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The Last Season of 'The Affair' Arrives
August 25, 2019  | By David Hinckley

After four years as the butterfly effect on steroids, Showtime’s The Affair will spend its final season trying to bring it all back home. 

The fifth season of The Affair, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, doesn’t have much choice about taking a new tack, because it starts with a new lineup. 

Ruth Wilson’s Alison Bailey, the star-crossed Long Island waitress whose relationship with married New York novelist Noah Solloway (Dominic West, top) fluttered the butterfly’s wings and gave the show its title, was murdered at the end of Season 4. 

This released Wilson to several other projects and left The Affair with somewhat fewer options. 

As the new season opens, Noah is mourning, but not too grievously, since he and Alison didn’t last. Alison’s earlier husband Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson) may be more upset, though he couldn’t show it because he had remarried himself, to Luisa Leon (Catalina Sandino Moreno). 

Whatever Cole feels, we’ll see little of it, because like Wilson, Jackson decided to leave the series. 

Without Alison and Cole, the show’s center naturally reverts to Noah and Helen (Maura Tierney, top), the mother of Noah’s four children and the woman Noah rather coldly left behind for Alison. 

Helen, who can be as irritating as she is sympathetic, and who also has a great dry sense of humor, starts the new season with her own melancholy twist. 

Her new husband Vik Ullah (Omar Metwally), a brilliant surgeon, was diagnosed last season with pancreatic cancer. Even with the miracle of TV scriptwriting at his disposal, that’s not promising. 

With half of its original cast departed and its two other main characters now unattached, it’s no surprise that Noah starts this season trying to reconcile with Helen. 

That’s not a spoiler, by the way. That’s the hook with which Showtime has been promoting the new season.

Conversely, anyone who has watched more than a few minutes of the last four seasons will understand that Helen isn’t exactly pining for Noah’s return. 

She did not take his departure well, understandably, and the 10 years since he bolted have not treated her well, give or take some nice moments with Vik.

Among other things, the Solloway kids could still use therapy, and Noah’s attempts to win back their affection have been, on the whole, awkward and only marginally successful. 

That’s all part of The Affair’s butterfly effect, in which the impulsive and illicit tango between Noah and Alison eventually affected every life in their spheres. Rarely for the better. 

This final season also suggests the consequences from that original flutter never really end. 

A quarter century or so in the future, we meet Joanie Lockhart (Anna Paquin, above), daughter of Cole and Alison, who was a small child when Alison died.

While Joanie seems to have a reasonably happy family of her own, she walks under a cloud of sadness. Turns out she misses her father and wants to know what really happened to her mother. 

Since Alison’s death was ruled a suicide, there’s investigative ground to be turned over. 

What’s certain is that whatever else Joanie finds, she’s wading into a lot of soap, because much of The Affair has generated just that. 

It’s been soap with a first-rate cast and soap with some nice writing twists. But it’s been soap nonetheless, with everything except a plague of locusts descending on these characters. True to the genre, they’ve been abetted by over-the-top supporting players like Bruce Doman and Kathleen Chalfant as Helen’s insufferably elitist wealthy parents. 

The Affair has walked a line between exploring the wider consequences of a single reckless decision and slapping four flawed characters with an endless stream of trials and tribulations they seem powerless to stop or even dodge. 

The fifth season seems an appropriate time to wind it up, and see whether creators Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem can put their affairs in order.

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