It's a classic he-said/she-said as multiple mysteries in the Hamptons unfold.

By Sara Vilkomerson
October 13, 2014 at 03:01 AM EDT
Craig Blankenhorn/Showtime
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Hello, everyone. My name is Sara and I am neither married, in the throes of an extramarital affair, nor living somewhere out in the far-flung Hamptons and yet here I am, your humble recapper in Cheatersville. Population: at least 2.

If you’ve watched this premiere episode, you know that The Affair means to do things a little differently—with a he said/she said approach to how two people currently not married to each other ended up entangled. How this all comes about changes slightly depending on our (probably not so reliable) narrators. Consider this show the Rashoman of infidelity.

But first, let’s meet our adulterers. First up, we have Noah Solloway, played by Dominic West—who, depending on who you are, will remind you of the good ole McNulty days on the The Wire or as the dashing cad in such Oxygen classics as 28 Days and Mona Lisa Smile. Noah is a schoolteacher and novelist with four children and is married to Helen, played by Maura Tierney, who should remind absolutely everyone of the greatness of NewsRadio and Maura Tierney in general. They somehow manage to live in an insanely beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn (more on this later) and seem to be pretty happy. We learn that Noah likes to wake up and go for a swim before Helen even wakes up—rebuffing comely young ladies at the local pool and coming home ready to give his wife a morning… wake-up call.

The show wants us to know right away just how hard it is for these two to have sexy times together. At 7:16 a.m. they get about 35 seconds of quality nookie in before their children demand their attention. Kids! What can you do.

About these kids: Martin is really bummed about going to grandpa’s—who we later learn is a big deal Hollywood type—for the whole summer because it “sucks.” Noah points out that there’s two tennis courts and a sauna there, which categorically does not suck. Real talk. Martin also tries to fake a hanging, which is entirely creepy and weird, so who the hell knows what is wrong with him. We do know he hates his grandfather, and Noah admits he does too, but at least Martin stands to inherit some of it. Hmmm.

There’s a younger boy, Trevor, who wants to read Noah’s book, but we learn quickly that it might be too dirty (or “grown-up”) and that also it did not get great reviews. There’s also the oldest, a classic sulky teen named Whitney, who insists on wearing her sunglasses in the car though you can still just feel her rolling her eyes. Also, apparently smokes pot a lot. And rounding out the brood, we have little Stacy who is inadvertently responsible for Noah and Alison meeting. Which brings us to adulterer number 2…

Here’s Alison, played by Ruth Wilson, whom you might recognize from last year’s Saving Mr. Banks or Luther. Alison is married to scruffy surfer Cole—who, I’ll just warn everyone now, I’ll have a hard time not calling Pacey. Because, you guys, it’s Pacey! (Or, more accurately, Joshua Jackson.) Anyway it becomes very clear that all is not well in Alison and Cole’s beautiful house by the sea. We know this because Alison cuts oranges, showers, and even has sex with her hot husband all with a heavy cloud of sadness around her. It’s a particularly hard day for her, we learn, because it would have been the birthday of her son, Gabriel, who died at the age of 4 in 2012. And Cole and Alison are having a difficult time as each is handling their grief in entirely different ways. Alison tells the police in the present/future that she was 31 years old at the time her affair/mess started and that she had given herself to age 35 to get better. Later, Cole gets mad as she arrives late to a family dinner—that the great Mare Winningham, who plays Cole’s mom, made lasagna for—at her lack of effort in working past her grief, and rightly points out he lost a son, too. This is tough stuff.

NEXT: He-said/she-said

But now we get to the point where Alison and Noah’s stories converge. What’s particularly fascinating about the way The Affair is doing things is that the basic details of how Alison and Noah first met totally match up—Alison serves Noah’s family at a roadside diner and witnesses his youngest daughter choke on a marble; they then meet by chance on the beach near a bonfire, they smoke a cigarette together and walk back to Alison and Cole’s house and have a totally weird conversation about the outdoor shower; Noah witnesses Alison and Cole having fairly rough sex on the hood of Cole’s truck. But how each of the details change, depending on the narrator, is sort of amazing and hilarious.

For example:

In Noah’s version,  Alison’s hair is loose and sexy, and she puts a flirtatious hand on his shoulder. It’s Alison that offers him a cigarette at the beach (American Spirits), and she’s wearing a skimpy little sundress and when she stands up to wipe sand off the top of her thighs it’s all very come-hither. Ditto their talk about the outdoor shower. In this Noah-colored version, Alison invites him to use the shower and then, when he demurs, takes all her clothes off and gets in herself. Noah runs off, tempted but freaked out, and when he turns back he sees Pacey and Alison fighting furiously, ending with Alison getting tossed face down on the hood of the car for some aggressive sex. Is he staying to watch because he’s concerned for her safety? Or is he turned on and just being creepy?

In Alison’s retelling, she’s just trying to get through the day. She waits tables and is sexually harassed by her gross boss. She waits on Noah’s family—who, hilariously in this version are a chaotic, misbehaving and fairly awful bunch—and it’s she who helps save Stacy from that darn marble. Later, on the beach, Alison is wearing jean shorts and has a blanket over her shoulder in a decidedly not sexy way. It’s Noah who offers her a cigarette (this time, they’re fancy and French Gauloises) and it’s Noah who asks to walk her home. And it’s Noah who leans in to kiss her awkwardly after a weird outdoor shower chat. Alison waits till he departs this time to take her clothes off and take a shower. Also quite different this time around is the fight Alison has with Cole, which is sad and raw and full of frustration on both sides that they are lost to one another in the deep fog of grief. I’m not sure what to make of the sex scene on the car, or from Alison’s obvious enjoyment in having Noah stand there and watch.

But back in the present day we see Alison with a shorter, smarter haircut and she’s worried about the time. Why? Because she has to pick up her kid. (Cue this noise.)

So what does it all mean? And what year are we in during “present day” anyway? A “kid” implies older than an infant, right? Did Alison and Cole have another baby? Or is Alison referring, possibly, to someone else’s kid? And why are these guys talking to the police, anyway?

Other thoughts:

–I’d really like to thank the show for letting us know that Noah, a teacher with four children, could not afford a fancy Brooklyn brownstone on his own. This drives me crazy in other shows/movies and the fact they made a point of explaining makes me love this show already.

–Also, everything to do with Noah’s in-laws was so sort-of-awful it was wonderful. Shout-out to Helen’s mother, who, upon seeing how thin her granddaughter is, mentions that if she loses a few more pounds she’ll take her to Paris. Also Noah’s father-in-law passive aggressively letting him know he thought Noah’s book stunk. (Hey, also also that there’s a small The Wire reunion, what with Bruce Butler being played by the great John Doman.)

–What’s the significance of the book, Peter Pan, which we see show up in both tellings of the story?

Episode Recaps

Two marriages collide when a tragedy brings an affair to light; the Showtime original series stars Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney.
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