When Season 4 of “The Affair” returns on Sunday, some of the characters you’ve come to know won’t be where you left them. Whether it’s a different location, a new love interest, or simply a new outlook, the landscape has changed.
Before heading into Season 4, Sarah Treem, co-creator and showrunner of the Showtime series, said the writers and cast took a “healthy chunk of time off.” They were feeling pretty “burned out,” she said, after the third season, which received mixed reviews from critics. During that time, Treem gained perspective and imagined a fresh start for a few characters.
“This is what I feel like happens in life. There’s a trauma and then there’s the aftermath of the trauma and you can get in kind of a rut where everything feels like it keeps coming back to the trauma over and over again,” Treem told HuffPost. “Sometimes I think people move in order to escape and restart.”
Plenty of controversy and drama have unfolded on the Golden Globe-winning series over the years ― from drug addiction and a fatal car accident to a prison stint, and yes, a few extramarital affairs.
At the end of Season 3, which aired in January 2017, Noah (Dominic West) is back in Brooklyn, New York, outside the home of his ex, Helen (Maura Tierney). Before too long, he’s in a taxi. “Where we going, buddy?” the driver asks.
Turns out, as we begin Season 4, Noah is in Los Angeles, teaching high school English. He moves there in hopes of getting to spend more time with his kids as Helen and her partner, Vic (Omar Metwally), decided to relocate to the West Coast. And it’s no surprise that Noah ― ever the overgrown child ― is still trying to find himself.
“I never imagined Noah to be a bad person. I imagined him to be an unhappy person. And I think oftentimes those are very closely linked,” Treem said. “I don’t think he’s inherently malicious, but he’s made some hurtful choices because of a lot of insecurity that he has and the feelings of his expectations of his own life that didn’t get matched. … He’s got to grow up. He has to go from a man-child to a man. .. What would it take for Noah to evolve and change as the climate changes around him? … I know the Noah character can be tough to like, but I love him because he’s just so real. I know a lot of Noahs in my life.”
Season 4 will also be rooted in a familiar place: Montauk, New York, where the series began when it debuted in 2014. There we see Alison (Ruth Wilson) with a new job and a new romantic interest, while trying to co-parent with Cole (Joshua Jackson) and Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who are facing their own set of problems.
Wilson’s character becomes one of the focal points of the season with a major plotline that brings several of the characters together. Treem said working with Wilson is a breeze as she’s an “incredible professional.”
“She does an incredible amount of research and prep and thought that goes into how she’s going to play it,” Treem said. “She asks a million questions. Ruth is very trained as an actor and I think you see that in her process. It’s an incredibly rigorous process.”
The series has come a long way since Season 1, which largely focused on the actual affair between Noah and Alison. After that first season, some viewers and critics wondered how the show would continue following the evolution of the affair itself. Treem calls that notion “puzzling.”
“I always thought that was strange because the intention had always been that the affair would be like a pebble that was dropped into a still pond and that the show would be about the ripples,” she said, adding, “I was just interested in this idea that there’s something that can happen in your life — like a trauma — or a decision … that not only changes the path of your life but also changes the path of your children’s lives.”
For Treem, the storylines and character arcs, in some ways, loosely mirror her own life. She was in her early 30s when it started, and now she’s 38 years old.
“It’s a whole decade of my life,” she said. “When I started the show, I deeply connected with the character of Alison. I was young and I had made that character my age. She was my way in. And I’m going to end the show deeply identifying with the character of Helen. I find it beautiful and sad how you move through different archetypes of your life.”
Now, just a few days before the Season 4 debut, Treem could be close to saying goodbye to the series. It’s unclear whether Showtime will renew “The Affair,” but Treem says she has a “very clear story” in mind should that happen.
“If there’s a fifth season, it would definitely be the last season. I have a story for the fifth season that I think would really bring it home. … If we don’t, this season does feel very satisfying. So, it won’t be a complete tragedy. But I do think there’s one more leg of this story that I’d like to tell.”
“The Affair” returns Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.