The Following: Love Hurts, Review

Love Hurts is an awesome song. Too bad this episode is not as good...

Just like the main character from one of the nominees for Best Picture this year, I’m going to start looking for silver linings in things that disappoint or anger me, you know, sort of like The Following. It occurs to me more and more that there are people out there that really enjoy the exploits of Joe Carroll and the banal attempts by Ryan Hardy and friends to stop him. As perplexing as it seems, it sort of makes a little bit of sense. There really is nothing quite like The Following on network television right now (though NBC will be knocking on the same door with Hannibal later this year), and its spastic bursts of intense violence and the star power draw of Kevin Bacon is enough to dazzle some. So before I launch into my normal list of issues, I’d like to talk about some of the things that worked this week.

For one thing, there is finally an actual compelling character on the show. No, it’s not tough talking, mission botching Ryan Hardy, and no, it’s not the enigmatic Joe Carroll. The real break out star that has emerged late in the season is Roderick, the follower who seems to be Joe’s right hand man and the real brains and string puller behind the operation. He’s wry, mysterious, and a hell of a lot more interesting than Joe himself. He also seems to be a bit of a wild card, for instance, this week when he spars with Emma. For two people who are playing for the same team, there sure seems to be a lot of animosity, well at least on Emma’s part, Roderick just seems to have fun toying with the girl’s emotions. He even inexplicably knows about her and Joe’s affair, her love triangle, and the fact that she abandoned her supposed boyfriend. The scenes with Roderick are popping more than anything on the show at this point, and we hope there’s more behind the man behind the plan.

Another thing that worked this week was the closing sequence. In a not so pleasing move, the episode centered on a follower named Amanda hunting down and killing any girl named Claire Matthews in an effort to send a message to Agent Hardy. The actress who portrays Amanda is on the opposite side of the spectrum of the wooden, emotionless Emma; she’s an obnoxious over-actor that mugs and flails about to get attention on-screen. She’s far too cartoony, especially for this show. But in Amanda’s pursuit of the Claire Matthews of the world, we actually get a suspenseful, and satisfying horror scene. In the episdoes final moments, Amanda hunts a Claire that is attending an outdoor Halloween event. The crowded party offers a claustrophobic and overwhelming environment that actually causes a panic. When Amanda stabs one of Claire’s male friends, no in the crowd even notices or helps, which makes more sense in a large, noise filled party then in a small, occupied diner. The whole scene is reminiscent of writer Kevin Williamson’s opening scene in Scream 2, where two moviegoers are stabbed in a mobbed frenetic theater without anyone noticing.

I wish there were more positives to write about, but sadly I cannot change the course of this show. In an early scene, Hardy and Parker have a conference call with Homeland Security. Finally someone in the government seems to be taking notice of a fugitive who has escaped prison TWICE and has a large and growing group of devout followers carrying out crimes and murders. Well, an Agent from Homeland security gets angry with the incompetence of the F.B.I. so far, he asks, “and you have no idea where they are?” matching the sentiments of all the frustrated viewers of this show. If this were something actually happening in the country, you can be damn sure that no expense would be too high to find and catch the killer.

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Big issues also returned this week with the return of Paul and Jacob, who have taken refuge in a cabin owned and frequented by Jacob’s mother. When she unexpectedly arrives at the cabin, the two have a little argument, but the writing and acting sink the whole affair. Instead of a mother being terrified of her fugitive, possible serial killer son and the son trying to calm and reassure her of his innocence, we’re given a scene that shows a only slightly perturbed mom and a Jacob who acts annoyed by his mother’s probing like a kid who was told to clean his room before he could go to the big football game. The causal manner they interact in and the adolescent way that Jacob treats his mother his just laughable. Then, to make matters worse, we have to sit and watch a dying Paul recollect on he and Jacob and Emma’s complicated relationship, complete with more unnecessary flashbacks that drive home things that we already know. Do we need another flashback that shows that Emma and Paul didn’t really trust each other? No, I think we’ve kind of gathered that by now. Do we need to see flashbacks proving that Jacob hasn’t and can’t kill anyone? No, I’m pretty sure we’ve covered that area pretty well at this point too. For some reason the show seems absolutely reluctant to drop the terrible flashback format, no matter how redundant it all is. At the end of the episode Jacob finally does get a kill, by smothering a weary Paul with his pillow. If the show didn’t kill major characters every week this would probably seem like a big deal, but at this point it’s totally commonplace. Maybe there is something to all of those studies that say television violence is desensitizing.

Well, even though the sun peaked through the clouds a bit this week, The Following is still a mostly cloudy affair. There was no movement on the major plot lines, like the rescue of Joey or the protection of Claire, and the F.B.I. are no closer to stopping Carroll, only stopping Amanda. With six episodes left this season, please pray for me to give me strength to get through the remainder of this sludge.