I would like to begin this review of the season two premiere of Fox’s The Following on a note of deep shame and regret. Climbing back into bed with this rollickingly miserable, uncomfortable, exploitative, and dumb hour of television was pretty much the depressing experience I expected it to be. Were there realistic rubber masks both creepy and hilarious at the same time? Yes. Multiple scenes of unsettling psycho-sexual violence simply for the sake of it? Of course. Was there a Kevin Bacon performance so detached that the network should maybe reconsider the value of paying such a star? Definitely.
But I filled with horror and despair about halfway through this episode of The Following when something completely unexpected happened: I was excited and tickled by one of its drippy little twists. Let me read to you from my notes: “Ryan gets home and his wall is COVERED WITH INSANE SHIT OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG HE HAS SO MANY GUNS! HE HAS LIKE 50 GUNS! HE SECRETLY STILL LOVES THE CASE HOORAY!”
Even Joe Carroll’s book reviewers would be ashamed of such writing. But there it is! Everything about The Following remains epically bad, in that special, gross sort of way, but I’m pleasantly surprised with how this season is being set up so far. Let’s review, shall we? Last year in the finale, Joe burned up in a house that exploded (no he didn’t), Ryan returned home to Claire and both of them were immediately stabbed by one of Joe’s followers. Cliffhanger!
We pick up right there, where Ryan manages to summon the strength to snap lovely ol’ Molly’s neck one-handed even though he just got stabbed in the stomach. WHATEVER. The important thing is this, dear viewers: Claire died. SHE’S DEAD! OH, THANK GOD IN HEAVEN, SHE IS DEAD FOREVER! I don’t know if I’ve ever rooted harder for an innocent character to expire on a TV show. No offense to Natalie Zea who deserves better and can go to greener pastures now, whatever they are. But in a show where every character is monumentally annoying, she was also useless and offensively stupid. She’s gone, and even though no one says the words “she’s dead,” I’m going to assume this isn’t some Joe Carroll-esque fake-out. If it is, mark my words, Kevin Williamson, there will be trouble.
One year later, everything’s different. Ryan’s retired again! He’s sober and he teaches criminology to nerds now, who have fun speculating about which hand a serial killer used to jerk off onto his corpses just from looking at file photos. Mike (Shawn Ashmore) is also off active duty, pending investigation of the Carroll business and Ryan’s coldblooded murder of one of his followers. Emma (Valorie Curry) has a pink mohawk and is hiding out with some of the few Carroll cultists (“Carrollers,” which is quite the term) who didn’t get rounded up or killed last year.
Aside from that, our cast is pretty much brand new. Ryan is joined by his niece Max (Jessica Stroup of 90210), daughter of the fireman brother who died in 9/11 (remember that piece of throwaway dialogue?) and they’re living a nice normal life. She has a new boyfriend, he’s keeping the straight and narrow, and when a bunch of sickos wearing Joe Carroll masks slaughter the contents of a subway car, he doesn’t even blink, telling the cops he knows nothing and just wants to stay out of the whole thing.
PSYCH! Yeah, you thought Ryan had suddenly just straightened his head out? Come on. Sure, he’s not drinking anymore (the cheap vodka industry weeps at the lost profits) but otherwise he’s the same old Carroll-obsessed, death-stalked nutball. If anything, he’s gotten crazier, and he definitely has a bit more verve to him than the last time around. What’s really good about the twist that he and Max are secretly investigating the case is that it separates him from the Feds.
It’s not like The Following can start pretending that its law enforcement officers do a good job. After a season of dazzling incompetence, it’s too late to encourage that kind of myth-making. Better to have them less involved—make this a vigilante thing, Ryan vs. Joe, psycho vs. psycho, with everyone else on the outside looking in. The final shot perhaps suggests that, with Ryan donning one of Joe’s masks and looking at himself in he mirror (I think that’s what was being suggested? I searched back for implications of a larger twist and found nothing).
Do I expect anything that sophisticated? No. I just want some big camp fun. The “twist” of the episode is that Joe is indeed alive, with a big beard living in some log cabin somewhere, Dexter-style. Is he behind the new rash of cult attacks that include poor Bodie from The Wire, a pair of irritating twins, and a French lady? Maybe. If not, it’s certainly going to be the start of a new novel. We have barely begun to plumb the depths of this show’s stupidity. What a wonderful journey we are all about to go on together.
- Connie Nielsen! As a love interest! Who got stabbed in a subway car! Seems par for the course for Ryan.
- I love that no matter what the circumstances, Ryan’s behavior toward Mike will always be the same: total indifference.
- “Did you share what you know what the bureau?” “What, this? This is a hobby.” Ryan is telling the truth. This is what his hobbies look like.
- It goes without saying that the murders in this episode were all horrible and weird and I don’t like them and I do NOT enjoy those campy new twins, not one bit. There’s ripping off Jack Nicholson, and then there’s ripping off Christian Slater. This is the latter.
- Did you guys know Kevin Bacon was in R.I.P.D.? I didn’t. Let’s all go see it right now!