“The Affair’s” Alison Bailey got “quite the tragic end” in the season 4 finale, says actress Ruth Wilson, noting it’s far from the end she would have wanted.
“Personally, I always hoped that she would’ve walked off into the sunset with her child and no man,” she says, while promoting her upcoming film project, “The Little Stranger.”
The leading actress’ departure from the Showtime series came as a shock to fans who’ve speculated her exit’s connection to a reported pay discrepancy between Wilson and Dominic West (Noah Solloway). And while Wilson said she’d “never complained” to the network about pay parity, questions involving her Showtime split remain unanswered.
“We can’t speak for Ruth, but heading into season four everyone agreed the character’s story had run its course,” the network said in a statement to Variety. “Ultimately, it felt like the most powerful creative decision would be to end Alison’s arc at the moment when she had finally achieved self-empowerment.”
Was that “self-empowerment” truly achieved? Wilson says she’s dreamed of a feminist ending for her character, whose life instead ends at the hands of Ben (Ramón Rodríguez).
“I have been in pain my entire life. And maybe that’s what makes people think that I’m weak. And maybe that makes people treat me like some sort of receptacle for all their grief and rage and disappointment,” Wilson’s character says in her final voice-over as her body is carried out to sea. “But I am [expletive] sick of it. I just want to live a different life. I want to live a different story.”
Below, Wilson dissects what it was like to film the perspective-shifting episode and touches on the fate she would have wished for Alison.
Finding out Alison’s fate, that was one of the most unnerving hours of television.
OK, so, why?
Well, switching to the reality of the situation from the imagined point of view, and finding out that what took place in that house lead to Alison’s death, that was so tense. How was it developing the intricate switched point of view?
I didn’t really know where it was going to go. We got the scripts a month before we started shooting that episode. It was written a bit like a play. It was two people in one room so it was two weeks in that room. We had Sam Gold directing so he approached it a bit like a play. It was interesting to find the differences and to work out what their intentions were.
The first was generally the fantasy version and the second was the reality. It was hard and we’re just waterlogging at each other because they were very similar stories but slightly different. It was unusual to do.
At the top of the season, were you aware that this would be the story arc you’d have to tell for Alison?
I knew that she was going to die, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how that would manifest and I didn’t know it would be at the hands of this man, but I knew it would be her last season.
We’ve seen Alison go through different stages of grief through the series. It seems like she finally really owned what Helen was telling her in the previous episode. She’s been through so much self-discovery within her grief that she got to a place where she knew herself. What do you hope viewers take away from her story?
I don’t know. It is quite a tragic end. Personally, I always hoped that she would’ve walked off into the sunset with her child and no man. That for me is a true feminist ending. She’s always going to have the tragedy [of her first child’s death]with her but maybe she can survive alone. But perhaps there’s something inevitable about her joining her child.
Coming out of your busy shooting schedule with “The Affair,” let’s talk about how you choose projects. Do you look for the most complex characters to portray, like Alison?
Yeah, that kind of interests me. I suppose if I put in enough energy into something I want it to be satisfying as a process and satisfying to me is the research and digging in, and getting underneath the skin of someone.
I find that if the character is not that deep, it’s kind of hard to play. I feel more exposed if I’m just standing there looking pretty. If I can get underneath it, then I’m lost in a world of this and it’s more comfortable.