I was certain that we were up to the fourth or fifth episode of The Following tonight — so much has happened leading up to “The Poet’s Fire,” but then things suddenly came to a bit of a standstill. The frights are easier to see coming, even three episodes in (although we only got one mention of “nevermore” and “The Raven,” so there are still small favors). Most of the action was an expansion of what we already learned last week as far as the relationships among some of the main followers, and Carroll repeating that this is all a game for him, mostly to torture Hardy. And while not much happened, it was still interesting enough to watch unfold. Hit the jump for more on why “if you over-identify with the victims, the guilt becomes personal.”
I received four screener episodes from Fox and figured I would review the series for at least that number before deciding whether or not it warranted any more discussion. The Following, despite its protestations, is a procedural, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that there’s really not much to be said except for a recounting of who killed who, who was responsible, and the mechanics of how it all shook down. While The Following does have a little more style and depth when it comes to an overall narrative (what Carroll as a central puppet master to the chaos, in a kind of Moriarty role), it is starting to (as network dramas so often do) slow down to fill time in ways that just aren’t that interesting.
Still, for reasons I can’t fully explain, the show still draws you in and is engaging. The best and worst thing about “The Poet’s Fire” was the death of Agent Troy Riley. On the one hand, it reinforces the idea that no one’s life is sacred, and true, Riley was not the most active member of the team (more on that in a minute), but still, you don’t expect one of the major recurring characters to be killed off so suddenly and brutally (I was still rooting for a last minute save). That aspect raises the stakes of the series, and it’s not something many series are brave enough to do.
On the other hand … I’ll say it. Did they really have to kill off the only person of color? The only person of color. Seriously. You don’t have any other non-white characters? And he has to go? (Not to mention he was really, really good looking). Unfortunate in so many ways. While Riley’s death was shocking, we did also barely know him. A comment about his personal life (divorced, making things less messy) was shoehorned in just before his demise, but we never really got a sense of him as much as we have Westen or Parker.
Elsewhere, things are beginning to flesh out with the followers and their love triangle, with flashbacks introducing us to Paul and Jacob’s “well we may be at least kinda bisexual” relationship. Just as one begins to feel sorry for Paul as Emma knifes him and Jacob spinelessly allows her to run the show (and all over him), Paul then reminds us he is indeed a psychopath who bludgeons and kidnaps a woman so that he won’t have to be the third wheel in the house. That is crazy talk, y’all.
Jacob, too, who seems so preppy and harmless, calls attention to his inner demon as he teaches Joey how to burn up ants and kill mice. Joey may be young, but I’m pretty sure most kids would have enough of a moral compass (and sense) to know that suffocating a mouse to see his soul go to heaven is not right (then again … there are probably plenty of kids who would love to do a thing like that. Keep an eye on them …). That’s pretty sick stuff, but The Following has never shied away from the shocking or gruesome, but including kids in on the deal just makes things that much worse.
I wonder what the end game for Joey is? Carroll is never getting out of jail, so is he trusting the raising of his child to his acolytes? Forever? One of the most frightening aspects of the following itself is how Carroll preaches relative morality where murder is artistic expression. As Jacob explains to Joey, “when you kill something, your life means more.” The other aspect of this chaotic preaching is that those committing the acts are operating within their own moral laws, but also with the acknowledgement of the laws of the land; they accept and even welcome the consequences of their actions. That’s the truly scary thing. They don’t fear their own death or incarceration, and have no regard for life. The metaphor of zombie-ism remains apt.
As for the Kesters (or Maggie at least, as Hardy managed to kill Rick), they seem to be little more than Case of the Week fodder, unless Maggie finds the rest of her cohorts at the compound and joins up with them. The show doesn’t really seem to know what exactly it’s conveying as far as building up Hardy and Carroll’s initial relationship — it’s a strange one, and might have been more intriguing if that’s where the show was starting, but now that all of the cards are on the table I’m not sure it’s still a particularly interesting one to explore.
Overall, The Following remains worth watching in this currently uneventful bloc of programming, and could continue to mature. I’ll give it at least another week to find out. What say you?
Episode Rating: B
Musings and Miscellanea:
- I think Paul is currently the most interesting character on the show.
- Emma is complete scary whack job. How Jacob doesn’t see that I don’t know (probably because he is too but, come on man, she’s completely dead behind the eyes!)
- I think tonight Fox gave us more man-on-man action than ABC’s Modern Family ever has, to be honest.
- R.I.P. Agent Riley. We hardly knew ye.
- So do we think Agent Parker in in cahoots with Carroll? Is she a sleeper agent? Or just interested in him as work?
- Nice trick with Maggie as the seemingly abused wife who was actually in on the whole thing.
- Watch out, fellow critics! Excoriate a psycho’s work too much and be potentially doused in gasoline!