I think I’ve figured out exactly what’s wrong with The Following. Ryan isn’t ever going to be able to succeed, not until the last episode of season one at the very least. As Joe tells us this week, in an episode as ridiculous as all the ones prior and all the ones that will follow, everything that’s going on has been meticulously plotted. He’s been working on this for nine years. (Kevin Williamson probably spent more like nine hours writing it, but hey, I only spent nine seconds on that cheap shot.)
I think that’s why Ryan’s task on this show feels so frustrating and Sisyphean. He can’t make any progress thwarting Joe’s plan: Sure, he takes down one creepy follower, but there’s three more right behind him, and each one wields more influence than the last. The first batch of weirdos we met were a bunch of lame kids right out of college. Now, it’s people of business, very high status, in suits, wielding straight razors like lightsabers and introducing themselves with a cool “I’m Louise, sir.” Even Joe seems impressed that he’s managed to recruit this army of Americans from all walks of life. All he ever did was go on about Edgar Allen Poe, write a lame book, and kill a few co-eds.
I’m burying the lede here. We’re halfway through the first season (and this show just got renewed, so look forward to 15 more episodes next year, guys), and well, it was time for a change. So we get one—Joe escapes from prison, with the help of all his followers (and the prison warden, coerced into freeing him because his daughter’s been kidnapped). At the end of the episode, Joe is united with his many acolytes in a big mansion and gets to meet his son. It’s emotional stuff.
Meanwhile, the FBI can’t even say it’s back at square one. They’re at, what, square negative 10,000? When this show started, Joe was in jail and simply smiling as his followers carried out his evil deeds. Since then, the Feds have attempted to crack the case, and all they’ve discovered is that his followers are everywhere, and they control everything, and Joe’s slipped through their fingers. What a bunch of chumps! How am I supposed to root for these fools? They’re just watching this shit happen right in front of them! They fall for some of the lamest tricks in the book, like the security tape of Joe’s prison transfer being replaced with stock footage. Hell, Joe leaves prison in his LAWYER’S TRUNK. They couldn’t double-check that shit?
It’s ridiculous to apply any standards of realism to this whole affair. Even with the prison warden on board, Joe would never get transferred very quickly—a notorious serial killer suing over his eighth amendment rights would attract a million TV cameras to the prison, but it wouldn’t set the wheels of justice moving any quicker. Instead, everything happens right away with no oversight, and there’s no sign of the media anywhere. Come on, The Following! We all know how crazy cable news gets about this sort of thing!
There’s a lot of chasing and escaping that ensues. In a genuinely creepy scene, Joe murders his poor attorney (whom I just call “Geneva” in my notes cause that’s her character on The Good Wife) while she’s on the phone with Ryan, who listens on helplessly. James Purefoy hasn’t been at all creepy this year, but this is the first time I found his whole thing a little unnerving. He’s still erring on the wrong side of campy (this show takes itself too seriously for that to be effective), but sometimes, it works.
I was a little less taken with his big scene with Kevin Bacon. Purefoy successfully sells how weird his character is, but his soliloquies about how he’s been plotting everything out for so long and we’re just in part one of his great novel… it’s just too silly to have any kind of power. So he plotted that he’d make a website for crazy people, and they’d all perfectly fit into his big plan of escaping from prison, reuniting with his son, and torturing America’s greatest living actor named after a food product? Are we supposed to be impressed?
I don’t know. I’m still enjoying how silly everything is, but I can’t put up with the sense that the FBI will make no progress until the final episode, months from now. And what happens in season two? Do Joe’s adventures continue? Did he plot a sequel too? Or do we get a new serial killer? I’ll probably be dragged off kicking and screaming by then.
- Props to Bacon—he really sells how out of breath Ryan is after running up the stairs. That guy is barely fit to make me a sandwich, let alone catch criminals.
- Bacon movie of the week? Why not Stir Of Echoes, an underrated ghost thriller from 1999 that got buried by The Sixth Sense?
- I know the prison warden is being coerced, but he’s not much of an actor. Told that his daughter has been missing for two days, he says “I wasn’t aware of that; I’ll look into that right away.”
- Joe doesn’t really have the menacing banter down. “This is most baffling. You, me, us, here in this moment? What do I do?”