This review contains spoilers.
1.11 Whips and Regret
One of the problems with the henchmen-of-the-week format is that even henchmen who appear in multiple episodes, like Vince this week (one of the two survivalists who led the raid to get Claire back), have a lot of trouble connecting to the audience if they don’t get Jacob/Emma, Roderick, or Joe levels of screen time. We learn about Vince and his friend/hook-up buddy Hailey and when Hailey is put in peril… nobody really cares. I don’t care. Agent Parker and Ryan care but only because they’ll get in trouble for her injury. Roderick smashes a random fellow on the face and we don’t care because he has no back-story. Roderick and Vince have a Mexican stand-off and guess what? No one really cares (and nothing really happens to boot).
There are probably three storylines where I feel engaged with the characters in The Following. One of them is, of course, Ryan and Joe. And, I suppose, the Claire addition to the tripod. The other one is the open power struggle between Joe and Roderick. I don’t particularly care who comes out on top, though I think at this point Roderick is the more dangerous and driven of the two. Without Joe, there is not cult. Without Roderick, there is no cult capable of doing anything other than listening to Gothic romance lectures from an nontenured assistant professor of English at the local community college. And, of course, there’s Jacob and Emma. The seeds were planted in the previous episode, and they’ve grown into a bush full of awkward, bitter fruit. I’m not sure why Emma thinks abandoning someone to the cops and then refusing to help them later would endear her to Jacob, but at this point there’s not a lot on the show that makes a ton of sense.
I’ll put the blame for that on Kevin Williamson (who wrote this week’s episode with Rebecca Dameron). As the season continues, The Following continues to flail more and more wildly, like FBI agents chasing a survivalist through a darkened former armory. Remember Ryan’s alcoholism? Well, not only is he drinking his breakfast again, it’s also being directly called out by Agent Parker. Did it go away for a bit, then resurface? Did it suddenly not be a problem? Even Joe brings it up again, telling Ryan not to be such a cliché because he’ll be toning down the alcoholism aspect in his book (another discarded thread and a funny meta-shot at the writers).
The one thing the show has been consistent at is shooting in the darkest possible environments. If there’s a dank corridor, an unfinished basement, a sticky-looking hallway at an S&M club, an underpass, an abandoned building, a murky factory… if there’s an unpleasant, unlit place, Marcos Siega will find it and shoot a scene there. Multiple places like that are used in this week’s episode, and a long, extended action sequence was filmed using flashlights as the only sources of light. It’s tense, at times, but it’s more confusing than anything else. I had no idea what was going on, who was doing what, who was killing whom, and the confusion only cleared up when Kevin Bacon showed up and gunned down some random cultists.
With every passing week, The Following goes from a show with the potential to be good, to a show that has no potential whatsoever to be quality programming in the traditional sense. Those good threads the show had in the pilot are getting lost in its weaker elements, threatening to subsume them completely. However, the “worse” the show gets, the more interesting it becomes. It’s in no danger of becoming good any time soon, but it’s edging closer and closer to spectacularly bad. The fact that the actors are all trying so bloody hard to make it work is what makes the show almost work from a fiasco standpoint.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Guilt, here.
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