The fourth season of The Affair opened with a yet another mystery, this one about a missing person. All we know is that "she" hasn't been seen for 72 hours and hasn't called to check on Joanie in days. Since it is Cole (Joshua Jackson) and Noah (Dominic West) that have united to find this mysterious woman, we can only guess that it's Alison (Ruth Wilson) who has disappeared.
The crumb-laying mystery set up in the premiere isn't a new plot device for The Affair; Season 1 opened the same way, with police depositions posing questions about someone who was murdered. Season 2 then used the trial to ask questions about who actually killed Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell). And Season 3 began with the mystery of who stabbed Noah in the premiere, but that was weaved into the story as Noah's main drive for the season rather than a flash-forward the audience had to catch up to.
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While intriguing, the mystery element of the show's first two seasons was almost superfluous to the meat of the drama. Scotty's death inevitably became a central event that united the show's four lead characters, but the main draw was exploring why these people would choose to implode their lives and relationships. We've learned over the course of the series that Noah and Alison continue to make impulsive, self-destructive decisions in order to distract themselves from past trauma. Meanwhile, Cole and Helen (Maura Tierney) will struggle with their inexplicable attachment to the people who have caused them the most pain while neglecting the people who truly care about them.
The Season 4 premiere focuses only on Noah and Helen and their new lives in Los Angeles, but it appears they haven't broken the pattern. Noah moved across the country to be closer to his kids, but he still expects the world to revolve around him. When Helen tries to establish some independence, she comes off as harsh and unrelenting, inevitably letting Noah torpedo her life once more. The trailer for Season 4 previews similar struggles for Cole, whose attachment to Alison is going to have potentially devastating effects for his marriage to Louisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno).
The Affair Exclusive: Who Goes Missing in Season 4?
That's why bringing back the overarching mystery is a good thing for The Affair. We no longer question why these people do terrible things; we just assume that they will do them because that's what they've always done. This particular mystery brings a sense of urgency to the series that the first season simply didn't need. If it is Alison that has disappeared, did she just slip into another bout of depression? Would she really just leave Joanie after she fought so hard in Season 3 to get her parental rights back? Did she even leave voluntarily? And what if it's Louisa who is missing instead? Why would Noah help look for her? The rabbit hole gets very deep and very dark quite quickly, and this mystery is much more engaging than whatever inevitable taboo hook-up Noah is going to have this season.
The characters of The Affair have fallen into a rut. They're making the same mistakes that lead to the same patterns of behavior, which limits growth. While all four of the central characters have overcome personal obstacles, none of the events of the series' have changed them at their core. Yes, Noah is less of a jerk, but even from his own perspective he lashes out when things don't go his way. Alison isn't as frail as she used to be, but there's still a cloud of darkness that hangs over her which she's learned to cope with but has never resolved. The hope is that this mystery can shake them out of these grooves and push them into evolving.
Here's hoping the missing person is someone who might help these people to actually move on.
The Affair continues Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company)Joshua Jackson, The Affair" data-image-credit="PAUL SARKIS, PAUL SARKIS/Showtime" data-image-alt-text="Joshua Jackson, The Affairč" data-image-credit-url="" data-image-target-url="" data-image-title="Joshua Jackson, The Affairč" data-image-filename="180617-the-affair-joshua-jackson.jpg" data-image-date-created="2018/06/17" data-image-crop="" data-image-crop-gravity="" data-image-aspect-ratio="" data-image-height="1380" data-image-width="2070" data-image-do-not-crop="" data-image-do-not-resize="" data-image-watermark="" data-lightbox="">
Other Links From TVGuide.com The AffairJoshua JacksonRuth WilsonDominic WestMaura Tierney