This review contains spoilers.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person online who writes about The Following and who also enjoys the show in a legitimate, non-ironic way. There are plenty of folks who love a good hate-watch, myself included, but when it comes to this particular show, as dumb and nihilistic as it can be, I still find a lot to be entertained by when I watch it. Perhaps it’s my ear for awesomely campy dialogue. Perhaps it’s the dulcet tones of James Purefoy’s voice. Perhaps it’s all the stabbing. Either way, I seem to be a lone voice shrieking out praise for The Following like a true Carroller, and I’m strangely okay with that.
Part of the attraction is the show’s impressive ability to entertain visually. For example, Joe is angry at televangelist Kingston Tanner (Tom Cavanagh) for making Joe the object of his attention in an effort to sell a few books, so he decides to send his A-Team of goons off to track down Kingston’s son Preston at his college and have a little fun with him and all his frat buddies. Of course, before this can happen, Joe has to get a message to Carrie via stabbing emissaries, then his group gets to get their freak on in a very freaky way.
I’ve talked before about how I enjoy the show’s use of creepy masks, but that tactic comes to a head this week in the frat house thanks to one or two really stellar scenes. Yes, the killers have their masks on, but so do the victims. Joe’s followers take the time to herd all of the folks hanging out in the frat house into a single room and glue masks onto their faces—removing the masks also removes skin and flesh—so that when Mike and Ryan inevitably show up to bust the group, there’s no way to tell who is a killer and who is an innocent victim, especially when the victims try to run screaming from their prison/room the moment Mike opens the door. (The fact that one of the killers is among them, and he jumps out to attack Mike/get killed by Mike only makes the whole idea work that much better.)
It’s a credit to Marcos Siega that he absolutely nails that scene. Walking into an frat house is frightening enough by itself, but when that frat house is totally empty, it gets that much creepier as abandoned video games chatter away and beer goes stale in a neglected beer pong table. Then, Mike and Ryan follow bloody clues to the second floor and open a door onto a room full of blank, staring faces who all immediately surge towards them. It’s one of the more impressive moments in the show’s visual canon, and it’s legitimately scary because, for a brief moment, I assumed somehow that the cult of Carroll had converted all these kids into killers and that Mike and Ryan were about to be smothered beneath a wave of plastic masks and Axe body spray.
That moment is actually topped by two other specific set pieces in the episode. One of them is simply Ryan peeking out from behind a tree, observing the cult crazies as they welcome Preston Tanner, Kingston’s kidnapped son, into the compound. It’s really simple, but it’s a really amusing moment because, however briefly, roles are reversed. We’re used to seeing the bad guy creeping around and peeping on the hero, yet here we are, and Joe’s talking about sins and blood sacrifice, and he’s being stalked by Ryan in yet another muddying of the roles.
Another muddying moment was Lily’s behaviour towards Joe and, specifically, Mandy. Lily isn’t a nice person, but she’s good at faking it for as long as she needs to before the noose slips into place. In this case, that noose went around poor Mandy’s neck, and it was used to prop up her corpse for a family dinner with Lily and the American Psycho twins. Once again, Lily is the bad guy and Joe is, by comparison, less bad (the show also puts two of the killers into a positive light by having them turn the knives on a frat boy who calls one of the girls ‘fatty’).
I’m not sure which of these characters is supposed to be the villain anymore, courtesy of Lizzie Mickery’s script. Joe has a kill squad running around, but Lily tortures and kills an innocent-ish girl and definitely kills innocent folks along the way. The death of Mandy gives Joe a layer of sympathy, and his impotent ranting and raving at the television and its coverage of him is both amusing and kind of pathetic (as is his hatred for hypocrisy while being a hypocrite himself). Ryan is basically a sociopath, but he’s trying to stop two groups of killers, so can he be that bad? He’s also got a broken heart courtesy of Claire and a conflicted sex live courtesy of Carrie. Lily is a monster, but she’s also getting revenge for her dead adopted children. Claire and Mike orchestrated a cover-up that ended up sending Ryan off the deep end. So on and so forth.
The Following is a show that’s gone beyond black and white without actually concerning itself with the morality of its characters or their actions. Ryan’s the hero because he’s the lesser of three evils (and the most charismatic actor on the show). Lily is probably the most evil character on the show, because she’s a few dead sons short of being reduced to a gibbering, stabbing lunatic. Joe is somewhere in the middle, as he has been for awhile. He’s still evil, but everyone on The Following is kind of evil in their own way.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Freedom, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is probably also a bad guy in some way. Maybe because he likes The Following, it’s proof of some sinister urge to stab things? Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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