The Following: 112-113 Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
Having been occupied this past week after watching the two latest episodes of The Following, and henceforth unable to do this review when I normally would, what’s fundamentally wrong with this series has been stewing in my mind over that time. During the past few months, my criticisms have generally been directed not so much at the individual episodes, but rather the series’ overall approach. Things like the contrived storytelling and ill-handled characters have been a constant bane of the series to date, but it’s recently dawned on me that the biggest issue is the writers’ inability to exploit The Following’s tantalising premise to its fullest (or anywhere near its fullest, to be honest).
There’s no mystery, for starters. Everything is laid out there and nothing is really unknown to the audience. We know who our good guys are (pending some implausible twist that Debra or Mike are members of the cult), and more importantly we know who the bad guys are. There’s no ‘whodunit’ elements at work, and nothing else to chew on in the weeks between episodes. Anything that’s intended as a surprise twist is usually introduced and dealt with in a single instalment (e.g. Jenny’s kidnap, Maggie Kester’s revenge and Molly’s duplicitous antics). All The Following entails is a back and forth between the FBI and Carroll’s killers, and it’s that constant struggle between the two factions that has resulted in an all too familiar narrative structure for most episodes (i.e. Carroll’s group makes a move; the FBI respond; characters confront in a derelict location and anonymous characters die with nothing really achieved on either side, apart from a resounding sense that one group are far more able than the other).
This would be fine, but it necessitates a total reliance on the show’s characters to give the viewers something to invest in. And herein lies the bulk of the problem: none of the characters are worth a damn. Our primary protagonist, Ryan, is made up of nothing more than a pile of crime drama clichés (heavy drinking, tormented past, etc). What made him interesting to start with – his physical frailty counterbalanced with an acute intelligence – has since been forgotten about. Now he serves the same basic function that every other character in The Following does: to get the story from Point A to Point B (how it gets there seems irrelevant, whether it’s dependant on idiocy or miraculous happenstance). Character development and consistency have been all but abandoned, and Ryan has become every bit as bland as those around him.
And speaking of those around him, I found it amusing to see Mike Weston resuming duty in “The Curse” so soon after being beaten bloody by Roderick and co. Not long after he is reintroduced, he makes a passing comment that it hurts when he moves, speaks and breathes (or something to that effect). So, am I to understand that FBI operatives who have sustained the sort of injuries he has are not required to undergo any form of physical evaluation upon their return? Or, for that matter, psyche evaluation, as barely five minutes later he is demonstrating obvious signs of mental trauma, which rather predictably gets him into trouble later on. The fact that his unfit mental state is so obvious to anyone with an ounce of perceptiveness makes Debra’s allowance for him to pursue their only lead on Daniel Monroe (Robert Bogue) beyond stupid.
Moving back to characters for a second, and comments I made in my last review (here) about the seeming attempts to have us invest in Carroll’s acolytes and their relationships. There’s a social normality within the cult that doesn’t really harmonise with the whole serial killer vibe. Whether it’s loving relationships, shameful affairs or infantile rivalries – none of it seems at all suited to the notion of psychotic murderers grouped together. It’s a strand of The Following that needs to be quickly shed, as it in no way benefits the series to see the killers humanised to such an extent. Serial killers are inhuman.
Mr. Wells has undergone a vast transformation, hasn’t he? In a few short weeks, he’s gone from snivelling “virgin” to accomplished ninja. Although, it can’t have been too difficult to sneak up on Debra, given the woman’s total lack of awareness, common sense (in The Following it warrants being re-titled ‘rare sense’) or, presumably, any other higher brain function. Debra’s decision to head outside to get her phone to work, which would leave her ex-militia prisoner, Brian Fowler (Todd Ryan Jones) all on his lonesome, was equivalent to the ‘He’s gone’ moment from “The Fall” on the scale of laughable incompetence.
The entire sequence at Brian’s residence is riddled with problems. There’s the ‘ghost’ militia man Daniel Monroe who’s like a fresh egg, he’s so easy to crack. The minute-long timeframe in which we are led to believe that Carroll was able to kill Daniel, capture and restrain Mike Weston, all without Ryan noticing despite his close proximity. So, Carroll’s group are neither serial killers nor terrorists, then – they’re ninjas! It’s all so clear now. In fairness, this sequence does allow our first face-to-face confrontation between Ryan and Joe for some time. And it’s genuinely interesting, if a tad overlong. Kevin and James do a decent job of imbuing their characters with a real sense of adversarial contempt for one another, and it shines through here, even if some of the dialogue isn’t up to much.
Commendations must also go to the writing of Roderick’s ‘release’ in “Havenport”. The usual stupidity of the FBI in The Following paid dividends for once, as it no doubt lulled most into thinking Ryan’s behaviour was genuine and not the elaborate scheme it was revealed to be. Even if what came after completely undermined its cleverness and condemned the sequence to the annals of The Following’s many examples of shoddy writing: the kid gets left alone again despite his subsequent release, Debra and Donovan are nowhere to be seen once the actions starts, and yet another perimeter proves totally ineffective against Carroll’s minions/ninjas.
To conclude, The Following comes and goes with more problems than you can shake a stick at. The show’s use of technology has also been strange. Why was Carroll using a normal phone to call Ryan, rather than his customary, magic satellite phone? What happened with Debra’s tracking of that phone? And why was Claire so easily able to gain access to Carroll’s laptop? Surely he’d have a password prompt – most normal people do, and most normal people don’t have half the reason to that he does.
“The Curse” Verdict: 5/10
“Havenport” Verdict: 5/10