The Following season 2 episode 3 review: Trust Me
The Following's second season boldly combines extreme violence with black comedy, but will audiences get the joke?
This review contains spoilers.
2.3 Trust Me
Hey, for the first time in The Following's history, the FBI does something right! Of course, the thing they did right was rounding up the dregs of the dregs of Joe Carroll's cult, but at least the FBI has arrested some Carrollers! Sure, they might have shot a few of them when they were unarmed, but hey, you can't make an omlette without executing a few serial killers for trying to flee the police.
The other thing the FBI does well is harass Ryan Hardy. Sure he's conducting his own vigilante investigation of Joe's remaining Carrollers and is generally being uncooperative in his dealings with the FBI - for the most part - that doesn't mean... oh wait, evidence tampering is a crime? Breaking and entering is a crime? Jaywalking everywhere without looking both ways is a crime? Assault is a crime? Oh, well... uh, nevermind, then.
This is the outreach episode of The Following. Joe reaches out to the daughter he never had and possibly murdered the half-brother he never knew. Ryan reaches out to Lily; the FBI reaches out to Ryan and threatens to throttle him. Carlos and his murder buddies reach out to Emma, who reaches out for another bottle of mascara and a fresh bottle of pink hair dye. Joe doesn't reach out to the cult... well, I guess it's just Emma now... and that's perplexing the wannabes, who seem to immediately rub Emma the wrong way. Much like Ryan is rubbing his new FBI handlers the wrong way, in fact.
After a couple of table-setting episodes, the plot is officially underway on this season of The Following. Joe's leaving his idyll, Ryan is getting crazier and crazier, and the wannabes have hooked up with a for-real cultist in the hopes of drawing out Joe Carroll. The plot's getting crazier by the moment, Ryan's having awesome nightmares (one of the few legitimate jump scares on television happened this very week), and the show that took so long to find its feet last season is up and running already this year. Bring it on you weird, crazy monster show.
This script, from Alexi Hawley, seems to make the most of The Following's incredible comic potential. Every kill scene, aside from one, is funny. When an FBI agent gets stabbed in the head abruptly, it's pretty funny. When the killer twins finally eliminate Carlos from their collective—replacing him with Emma—it's even funnier because of how angry Gillian gets. She's not mad that Carlos is bleeding out on their hotel room floor; she's mad because she wanted to kill him and didn't get the chance to. The execution is flawless, and it's definitely worthy of a giggle.
However, the real laugh machine is Joe himself. During a confrontation with Judy, Joe breaks out one of the funniest lines the show has ever had him deliver. He says the phrase, “utopian slut palace” and then thanks Judy for taking care of him for a year before promptly choking her halfway to death (the daughter stopped him, but that's not important right now). It's the kind of arch dialogue that a failed, florid, Poe-idolizing hack like Joe would write, and you know it's something that character's been thinking about since he moved into the trailer with the town prostitute. James Purefoy seems pretty happy to have a line like that to deliver, too, so it's kind of a benefit all around.
Sadly, one of the episode's big twists is something I've been waiting for since episode two. Mandy, the lovely daughter of Joe's girlfriend protector, has taken to Joe as a father figure, and it shows. When she picks up Joe's knife and Judy begs her daughter to turn the blade on Joe, and she hesitates? Yeah, it's pretty obvious that she's going to kill someone, and it's not going to be Joe Carroll. Even expected, the execution of the event, the lurid way the show foleys the stabbings, the way the blood flows and Carrie Preston's yelling becomes panicked begging and gurgling... say what you will about the dark places that The Following goes to, but they go there as graphically as Fox's standards and practices will allow them.
That mix of the blackest of black comedy and gruesome violence is something that is probably an acquired taste. Personally, I'm enjoying it. Provoking laughs over stabbings, then making those stabbings as squeamish as possible reminds me of the approach James Gunn took in his comedy superhero flick Super; he made the violence as graphic and upsetting and realistic as possible while making the set-ups funny. It can be, and frequently is, a tonal nightmare, but that's part of the appeal of The Following. I like that it's a disturbing, funny mess of a show.
The things it does well—mostly violence-related things and stalking Kevin Bacon with the camera—it does really well. One of the show's best techniques is its use of episode-ending montages. The montage created by director Liz Friedlander this week is a stellar one, combining Ryan's grief porn with Joe burning away his last chance at true redemption (it just so happens to be a utopian slut paradise as well) to a cool cover version of Stand By Me. Ditto the way Lily escaped from Ryan and the FBI; Lily's heel turn was unexpected, since the show set her up very strongly as Ryan's love interest. It was a brilliantly executed chase scene, with Ryan following Lily through the crowds while Lily changed clothes, dropped her wig, got a shawl, and generally did a full quick change while running through the streets of New York. Even if Ryan didn't get hit by a car, it was still a whole lot of fun in a light, Catch Me If You Can-kind of way.
I had my problems with The Following last season, particularly after the first couple of episodes. However, the second season seems to have found a tone that works really well for the programme. It's not for everyone, but it's significantly nastier than the average police procedural, Kevin Bacon is awesome, and there's a fearless, entertaining dumbness to everything. The FBI is incompetent, Joe is a blowhard, Ryan is kind of hard to like, Mike is pouty, and Emma the pink-haired serial killer just might be the audience surrogate. That's pretty bold stuff for a show on a major network.
Read Ron's review of the previous episode, For Joe, here.
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