This review contains spoilers.
2.2 For Joe
Last year’s Edgar Allan Poe mask has become this year’s Joe Carroll mask, and with the show’s reduced interest in Poe’s work and its increased interest in working Joe Carroll’s magnum opus masterwork, The Following seems to actually have improved. Well, perhaps not improved, but it’s a little different. As good as the Edgar Allan Poe masks were from the first season, there’s nothing quite as creepy as the Joe Carroll masks sported by The Following‘s new twin Patricks Bateman. When Joe Carroll’s dead-eyed face steps out from the shadows wielding a knife, looking just enough like James Purefoy to put the non-Joes into Uncanny Valley, it’s one of the more disturbing things on network television. It looks just wrong, and it’s very unsettling even before Fake Joe starts stabbing people.
That’s probably the strongest aspect of The Following in its second season. It figured out a tone that worked for the show, and it’s sticking with it. That tone is gleefully dumb nihilism. This is one of the most hateful, black, cruel shows on television, and it’s absolutely glorious. The violence is sudden and senseless and (typically) very brutal, especially given the way the Bateman Twins have taken to composing dioramas out of their corpse collections. When the show’s not performing bloody murders, it’s cracking jokes about those very same bloody murders.
None of the show’s attempts at having stakes really work out—we’re too early in the season to care about any of the people the wannabe Carrollers are killing—but some really solid veins of dark comedy are being mined, usually in phone conversations where Ryan and various killers try to psychoanalyze one another while talking tough. None of it is subtle or delicate by any means; the show is more like a club than an assassin’s dagger, but it’s still somehow really effective because of its dumbness.
Take, for example, Joe Carroll’s horrible attempt at a Southern accent. It’s laughably bad, and writer Vincent Angell is smart enough to take advantage of that using Joe’s new girlfriend and former prison pen pal Judy (Carrie Preston) and her daughter Mandy (Tiffany Boone). Given that Joe is The Following‘s version of The Governor, right down to the beard, there’s no way that he can go for very long living an elaborate lie about being a returning war veteran with PTSD shacking up with his prostitute sister. Now, either James Purefoy can’t do the accent or accents are another thing that Joe Carroll is bad with, alongside fatherhood, writing, and being a husband. Either way, The Following wastes precious little time with Joe’s attempts at reforming himself and lets him get right back to killing (and gives James Purefoy one of the best lines he’s had in two seasons with a glorious pork chop super villain line; this may be the juiciest ham bone the show has ever thrown).
Joe’s B plot didn’t really work for me anyway, so the quicker he’s back to doing his thing and leading his cult, the better off I think the show will be. Of course, there’s the little issue that all the surviving cult members seem to be incompetent (Emma aside), but it seems like the new people who are actively seeking out Joe, namely the twins and the kill-crazy French girl who is just aching to get her knife wet, are more than competent. Perhaps a little too competent to follow someone like Joe around, which might make for some great tension in the future when the twins figure out they’re a good enough serial killing cult on their own.
The A plot, in which Ryan and the twins exchange tense phone conversations and attempted murders, is pretty standard stuff for The Following. The use of twins works pretty effectively in the hands of director Joshua Butler. The party is a fun distraction for Ryan, and it allows some cheap tension development as they stalk both Ryan and Lily (the survivor from the subway attack, played by Connie Nielsen). I like the idea that, after his experiences last time with the corrupt local police force and FBI moles, Ryan won’t trust the FBI with any information regarding the murderers, choosing instead to Dirty Harry his way around New York with a gun. I also like the fact that the FBI doesn’t seem to happy about this, and is making some ominous noise at Ryan about arrest and his general inability to put any faith in them.
That could be a fun development. Ryan could be the one on the run from the police, hunting down Joe Carroll, a man everyone else believes is dead, using Mike and his niece Max (Jessica Stroup) as moles to keep himself out of trouble while Joe tries frantically to rebuild his cult without his many, many followers. It’s like a game of cat, cat, dog, and mouse (Joe would be the mouse, the cats would be Ryan and the killer threesome, and the dogs would be the FBI proper).
I’m fairly sure The Following won’t do anything nearly that interesting, but so far I’m still enjoying the experience. The dumber and bloodier the show is, the happier I think I am with it. Joe is definitely happier when he’s got a knife in someone’s belly.
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