The Affair has been labeled the Rashomon of marriage dramas, thanks to its he said/she said structure—but it’s also a pretty compelling mystery. The two main characters, Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), are telling the story of their affair to a detective who appears to be investigating a murder. So far, all we know is this: Someone died. And that someone is a man, probably a local, though he was run down on a road that’s primarily used by tourists. And he died the night of a party. And Alison misses him now that he’s gone. A few (very small) clues!
So, who exactly is doomed? Well, listen to “Container,” the beautiful, unsettling theme song that Fiona Apple originally wrote as an unreleased track and revamped specifically for the show, and you’ll notice that Apple might be hinting at someone specific. “I was screaming into the canyon at the moment of my death,” she sings. “The echo I created outlasted my last breath/My voice it made an avalanche and buried a man I never knew/And when he died, his widowed bride met your daddy, and they made you.”
Before we start analyzing those words, let’s get one thing out of the way: obviously, Apple’s lyrics aren’t only meant to be read literally. “We built the title sequence around Fiona’s song,” the show’s co-creator, Sarah Treem, tweeted last night. “The idea that actions have ‘echoes’ or unforeseen consequences became crucial to both of us.”
Those echoes sound a lot like waves. Since the show is set in Montauk, it often uses the ocean as a metaphor—something that people get lost in, sink into, maybe even drown in. (I’m speaking symbolically, but maybe also literally: we know that the death of Alison’s young son Gabriel made the newspapers, that Alison herself can’t swim, and that Alison’s mother-in-law believes she might need “help” looking over her next child. Is it possible that Gabriel drowned?) Treem told Maureen Dowd that The Affair’s writers used a quote by the poet Robert Hass for inspiration, a specific passage from his poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” in which he describes the feeling of having sex with a woman: “I felt a violent wonder at her presence like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat, muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish called pumpkinseed,” Hass writes. “It hardly had to do with her. Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances.”
Analyzing the rest of Hass’s poem, the writer Pimone Triplett believes it’s about a man who’s sick of using words as rhetoric (“talking this way, everything dissolves,” Hass writes) and wants to return to a more passionate feeling, the kind that has to do with “memory, desire, the senses.” Sounds like a perfect way to describe The Affair, a show that’s all about how the act of telling what happened (as Alison and Noah are both doing) removes people more and more from the original moment of passion they’re describing—and also, from each other. Whether they’re talking to the detective or fighting amongst themselves, words seem to get these two into trouble.
But back to Fiona Apple. Let’s take “Container” literally, purely for fun, and search for clues in it. We know that Alison has another child in the future (she tells the detective, “I have to pick up my kid”), so it’s tempting to think she’s the “widowed bride” in the song, who “met your daddy, and they made you.” And that would make her husband, Cole, the deceased, which seems like the obvious choice anyway, since Alison would miss him. But who’s “your daddy”? It can’t be Noah. Alison met him long before the mystery man died, so the timing doesn’t quite work.
I’m hoping that the father of Alison’s child is some random guy we don’t know yet; anything else might feel overdetermined. But something has been bothering me about Noah’s father-in-law, Bruce. The show already focuses a lot of attention on him. We know that Noah hates him, but mostly because they’re competitive with each other. And we know that Alison hates his books, which seems like an odd detail to put in the second episode—unless Alison and Bruce have some kind of future (or past?) together. At one point, Bruce claims that if he were a working-class townie like Alison, he’d wear a nice dress to the party and “try to find some poor schmuck to drive me home.” I’m starting to fear that Bruce might become that schmuck. We already know that he cheats on his wife, since his mistress comes to his party. I wouldn’t put it past him to try something with Alison.
I’m hoping that I’m wrong about this. But I love theorizing, so please join me in the comments: Who do you think will end up dead? And who is the father of Alison’s child? The safest bet is probably Cole—but the safest bet is never the right answer on shows like this.