The Following season 2 episode 5 review: Reflection
Nihilistic, cruel, wilfully dumb... The Following is in its own class of entertainment. Here's Ron's review of the latest episode...
This review contains spoilers.
I have to admit that I really like the way The Following is approaching its second season, and the obvious friction and fractures in the family group are going to create a lot of drama, especially as far as Emma is concerned since she clearly isn't going to go along with the plan to pair her off with touch-phobic Mark while Joe goes off to play daddy with Lily and her international band of foundling murderers. Already Emma's distaste for the group is apparent, and even Joe seems to have some issues with them after his gift from Lily is rebuffed. To gather any group of people together can create problems, and when all those people have an insatiable thirst for blood and carnage, well... you're going to have some personality clashes. Especially when you have someone who has been doing things his own way versus a group of people who have a clearly-delineated hierarchy that doesn't include Joe Carroll and definitely doesn't include Emma the unwanted.
Lizzie Mickery's script has Joe directly say that he doesn't want to be controlled by Lily, and it's clear that he refuses her gift and doesn't quite buy the way she says it's more her way of curating his art rather than feeding a pet, yet Joe goes downstairs and dutifully kills the drugged girl in the birdcage anyway, because he doesn't seem like he can help himself. He knows he's being manipulated and while he seems to have some sort of plan about how to take control of the situation, he can't resist that delicious plate of soon-to-be-dead coed in front of him. (It's also clear Emma would do anything for Joe, even after her protests that he abandoned her to her fate in the wake of the Havenport collapse.)
However, it's not just the ladies that are obsessed with Joe, as we know from having turned into the show more than once. Ryan is obsessed with finding Joe, and he's going to do anything he can to find her, including strangling Gillian nearly all the way to death in a pretty intense scene. Kevin Bacon, say what you will about the quality of the show, makes it entertaining (and he does some of the best cop walk-searching on TV these days, which comes with hours of practice skulking around factories and things). It's a credit to The Following that they're so quick to play... not “good cop bad cop” per se, but “bad cop and dangerous psychotic”.
The Following seems to want us to root for terrible people. No matter what direction you look, there's someone doing something kind of terrible. Max is okay, and Mike seems to be relatively sane, but Ryan breaks into a woman's house, holds her at gunpoint, and spills bleach everywhere. Joe and Emma are serial killers, but Lily and her Psycho-style family are definitely the worse of two evils as far as those folks go. When your hero terrorizes innocent people, he's not much of a hero. He's not even an anti-hero, he's just obsessed with Joe, as obsessed with Joe as Lily or Emma in his own way. The only real difference between him and Joe is that Ryan won't kill... well, Ryan has yet to kill any innocent people, just bad guys—a lot of bad guys—that are dumb enough to fall for someone playing possum.
Ryan still has his moral code, and he still has something to lose in the form of his niece Max, as this episode makes clear. If and when he loses this tenuous thread holding him to the world of the moral, what will become of him, and what will be left of Joe Carroll if this happens? So far Ryan has only killed people trying to kill him or people who are known killers, but he seems capable of anything at this point. Will we be left with a show where the only good character is a semi-competent FBI agent who also kind of had his issues last year with killing people in cold blood?
The Following isn't a great show by any means. However, like Bates Motel, it's kind of a cheesy brilliance that never fails to be entertaining even as it is nihilistic, cruel, and wilfully dumb. I like a show that knows what it is, knows what people want from it, and doesn't try to be too smart for its own good. The Following is entertaining and dumb. I'm not emotionally invested, but I am curious, and that's more than a lot of other shows have gotten from me, especially this year. They've settled on a house style that works, and it seems as if the cast and crew have decided to not bother with logic and to fully embrace the world they've created of sleeper cult agents, twisted criminals, a clueless law enforcement agency, and the indestructible Ryan Hardy bouncing off cabs and absorbing bullets. I'm totally fine with that.
I can't help but wonder just how far down the vengeful sociopath... path The Following will allow Ryan to go, and just how hard it will try to humanize Joe, Emma, and the rest of the program's killer brood. As far as I'm concerned, Ryan can go full evil so long as he proves himself to be a charismatic and effective villain, or at least just a brutal one. That probably says more about me as a viewer than it ever would about the show.
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