This review contains spoilers.
2.10 Teacher’s Pet
The Following may have well crossed a line to turn off its viewership this week. For 26 episodes, the show has done everything imaginable to alienate viewers. Lots of people getting killed in gruesome ways, serial killers offered up as characters we’re supposed to root for, children in peril, “classic Poe,” Ryan Hardy’s slow transformation from troubled cop to outright sociopath, Mike’s father being murdered just to provoke a brief emotional reaction, and some foaming-at-the-mouth poisoning courtesy of Joe’s former cult leader and spiritual guru. Entire families have been murdered in cold blood. Corpses have been used as dance partners and implied sex dolls. Any number of horrible, depraved thing shave occurred, yet there’s one line the show hasn’t crossed: they haven’t killed any animals.
That changed this week.
During one of Joe’s revival meetings with the red robes of Korban, Emma brings over a large ginger cat. Joe talks about the glory of sacrifice, and how to take care of resistance and the value of persistence, and then he takes the cat from Emma, pets it, and strangles it until its neck breaks in between flashbacks. Joe killed a cat (off screen, thankfully) and not only does it turn off the viewing audience, it also turns off several of the cult members, who ask to be excused from killing duty (only to end up being thrown in the reeducation hole by Emma). It’s a particularly stomach-churning moment, if only because Joe’s a serial killer of people and the show has shied away from showing the progression of most serial killers from animals to people. Then again, Joe is kind of teaching Serial Killer 101 to his religious cultists, so perhaps that was a necessary part of the display to weed out the non-hackers.
Still, it’s repulsive even by The Following‘s low standard, and this is an episode in which five people hand-picked by Robert and Joe go out from Korban into New York City with an intent to kill random people and get Joe’s message out there. That message: “There’s no redemption without blood. – JC.” The Carollers are told to make examples, and make examples they do, except for two of the Followers (Mallory AKA Beth from The Walking Dead and Patrick AKA Theo Stockman) who, like Lance last week who stayed behind to get killed by Ryan and Mike after botching their part of the execution. Botch be damned by Prophet Joe, to be atoned with another fun firelight cult rally/bloodletting in which the returning killers Tilda (Mackenzie Marsh) and Lance (Josh Salatin). As successful murderers, they’re now heroes to the rest of Joe’s new followers.
It’s amazing to me that Joe’s cult leader scenes work as well as they do. He’s charismatic, and as Dr. Strauss says, Joe’s naturally good at finding out weaknesses, manipulation, and gathering together a cult of personality. Toss in some basic knowledge of religion, some public speaking skills, and some animal cruelty and Joe is apparently working hard to turn Korban from a peaceful cult into a dangerous bloodthirsty cult, and he seems to be succeeding with each passing week, even if Mandy doesn’t seen to be following along quite like she should. (She can’t even bond with Emma over their love of matricide!)
Brett Mahoney’s script finds that fine line between funny and stupid and walks it very well. Joe might know his pronouncements are meaningless, but his followers don’t. Mahoney sprinkles in some nice moments, like the murder-cute between Tilda and Lance and a pretty funny scene between Ryan and Joe that has the two men openly mocking one another over the phone while the NSA tries to trace the call. Strauss and Ryan’s discussion of Joe was also pretty fun, if only because Strauss recognizes that Ryan just might be a psychopath, too.
The show is mostly impressive, as it usually is, in its depiction of horrible things and its general stylishness. However, one aspect of the show really didn’t work this week, though I’m not sure it’s the fault of director Marcos Siega. In the flashback scene, Strauss is with young Joe Carroll circa 1982 at the boarding school mentioned previously and they discuss the power of killing. However, while Gregg Henry is still himself, young Joe is played by someone not James Purefoy. Of course, he’s dubbed by James Purefoy, which is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen on television. To hear that voice coming out of the mouth of a teenage boy is weird enough, but since the dubbing is just slightly imperfect, it’s enough to take things into uncanny valley. It’s almost as bad as the Joe masks from earlier in the season, though that’s probably not the intention.
Even though I have a lot of difficulty with violence against animals and little to no problem with violence against otherwise innocent humans, I don’t think it’s enough to make me check out on The Following. It was definitely a downer moment, but perhaps it was necessary to keep me and other heartless folks like me from getting too much amusement from Joe’s televangelist impression. There’s only room for one anti-hero in The Following, and it’s clearly Ryan Hardy.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Unmasked, here.
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