I’m open-minded. I define “fuckable” in very broad terms, especially when it comes to television characters. Did your character make a good joke this episode or wear a neat shirt? Is your character Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy or Cookie Lyon on Empire? Cool, congrats, you’ve won the prize. There is very little a television character can do to be exempt from my list. Bernard the homicidal robot from Westworld. Yup, still on this list. Jimmy the whiny British dude on You’re the Worst? One hundred percent on the list. There is a glimmer of possibility in almost everyone.
Except for Noah Solloway on The Affair. If you are not familiar with Noah, allow me to give you the broad strokes: successful-ish novelist, Brooklyn dad, rakishly handsome, played by Dominic West. In season one of the show, which was a Rashomon-style exploration of an extramarital affair between Noah and a woman named Alison, it made sense why people wanted to have sex with him; wanting to have sex with Noah Solloway was the animating force of the show.
But we are now on season three of a show about an affair that ended a long time ago, and Noah has fallen in the world since then. He’s a divorcé with four children who won’t speak to him; he’s recently out of prison; he’s a non-tenured professor who teaches one seminar a week. He lives in shitty student housing. He’s addicted to painkillers. And yet three different people — a beautiful visiting faculty member; one of Noah’s students; and his first wife, Helen — are all still begging Noah Solloway to have sex with them.
OK, you might be thinking, the character made mistakes and went through some hard times, but so did Don Draper. Wasn’t Don Draper still fuckable? Sure, but the difference here is: Noah Solloway is a to-his-core, doesn’t-even-care-about-his-daughter-or-his-former-secretary misogynist asshole. The horrible way he treats women is apparent in the show’s signature POV switches. Through Noah’s eyes, all women are hypersexualized monsters just waiting to remove their cardigans and reveal their heaving bosoms to him. They eye fuck him. His entire experience of conversations with women can be boiled down to “Was she trying to have sex with me? I think she was trying to have sex with me.” In a show of unreliable narrators, he’s the most despicable, especially in the way he imagines every woman in his life as some sort of sex doll there to reassure him that he’s a good writer, a decent man, an attractive partner, and a good father. All of which he is not. He’s been called The Worst Man on TV and “the worst man on earth.” There’s a Reddit thread called “Noah Solloway is a dick!” dedicated to discussions about Noah Solloway being a huge dick. When The New York Times asked Dominic West if he watches the show with his wife, he answered, “I can’t really watch myself for very long without cringing and rushing for the off button.” Deep down he knows the answer to “Would I fuck my own television character?” is a big flopping no.
The whole charade is getting ridiculous. Noah Solloway is actually a walking STD; his penis destroys everything it touches. His continued sex appeal is perhaps the most infuriating plot hole in a show that is 98 percent infuriating plot holes. Might I remind you, we could focus on wanting to sleep with Joshua Jackson, and yet, this season, we’re still asking, “Do you want to fuck Noah Solloway?” The answer should be no, and yet it isn’t, so here’s my question: Why do all these people still want to fuck Noah Solloway?
My best explanation for this phenomenon is that Noah represents a certain type of literary figure — that guy in your fiction workshop, or a date who forces you to read his short story, or the boyfriend who carries a notebook around and is like, “I might be able to use this” in the middle of dinner. Mediocre literary men, like hype boys, skater boys, and sad boys, are a class of aloof, overrated dudes who will never stop getting laid now matter how little sense it makes. Their sexuality is culturally bulletproof.
In real life, anyway. On TV, the fact that women still want to have sex with Noah Solloway at all keeps him from getting any sort of comeuppance, and on TV we like comeuppance. As long as Noah can rest in the comfort of knowing any woman he comes across will want to do him, he is shielded from any sort of acknowledgement of his truly crappy behavior — and from any growth or development as a result. Instead, Noah continues to whine, wondering what he did to deserve the situation he’s in, and refuses to reckon with all of the harm he’s caused. The ability to get laid protects him from ever having to be a better human. That makes him deeply unfuckable.
What would happen if you took away Noah’s sexual magnetism? The Affair has always depended upon his appeal, in the sense that the show depends entirely on sex, and Noah has a lot of it. The simplest answer to the question of why anyone still wants him is because The Affair would be an entirely different show if they didn’t. But imagine an entire season dedicated to Helen refusing to answer Noah’s phone calls because she’s too busy moving on with Vic, the hot doctor. Or extended scenes of professor Juliette telling him exactly why his theories around “consent” are bullshit and why his novel, Descent, is not erotic. Or a monologue where the student he mercilessly rips apart in a workshop tells him he’s probably bad in bed. It’s not The Affair, exactly, but The Affair stopped being itself several years ago. I’d love to watch some people yell at Noah instead of screwing him. Then they can find someone else to screw, in a vigorous, life-affirming fashion. It’s Showtime. I believe.