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The Following: 112-113 Review

following-113

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

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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emuNu6fMYn8 TheGenie 2.0

    Nice review. It’s a shame that the series came to this, though. Hopefully you’ll be luckier with whatever you move onto next.

    • https://twitter.com/Good_Year92 GoodYear92

      Cheers. It is a shame, but I’ve got Falling Skies not too far off (I think the third series arrives in June), and that’s a show I love.

      • http://cultfix.co.uk/da-vincis-demons-101-the-hanged-man-review-22336.htm EternalDoctor

        I can’t wait for it to return! I’ve watched all the episodes now and subsequently read your reviews, which were all fantastic. Whilst you display a strong critical mind with these The Following reviews – it definitely makes for a more enjoyable read when you’re reviewing a good show.

        • https://twitter.com/Good_Year92 GoodYear92

          Nor me. Series 1 was good, but Series 2 was a vast improvement in all areas. I can’t wait to see where the third series goes.

          I’m glad you enjoyed the reviews. That fills me with no small amount of pride, considering Falling Skies was the first thing I covered and in retrospect my reviews at the time seem somewhat rough around the edges to me. Thank you for the compliments. I agree that the Falling Skies reviews should make for comparatively better reading (and should be better to write). I don’t enjoy feeling compelled to be so negative on a weekly basis, despite it being entirely called for with The Following, and that doubtless comes through in the writing, as it does the other way around, I hope.

          I haven’t commented on your first Da Vinci’s Demons review (I’ve been meaning to), but I think you deserve congratulations for such a job well done. I know you’ve had an article on Doctor Who TV before, but for a first foray in to proper TV reviewing (and even this besides), it was tremendous. It was really well structured (the biggest struggle I’ve found in writing reviews), and wonderfully worded. I’ve been sceptical of this series since the first few trailers for it. I’m a big fan of the renaissance era of Italy’s history and in Da Vinci, in particular, so I found the ‘cool hero’ portrayal initially rather off-putting. But I might yet give it a chance. I’ll await your next few reviews to get a better overall impression and decide from there.

          • http://cultfix.co.uk/da-vincis-demons-101-the-hanged-man-review-22336.htm EternalDoctor

            I am severely pleased to hear that you liked my review. The praise means a lot coming from such an established writer like you.

            Regarding Da Vinci’s Demons; it will probably appeal to you due to the era of the show, but judging by what you have said – Leonardo’s characterisation may irk you to an extent. It’s too early for me to give an official verdict on the show, but I just thought I’d let you know that Da Vinci is, for the most part, shown to be a ‘cool hero’.

          • https://twitter.com/Good_Year92 GoodYear92

            It’s nothing, really. You deserve it (DWTV has so many talented writers lurking in the comments, it’s insane).

            Unfortunately, my love for the era didn’t make me look favourably on The Borgias (bad casting was at the root of my inability to enjoy that series), so I’m not sure it will for Da Vinci’s Demons either. Even less so, now that you’ve confirmed my suspected issues with the portrayal of Da Vinci himself. But as I said, I’ll keep reading your reviews and see how your overall appraisal of the series begins to take shape.

  • http://doctorwhotv.co.uk/heroes-of-who-elisabeth-sladen-44552.htm PK-S is A Talking Tree.

    A very strong review James, you must be, in a way, glad The Following is over. I never watched it, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Well done, James!

    • https://twitter.com/Good_Year92 GoodYear92

      Thanks very much! Well, I will be glad when it’s over in a week’s time, yeah. The penultimate episode aired tonight, and the finale will be on next week. I’ll be covering both episodes in a single review again, as it’s become a preferred format for me with the last four instalments.

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