same night.
  • Took a Level in Kindness Margaret goes through this in season 2.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Juliette, the French literature professor in season 3, has a roughly 20 year-older husband who was her former professor but is now apparently senile. She has sex with her own male college students as well. One of her female protegés also muses about sleeping with Noah, who teaches an American literature class.
  • Third Wheel: Max indicates that he's always felt this way towards Noah and Helen, valuing his friendship with the former but having an unrequited crush on the latter. He actually supports Noah financially after their separation just so he can have a shot at Helen again. Noah later calls him out on this when he realizes his "friend"'s real motive.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Throughout much of season 3, after doing a 3-year stint in prison during the Time Skip between seasons, Noah is being stalked by a psychotic prison guard named John Gunther who even stabs him during a home invasion. When he visits Gunther in his hometown, he (initially) doesn't even recognize Noah and turns out to just be a normal guy. It's likely that most of their interactions in prison were imaginary, and Noah stabbed himself.
  • Time Skip:
    • Season 3 is three years following the events of Season 2.
    • At the end of the penultimate episode of season 3 Noah is suffering a complete mental breakdown. Then it just skips ahead several months for the last episode when he visits Paris with Juliette.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Noah and Alison clearly have differing views of themselves in their respective viewpoints (Noah sees himself as more reluctant and Alison as more seductive, and Alison sees herself as more dowdy and Noah as more aggressive) and each have a poor view of the other's respective spouses. It's possible to generally piece things together when the same events are shown from both their perspectives, but just as often we only have the word of one of them to go on. For instance, when Noah finally confesses to his wife Helen about the affair to stay ahead of the story getting out, she takes it surprisingly well and is quick to forgive him. Despite there being no other witnesses to contradict him, it's clear that Noah is downplaying how pissed off his wife really was. Season 2 adds to it by showing the viewpoints of their significant others, Helen and Cole, who naturally have a very different view of this "romance."
  • The Vamp: Alison is pretty upset that she's portrayed this way in Noah's new book, where her character aggressively seduces him, is a drug-dealing sociopath, and is finally run over by Noah's character.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Noah and Alison's affair eventually results in her becoming pregnant again. However, she also had sex once with her ex-husband Cole at the approximate time of conception, so isn't sure about the parentage for a while and keeps this from Noah. Later confirmed to be Cole's child through DNA tests taken during the trial.
  • Working with the Ex: Alison and Oscar, the jerkass owner of the diner, had sex once when they were teenagers, as he is prone to recall. After Cole finds out about her affair with Noah, she has a one-night stand with Oscar to get her mind off things.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Silas Lockhart, Cole's grandfather, fatally did that to a love child produced by his wife and Oscar‘s grandfather.
  • Write Who You Know: In-universe. Noah and Bruce draw heavily from their personal lives and experiences in their writing.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Athena tells Alison she approves of her cheating on her boring husband and becoming more free-spirited and adventurous like Athena herself. Alison does not consider that a compliment, to put it mildly.