This might be the episode in which The Following finally comes around to embracing its own inner camp. I found “Silence” far less infuriating than most of the episodes of The Following to date. Partly, that’s because it finally just did something, after 13 episodes of delicate equivocation: Claire stabs Emma to death—twice, for good measure, giving her the classic horror-movie surprise resurrection only to get stabbed again, for good. Sure, it’s The Following—the writers will find a way to reanimate Emma’s corpse if they want to (she was in witness protection the whole time, and there was a cult conspiracy, too!).
I admit that my grading for The Following follows a rubric that even I barely understand. Sometimes, The Following’s ruthless amorality is so hard to avoid that it colors the entire episode; sometimes, The Following fails by trying too hard to be smarter than it is. It’s in the latter vein that I found “Silence” refreshing. In these last few episodes before the inevitably disappointing finale, The Following has to build to some kind of climax and then leave us at a cliffhanger, and it’s doing that by shrugging off the shroud of incredibly bland storytelling. I don’t like anything that happened in this episode, but at least it happened. The Following is finally embracing just how bad it actually is, and in its gorgeous imperfections, at least it offers me something to write about. Now that’s a C.
Over the past two seasons, one of The Following’s biggest problems has been that it gleefully and ruthlessly fridges its female characters. Yes, men die too on the show—but women die faster and more desperately. Women are the chosen targets for Joe Carroll; women are the redshirts sewn into the story to be ripped out and buried a few episodes later. Mandy, from just a few episodes ago. Debra, in the first season. Gina, the agent. Jana, her partner. Olivia, Joe’s lawyer in season one. Molly, Ryan’s neighbor and cult-member from season one. It is an endless list.
The Following has not known what to do with Emma ever since it invented her. She was a creepy Easter egg, designed to instill panic about the whereabouts and safety of little Joey Carroll. She was written as a rather flat character, too—she liked killing because she hated her mom and Joe provided her with the self-esteem she needed to say goodbye to that life. The Following first threw her into a threesome with her boyfriend and his gay lover; then it threw her at Joe, because a female character on The Following who is not dead must be someone’s love interest.
Emma became something more, though, almost despite the show’s design for her. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Emma was supposed to die much, much earlier in the show’s life—and only the relative interest and fascination Valorie Curry held as Emma kept her character alive. (I’ll say this: Curry always did what she could with a thankless role, handling ludicrous monologues about death, making out with James Purefoy, and boasting pink hair that one time with aplomb.) By the time season two rolls around, Emma is an unexpected voice of reason.
That meant, essentially, that she had to go. It’s pretty upsetting to recognize that The Following pulled a bait-and-switch with Claire and Emma: When one is around, the other is in hiding, or vice versa. There can only be one. So naturally, the show pits them against each other. I am sure—sure—that in the minds of the writers, this is a decision redolent of a symbolic struggle between these two very different women. It’s not. It’s just what guys think women fight about, with a few more knives at play.
That leaves just three female characters left on the board, as Mike dispatched Lily last week: Claire, of course; Max; and Carrie, the TV reporter. I would put money on Carrie dying in the next episode—she’s far too convenient a character, and like Emma, she’s in direct competition with Claire for someone’s affections. Max is too pretty to die, so she probably won’t—and anyway, she’s paired off with Mike, so there’s a good chance she’ll survive to see season three (how sad for her).
But it’s all almost kind of worth it for that one moment with Emma in the car with Other Cult Guy, where she ruminates briefly on what she thinks death is. It’s totally out of nowhere, and sets her up to die in the next 30 minutes—it’s the narrative equivalent of a klaxon going off over her head. But it’s interesting. Emma wants to die, sort of: She sees death as a kind of peaceful deliverance.
Now: Nothing, and I mean nothing, about Joe’s Murder Cult Of Destiny And Poe has made sense up till now. There’s some stuff about Joe killing people because death is “as relevant” as life, which makes no sense, and also some business about beauty. In the show’s more lucid moments, it’s argued that Joe makes up a lot of cult nonsense to justify his own near-sexual pleasure in murder. That all makes sense.
Emma is the first character that I can think of who introduces death as a kind of blessing. It’s not well explained—and it doesn’t jive with what we know about her character—and it certainly does not explain the cult’s incredibly violent and vengeful methods for killing people. But it offers the closest thing to a raison d-etre for the character, and for the rest of the cult members who are just following Joe around.
And then she ends up dead. Woo!
It’s just very… The Following to introduce something that complex, and then juxtapose it with an episode where Joe stomps into a church and declares that there is no God. A “radical” statement like that just reinforces the show’s inherent conservatism: Joe is a caricature of atheism, argument, or critique of religion, which means that the whole church thing looks pretty good by the end of the episode.
It goes to prove the fundamental truth of The Following: This show is scared of itself. It’s unwilling to commit to real plotting; it’s terrified of losing the appeal of its two leads, despite a story that is so tired it is falling asleep on the screen. It’s too cautious to really delve into unconventional belief systems, so it invents empty claptrap that would never convince anyone of anything. And it’s afraid of women, time and time again.
- Many thanks to Todd for subbing for me last week when I was not feeling well.
- Mike’s not gonna get shot. I’m just going to ruin that for you. (I don’t actually know—I will be watching the finale live with you people. But there’s just no way.)
- Hi, Ed! Bye, Ed!
- So, Claire now has tear gas and mad gun skills and the wherewithal to shove a knife into another person’s body? That’s… you know, unhinged.
- The promo for next week looks dismal. They’re going to have to sacrifice a goat or two to make this show work in season three.
- And just because this show has melted by brain enough that I’m ‘shipping, here’s a cute picture of Max and Mike.