When Ruth Wilson abruptly exited Showtime’s The Affair, I knew there was trouble. Joshua Jackson followed quickly behind, sending the show into an almost certain death. But since most shows need five seasons to be profitable, the powers that be decided to keep it moving, and they did their very best to make it appear as if the departures were more about the characters running their course and less about the alleged on-set sexual harassment. I don’t know the truth, but I do how television works, and Joshua Jackson and Ruth Wilson were both under contract. They had to be let out of that contract, and since they were so creatively essential to the series, I can only imagine something serious happened.
Now for season five. In short, it’s terrible. To quote one Twitter user, “it feels more like a spin off and not a very good one.” In place of Alison and Cole is the adult Joanie, played by Anna Paquin, who is doing the best she can with a bad role. Because she’s set in the future, what we get is some silly technological advances (including what your toilet might look like in 2020), and a preachy portrayal of an earth that has been ruined by humans. While I agree humans are ruining the planet, this is so far removed from the original tone of the show it feels cartoonish. Her scene partners also don’t help. Her on-screen husband has no depth, and when she’s met with a overly-chatty journalist (EJ) who has an unexplainable interest in her family, it feels more like a cheap excuse for plot explanation than an actual conversation. I’d have loved a far less on-the-nose Joanie. A sweet, loving Joanie who has empathy for her mother’s suicide and doesn’t want to confront the idea that she was murdered because she lives in a utopian bubble about humanity being decent. Instead, I get Alison x 50 minus all the nuance of Ruth Wilson’s acting chops. In defense of Anna Paquin, you can’t polish a turd.
As for Maura Tierney and Dominic West, they are laying brick. They are phenomonel actors who deserve credit for doing their best with a bad situation. Maura might have the only compelling storyline on season five, and she’s carrying the show. Dominic West is still great as Noah, but I simply don’t buy the realization that he wants his family back. While it can be done, the writing is far too one-dimensional and his character has always been extremely complex. Placing sex toys in Helen’s bedroom is so basic I wanted to throw something at the screen.
I realize this review sounds angry, and that’s because it is. I found it appalling when the show’s creator said that Ruth Wilson’s character had run its coarse, instead of praising what she had done with it thus far. She’s one of the best actresses I’ve seen in decades and without her, the show would not have succeeded. Show some respect. Furthermore, the idea that the series could have been ressurrected without its two leads reeks of arrogance. I know people have jobs to keep, but sometimes it’s time to close up shop.
Anyone who knows television history or has worked in Business Affairs is aware of the monumental change that occurred as a result of the ‘Friends’ cast, who formed a fierce front for their salary demands on the heels of the show’s massive success. Leading the charge was David Schwimmer, who stood to make the most money by comparison to his castmates, given that he and Jennifer Aniston were the breakout stars. The cast quickly agreed with Schwimmer’s kind proposal, and despite massive push-back from the powers that be, they refused to back down, insisting that they all deserved to be paid the same. Matt LeBlanc once recounted that the negotiations got so heated he once had to walk off the set in solidarity with his castmates, who were all receiving their own type of pressure.