This review contains spoilers.
2.8 The Messenger
I was a little cool on The Following in its first season. Sure, it was violent, but for whatever reason, I never really liked it all that well. It definitely had a strong performance from Kevin Bacon, but there seemed to be some issues with the show that kept me from embracing it completely. All that has changed in the second season. The Following has dropped any pretence at seriousness and has decided to go completely off the rails. The twists are twistier, the kills are more disturbing, the black comedy is as black as Ryan Hardy’s morning coffee, and the show is worlds better for embracing craziness dropping most of its pretence at seriousness.
I mean, we have Joe Carroll slowly taking over a cult from the inside. He’s not being put up as a dynamic leader this time, though he does have his appeal. He’s working the angles as a master manipulator, which he’s proven himself to be in the show’s universe. In a few short days, he’s able to get the approval of Micah the cult leader and completely bend him to his will via masterful manipulation and Micah’s own coked-up delusions of becoming the next big thing, eating sins, saving souls, and getting his followers to their new home on Pluto.
Clearly, Micah is crazy and charismatic, but he’s definitely not as smart as Joe Carroll. After all, Micah wants Joe to write his story, and Joe, wisely, tells him he’s not that good a writer, but the next step for Micah’s cult is to become book-worthy, get famous, and really expand the reach of the red-robed loons of Korben, and Micah even has a cellar full of maniacs just waiting to be let loose on the world to kill at his—and Joe’s—command.
I think that one of the things the show has done to really increase its cachet is to increase the quality of character actors it brings on board. For example, after Mike’s father’s funeral, Ryan talks to the director of the FBI, Tom Franklin, as played by the brilliant Charles S. Dutton. He confirms all of Ryan’s suspicions about Joe, the FBI having a mole in its midst, and so on, but he also gives Ryan Hardy the power to go full Jack Bauer. He reports directly to the director’s office, he has resources, and he gets to do things his own way, which is exactly what Hardy’s been doing anyway, except now he can’t go to jail for it.
One of the things Ryan wants to do is visit Joe’s old college mentor and perform illegal surveillance on him, because he and Mike have connected him to Joe’s escape from Havenport. That man, Dr. Strauss, is played by none other than Gregg Henry. The snoopy reporter Carrie that’s following Ryan around, and who got him drunk to get book quotes, is Sprauge Grayden from Paranormal Activity 2 and the spiritual forefather to this particular programme, 24. Of course, since this is The Following, that means that everyone ends up strapped to chairs and put into killing range by Strauss and his newest protege, because that’s what happens whenever you go in to talk to anyone in the Carrollverse; you get knocked out and possibly killed by maniacs.
All of that is part and parcel for The Following, and Alexi Hawley’s script doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. However, it does allow James Purefoy to do some meaningful smirks and it does allow Jake Weber to do a whole lot of crazy talking. I liked the idea that it didn’t take a lot for Joe to talk Micah into poisoning his followers, even if I don’t care that much that folks were transferred from Earth to Pluto or wherever folks go when they get poisoned by communion wafers. The Mike stuff, particularly the cold opening of the funeral, seems a little exploitative even by The Following standards, as it’s pretty much grief porn, but it’s forgivable because it gives Mike extra motivation and it allows Shawn Ashmore to show off his acting prowess (and it gives Ryan and Max a chance to soften towards one another, setting up some fun Ryan grumpiness).
The show is planting the seeds for the inevitable Max/Mike romance, and even Ryan gets to have another semi-romantic entanglement with Carrie (to go along with Lily earlier in the season). It’s pretty telegraphed by Marcos Siega, but I do like the interconnecting at the end during the montage. Joe and Emma are making eyes at one another again, Max and Mike are making sad eyes at one another, and Ryan putters in his office, obsessing over Joe Carroll. Joe might be a sociopath, but at least he can land a girlfriend, unlike the thoroughly broken Ryan Hardy.
There were fewer twists and turns this week, but it still turned out to be a strangely satisfying episode. There hasn’t been an episode where I haven’t made some sort of audible yawp at someone’s barbarism, and that streak continues. It looks like the ship has been completely righted, and the Carrollers are lining up to sing off their dead with songs of praise.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Sacrifice, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that there’s plenty of room for folks to out-crazy Joe Carroll. Here’s hoping the show keeps that up. Maybe Joe can become the sane serial killer? Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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