Few shows have experienced more cast shakeups over the last year than The Affair. First OG star Ruth Wilson announced she would be leaving the sexy, sad Showtime show. Weeks later, rumors swirled that Joshua Jackson, on-screen ex-husband to Wilson, would also exit the series. By June 2019, the speculation became fact. Alison Bailey and Cole Lockhart were officially out.
These show-changing departures left a vacuum The Affair, now ending with its fifth and final season. It’s one Showtime promised would be filled by the stars’ TV daughter, Joanie, formerly played by child performers Reagan and Savannah Grella. But the young sisters are nowhere to be found in season 5’s Sunday night premiere. In their place is Anna Paquin as Joanie, all grown up.
At first glance, it seems like Adult Joanie’s introduction is a fairly low-stakes look at the character’s life at the age we're used to seeing her parents struggle through. However, if you really think about it, Adult Joanie’s futuristic premiere section may just telegraph exactly what The Affair’s finale season is really about.
“Episode 501’s” Joanie interlude begins with an ending — the ending of her daughter Madeline’s (Mykal-Michelle Harris) birthday party. Joanie is the bad cop to her husband’s Paul’s (She’s Gotta Have It alum Lyriq Bent) fun cop. This is an era where birthday horns can create real-life magic. While Paul and the girls break into joyous smiles over the image of a unicorn made of sparkles and air running through a “Happy Birthday” sign, all Joanie can do is hold herself and tightly smile. She won’t even walk over to her family when Paul invites her to join in on the party.
As Joanie takes a bath, we learn why she’s so uncomfortable around her kids: She believes Madeline knows she is adopted. It is clear Joanie and Paul have never told Madeline about the secret of her birth. However, Joanie is convinced Madeline can just feel it. “She said I wasn’t her real mother,” Joanie says before clarifying. “She said, ‘My real mom’s a queen, and I’m a princess.’”
This is our first hint The Affair’s final season will question what secrets we hide from our loved ones, why, and how they consume our lives. You know, traditional Affair melodrama.
Joanie’s ensuing conversation with Paul really drives that theme home. It’s here that Joanie threatens she will leave Paul if he does anything to celebrate her birthday. “I’m sorry. It’s just, this is the age my mother died,” Joanie admits at last. Paul responds that his wife never told him that extremely personal and important detail. These are two people who have been together for at least eight years, considering the age of their daughters, and Joanie hasn't broached the topic in all that time.
After that weighty admission, the scene switches to Joanie and Paul in the middle of sex. Joanie is very clearly not into the encounter despite Paul’s intense passion. When Paul tries to increase Joanie's pleasure by touching her clitoris, she moves his hand away and tells him to just finish. Paul complies and, once he is done, asks Joanie what’s going on (it’s in this moment he says her name for the first time, confirming the identity of Paquin’s character). “I miss my dad,” she says, marking some of the worst pillow talk in the history television. Paul is devastated. Joanie gets out of bed to inspect her anxiety pills. Although the bottle says to take one, she empties its contents into her hand and swallows them all.
We’re left with quite a few questions. First, what actually happened to Cole (Jackson), and why is the tragedy plaguing his daughter during sex? With Alison’s death age looming for Joanie, will she look into her mother’s demise? Will she find out whether the so-called death by suicide was really a death at all? And, did Joanie actually swallow those pills, or was that a classic macabre Affair-style fantasy?
With just 9 episodes remaining, it’s The Affair’s job to get to the bottom of these mysteries.