Typically, the unreliable narrator is a literary device. It’s used to throw the reader off, show that you can only trust so much when someone is telling you a story. Everything is colored by the one telling the tale. Showtime’s The Affair makes extensive use of unreliable narrators, telling the story from the point of view of both Noah (Dominic West) and Allison (Ruth Wilson).
Noah sees Allison as the initiator of everything. In his mind, she’s a flirty headcase who dresses provocatively as she tempts him into being unfaithful to his wife, Helen (Maura Tierney). Allison sees herself as nervous and shy. She’s a damaged person, still trying to put herself and her marriage with Cole (Joshua Jackson) back together after the death of their son. Noah is the provocateur in her mind, the rich guy on vacation pursuing her and propelling their fling forward. The Affair is literally a game of “he said, she said,” with the truth lying somewhere in the middle.
Making the puzzle pieces fit together is a fun, often perplexing exercise. Details don’t match up. Clothes, settings, sometimes entire scenes change. Noah’s point of view seems more natural to me, but is that only because I’m a man? There’s a lot at play here, even without the mysterious interrogation that frames the whole bloody thing.
The interrogation itself is very mysterious, and somewhat reminiscent of True Detective’s police interviews. Unlike True Detective, however, the crime itself is unknown. It reveals itself piece by piece as the ugly side hiding behind Montauk’s summer fun exterior is unveiled.
The mystery is compelling, but it wouldn’t be the same without the unreliable narration. It’s fascinating to compare how Noah and Allison saw things. It makes The Affair a different experience from everything else on television and something to explore.