The Following episode 3 review: The Poet’s Fire

More blood is shed in this week's episode of serial killer drama, The Following. Here's Ron's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 The Poet’s Fire 

The Following is one of the stranger successful shows to hit the airwaves in recent memory. The mere fact that the bulk of the show’s characters are serial killers and that they receive more character development than the FBI agents hunting them (Ryan aside) gives it a really weird feeling. Are we supposed to identify with them? Because they get the bulk of the series’ attention (at least so far). 

They do horrible things to people who otherwise don’t deserve them, and yet a love triangle between three of the acolytes – Emma, Jacob, and Paul – takes up the bulk of the action again this week. Or it seems like it took up the bulk of the show’s action, anyway. There’s a very interesting idea behind their dynamic, even if the show isn’t fully exploiting it. The friction between Emma and Paul over Jacob is handled pretty well, and the reason behind this friction is something I’ve suspected since the beginning, but it is nice to see them actually doing the big reveal in all its glory, as it were. This week we find out both how Paul and Jacob’s relationship was egged into being by Emma, how it developed over time in deep cover, and how/why Paul is struggling with the new way of things. 

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That’s a problem for the show in the long run, though. They (in this case writers Adam Armus and Kay Foster) set up clever twists, then telegraph them a little too much, or somehow mishandle the reveal. If you don’t suspect at least two of the show’s shocking moments this week, then you’re probably not paying close attention. The show lingers in cliché territory, which is kind of sad, but there’s a point to it. Or I’m going to say there’s a point to it. These people aren’t serial killers, they’re wannabe serial killers. They’re taking up the mantle of Joe Carroll and living out their dreams with him as their teacher. They’re going to be awkward and sloppy and fall into cliches, because they’re trying to replicate what they’ve seen on television and whatnot, even as they perform horrible acts of violence. 

However, this week’s killer of the week, Rick Kester (Michael Drayer), does have a pretty interesting gimmick. He’s not so good with knives (you could ask his stabbed wife Maggie [Virginia Kull] about that), but he’s really, really good with a can of gasoline. Hence, he burns a book reviewer to death for the crime of criticizing Joe Carroll’s book. Is he the link they need to catch the escaped trio and recover the missing Joey Matthews? 

That’s one of the good things about the show’s unrelenting darkness. There’s nothing to distract from the graphic nature of the show’s content. There’s no wink, no chuckle, no one pulls on a pair of sunglasses while making a quip. Ryan Hardy occasionally makes a sarcastic comment, or has one made about him, but it’s so far removed from the show’s kill scenes that it doesn’t lighten things up. It’s constant and bleak and I have to admit that I kind of love that the show’s creative team seems so willing to stare into the void. They’re pretty bold about depicting violence, from a fairly traumatic immolation scene at the opening of this week’s episode/the close of last week’s episode to a very clever suicide, The Following managed to bring some more of the ultraviolence that marked its first episode back for the third, with some added child torture scenes just to make things even more uncomfortable than they were already. 

That’s going to be this show’s choice. It’s never going to win any awards for writing, despite Kevin Bacon’s best efforts, and it’s not particularly clever aside from its general premise. What’s going to keep The Following interesting for the long-haul is sheer willingness to shed blood, and I mean anyone’s blood (Bacon aside, of course). So far, it seems like they’ve got what it takes. 

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Chapter Two, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan doesn’t buy Joe Carroll as a charismatic cult leader, but he does buy that a guy likes to set people on fire. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi

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