The Following: 104 “Mad Love” Review
Reviewed by James Wynne
Margaret Kester (former spouse of the now deceased Rick Kester) escaped at the end of last week’s “The Poet’s Fire”, and for those left wondering when we would see her again – well, you haven’t had to wait too long. Yes, the meat of “Mad Love” focuses on Margaret’s attempts to get revenge on Ryan for killing her pyromaniac husband.
Maggie’s revenge centres around Ryan’s sister, Jenny (Susan Misner), whom we are meeting for the first time through flashbacks delving deeper in to Ryan’s troubled past. Whilst it divulges the obvious in regard to his reluctance to ‘bond’ with people (that he has suffered significant losses and chooses to disconnect himself in an effort to avoid more of the same pain), it creates a background to his wounded being that’s needed for the viewers to further invest in him (I bet Carroll would agree). However, his heart-to-heart with Claire, in which he opens up about what he and his sibling have suffered through, feels a tad melodramatic. His recollecting of the individual fatalities of first his mum, then his dad, and finally his brother, were OTT. A single death or torturous experience would have been enough to lend credence to Ryan’s distanced persona – we didn’t need everything and the kitchen sink thrown in to get this across.
The biggest thing the writers of The Following seem to have trouble with is making things clear enough for the viewers to understand, while still maintaining a modicum of subtlety, so it doesn’t seem as though there is a direct communication going on between the characters and the people watching at home. This has been evidenced a few times with some overwrought Poe references being explained in unnecessarily explicit detail (see: “Nevermore”), and it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.
Barring all of the above, little else of note is learnt from the frequent trips in to Ryan’s past. His alcoholism is revisited, and his reasons for parting from Claire are explored a bit more, but the main purpose of the flashbacks is to establish a relationship between him and his sister (and the sister herself), before the climactic repercussions of Maggie’s escape ensue.
Now, this is where most of the episode’s problems can be found. Virginia Kull’s villainous turn towards the end of “The Poet’s Fire” was done rather well, but here the actress seems to struggle with her villain-of-the-week limelight. Maggie’s characterisation is full-on villainess, but it lacks the dimensions of Carroll’s other acolytes. It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue she’s given is downright awful (“…I’m just shutting down your little heart gizmo, so that Joe does actually kill you!”), but even when it isn’t, her delivery is off.
In fact, the writing of this whole scenario is horrible.
Ryan’s decision to heed Maggie’s warning to come alone is baffling. She is one person, unstable; yes, but regardless, she was going to find it next to impossible surveying all surrounding areas to ensure he did as he was told. Also, without Weston’s belated intervention (more on that below), his insistence to go it alone would have resulted in his death and, as Maggie admits, his sister’s as well – so what good would it have served in the end? It’s odd that the writers seem so intent on making Ryan seem completely inept, when the opposite is supposed to be the case, because if he’d thought about the situation for even a second, he wouldn’t have done things as he did.
The reason for him being so adamant that he should do as Maggie says becomes clear as we are ‘treated’ to an overlong scene of Maggie detailing her murderous intentions (because that’s what all good villains do, right?). This, of course, wouldn’t have been at all possible if a whole team of FBI agents had been present and awaiting a sign that the two captives inside needed immediate aid.
Mike Weston does go along, though, and figures in to things as the most convenient plot device possible. He is told, in no uncertain terms, to make sure Jenny’s safe. So, it makes little sense that he would then remain outside for more than a few minutes. Yet, Ryan is knocked out (who knows how long for) and tortured for at least ten more minutes – all the while, there is no sign of Weston attempting his rescue. Jenny even lets out a few shrill screams, which no doubt would be heard outside, but still Weston doesn’t put in an appearance. Ah, but once Ryan’s right on the cusp of death (*drama*), we finally see him entering the building and putting Maggie down with a single bullet.
Anti-climactic isn’t even appropriate here, as that suggests there was at least some form of tension and dramatic build-up – but there wasn’t. We *know* Ryan isn’t going to bite the bullet as early as the series’ fourth episode, so there’s little point in making his mortal peril the centrepiece of an episode’s plot, and even less in dragging it out as long as “Mad Love” did.
The episode does at least do wonders with its sub-plot surrounding the sadistic threesome. I said in my review of “Chapter 2” that I found it difficult to believe in Jacob and Paul as seasoned killers, and while “The Poet’s Fire” excelled with the latter’s rapid turnaround from jealous little bitch (thanks, Emma) to genuine psychopath, it still remained impossible to envision Jacob ever having killed someone.
Well, as it turns out, there’s good reason for that: it’s because he hasn’t.
Credit must go to Nico Tortorella for always maintaining a crucial underlying sense of innocence to Jacob Wells that helps sell his moral dilemma, and the inner turmoil this provokes as he battles with the notion of killing Meghan Leeds is conveyed with real pathos.
It will be interesting to see where the sordid trio go from here, with a ‘virgin’ in their midst that seems adamant to remain as such. The conflict has been turned on its head and directed towards Jacob instead of Paul. Despite the group getting *close* in the final scene, he is at risk of being dispensed if he doesn’t manage his task.
“Mad Love” proves to be just as flawed as “Chapter 2”. Once again, it’s still layered with occasional brilliance (Emma and co.), but this is undermined by a frustrating over-dependence on nonsensical drama, with even the most basic logic thrown out of the window at its expense.
Still, if The Following’s thus far inconsistent run is anything to go on; we’re in for a treat with next week’s, “The Siege”.