**This review contains spoilers**
Though I’m exaggerating, “Betrayal” was like watching a friend handle a late-night summer bonfire when you have work the next morning: each time the flames settle, another log gets tossed into the pit, and you want to leave but it’s rude to not see the ordeal through to its end. Lately, it feels like the writers are just piling logs to burn by the finale.
“Betrayal” begins with Claire (Natalie Zea) and Ryan, finally talking, after Ryan has presumed Claire to be dead for the last year or so. Claire comes clean with Ryan that she faked her own death to keep Joey safe. Though it appears that keeping Claire alive at the end of Season 1 was always the writers’ plan, Claire being alive—when Ryan is dating Carrie—makes it feel as if Carrie is being used as a weak plot device, something to separate Ryan further from Claire. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Claire says that Joey isn’t safe until Joe is dead, but when was the last time Joe even mentioned Joey? If we saw scenes where Joe is plotting to get him back, just talking about him even, this would be more believable. It feels disjointed that Joey’s safety is Claire’s (seemingly) only reason for ending Joe’s life, after all he’s done to her, without seeing Joe actually even acknowledge his son at some point.
Tom Cavanagh plays Kingston Tanner, an evangelical pastor hell-bent on destroying Joe. Joe, watching Carrie interview him from the comfort of Korban, remarks on the price of Tanner’s suit before spouting his feelings on religion: “I don’t believe in any God.” Ironically—in an enjoyable scene from James Purefoy—Joe seems to believe that he’s vaguely divine himself, before deciding to make an example of Tanner. It seems like something Joe would do, but there are so many plot balls being juggled that it’s a bit exhausting.
Simultaneously, Mandy finds Mark and he tries to pull information out of her about where Joe is. Mark brings Mandy to Lily, who acts like a nurturing Mama Bear in her first scene, only to go completely unhinged by the end. Connie Nielsen’s presence has been missed since Lily’s been on the lam and not on-screen as much.
Carrie gets stuck in traffic and her driver and bodyguard are brutalized by Joe’s followers. Carrie is handed a phone, Joe giving instructions from the other line, spreading Joe’s hubris. In the next scene, Carrie sneaks Ryan a disc drive, and Claire and Ryan watch Joe’s webcast prophecies, to be broadcast on the news by Carrie later on.
Ryan and Mike try to accost Tanner’s son—who was implicated in Joe’s video—hoping to take a proactive approach, but Joe’s followers get to his campus first. Though The Following isn’t big on real-world believability, there are events this week that defy the already loose reality constraints the show operates on: the followers drive an unmarked van onto a college campus before stabbing a security guard in plain sight. Then they walk into his frat house unsupervised, without showing IDs or knowing anyone in the house, wearing menacing outfits, before stabbing two co-eds without anyone raising a finger. Even for this show, what the followers get away with is on par with the poor police work of the FBI in season one: ridiculous. These days, it would be hard for even one follower to walk around a campus without looking suspicious, let alone travel together in an unmarked van, stabbing people.
Emma shows Joe security tape of Mandy leaving Korban. In Lily’s house, Lily tries to coax Mandy into telling her where Joe is. This week is certainly a reminder of how frightening Connie Nielsen and Sam Underwood are in their characters—Lily with her zero-to-sixty fury, and Mark/Luke with their grinning madman bemusement. Sam Underwood’s talents are on display this week during a Truth or Dare game with the ill-fated Mandy, torturing her for information in a deftly shot scene. Joe realizes where Mandy has gone, but it’s too late; Lily, Mark, and Luke have dinner with a lifeless Mandy seated at the head of the table. It’s an unfortunate end for Mandy who, in ending this way, was mainly used as a plot device/wedge between Emma and Joe.
The followers find Tanner’s son and slit his girlfriend’s throat while filming, minutes before Ryan and Mike enter the frat house, guns drawn again. After a scene reminiscent of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” (where the co-eds have white masks glued to their faces) only then do the actual police get involved, hours behind Mike and Ryan at every turn. Ryan leaves Mike behind to follow Joe’s people, on his own, wanting to end Joe “for all of us.” Ryan eventually infiltrates Korban, watching Joe from behind a tree.
The news station air Joe’s message—funneled through Carrie—and I find it very hard to believe that any news network would directly release a message from, essentially, a terrorist. There are pretty clear cut rules against that sort of thing.
There are a few good moments in “Betrayal” but overall, it feels as if The Following is throwing log after log into the flames, except the result isn’t anywhere near as enjoyable as a summer bonfire. The season finale is sure to be entertaining, but I wish there was more consistent quality week-to-week.