The Following: 110-111 Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
Carroll’s cult – serial killers, or terrorists?
The synopsis of The Following, and indeed certain snippets of dialogue within the episodes themselves, suggest it’s the former. But, in reality, the latter term seems more appropriate. Serial killers are more often than not driven by personal motive (attention-seeking, gratification etc.), as opposed to a shared ideal with other likeminded individuals. The Following, though, would have us believe that a group of serial killers can operate as a regimented, tactical squad, hell bent on fulfilling some twisted angle on Edgar Allen Poe’s life works (we’ve still no idea what it is, exactly), and coexist as a close knit family unit alongside that.
The array of military-grade weapons and militant training regime that’s exposed in “Whips and Regret” is the clearest example yet that the distinction between “terrorist” and “serial killer” has been lost on the writers of The Following. The cult are more like a private army than they are a group of depraved, sadistic murderers, and are almost infallible as a result of the seemingly unlimited resources at their disposal.
What’s most baffling about them, though, is the domestics we’ve been privy to for the last few episodes. Carroll preached about the readers (a.k.a. the audience; us) needing someone to invest in, and it almost seems as if the writers are attempting to give us that in the form of certain characters within this gathering of killers – e.g. Emma and Jacob. Their lovers’ spat is a focal point of “Guilt”, as is the briefly rekindled romance between the two of them, and it’s unclear why that is. Are the writers actually under the impression that anyone will give a damn about the relationships being forged between two violent antagonists? More to the point, the excessive humanising is beginning to feel somewhat detrimental to the purpose they’re supposed to serve in the series. Emma’s pathetic bleating to an apathetic Jacob is a far cry from the schizo bitch who slashed Paul Torres as firm warning that he was to tow the line from thereon in.
In my review of “Love Hurts”, I questioned Jacob Wells’ motivation for signing up to become one of Carroll’s groupies, as he had shown no indication that he possessed the associated mindset. Killing Paul (first as an act of compassion, then as a random act of completely imaginary brutality) has rendered everything we’ve seen of him up until this point utterly redundant. He says it himself: ‘The Jacob you knew is gone’. There’s still no solid reasoning present for his involvement with Carroll in the first place (but then again, all any of the killers’ “back stories” consist of in The Following is a single meeting with Carroll whilst he was incarcerated), and absolutely nothing to lend credence to his sudden development of a violent psychosis, beyond his imagined slaying of the already deceased Paul Torres.
The Following’s biggest problem, apart from the stupidity of all who inhabit the extremely fictional and farcical world it resides in, is its poorly conceived and developed characters. Kevin Williamson and co. also seem to be suffering from spur of the moment writing as the series progresses, wherein brand new characters must be killed off almost immediately, e.g. Tyson (David Zayas), or be crucial players in “shocking” plot developments mere moments after flashbacks have introduced us to the notion of their existence, e.g. Molly (Jennifer Ferrin). It happened with Ryan’s sister, Jenny, all the way back in “Mad Love”, and Molly’s revelation as being part of Carroll’s crew is indicative of the same ‘off the cuff’ storytelling.
Returning to the aforementioned idiocy of characters in The Following (it’s impossible to review a single episode without it warranting mention), and it’s obvious Claire Matthews is aiming for the coveted ‘dunce of the week’ hat in “Guilt”. Having once already hopped in to a car with one of Carroll’s acolytes in the hopes of seeing her son again, and subsequently realising it wasn’t the best move, seeing her do so again was almost akin to a slapstick character falling over an obviously visible obstacle for the second time in a row. What’s worse is that her protection up to this point has come at the expense of Tyson’s, and other nameless operatives’, lives – what a way to recompense them for such a sacrifice, and at the same time negate what’s left of the audience’s sympathy for her character.
The Following is short to the point of non existence on characters that are anything more than shallow plot devices. If we’re not being introduced to never-before-seen, characterless followers pulled from the seemingly infinite recesses of Carroll’s magic hat (along with the obligatory, weekly flashback chat in prison to accompany them), we’re watching the ‘good guys’ fumble about in the wake of the cult’s master plans (i.e. the protective custody that’s anything but, and the siege on the killers’ boot camp/armoury in “Whips and Regret”).
The siege on Carroll’s underground base, though, while being yet another example of the FBI demonstrating baffling levels of incompetence (have they ever heard of the buddy system?), did at least consist of the best use of these “serial killers” to date. In one particular scene, the haze from Parker’s flashlight reveals the silhouette of someone stood behind her, and it’s directed in such a way that it doesn’t garner your immediate attention, so that when it does, it’s likely to give you a little fright (it did me).
Unfortunately, this doesn’t distract from everything else that doesn’t appear to make sense here. How did Vince (Christopher Denham) escape the FBI’s perimeter (the second time someone has, with no explanation how)? And why are Ryan and Debra still being used in the field, or at all? The amount, and sheer degree of screw ups, the pair of them have made in the last few weeks means them remaining with the Bureau in any form is frankly unbelievable, let alone in the same capacity they have been all along. Is Donovan’s continued and pointless presence perhaps providing a substitute for any and all repercussions of Ryan and Debra’s weekly mishaps? He seems to serve no other purpose beyond assuming the role that Debra fulfilled prior to Weston being hospitalised.
In the last two weeks The Following has descended from mediocre/abysmal crime drama to a soap opera about terrorists. Where will it go next? Who knows? Does anyone even care anymore..?
“Guilt” Verdict: 3/10
“Whips and Regret” Verdict: 4/10