The Following: “The Poet’s Fire”
D+

The Following: “The Poet’s Fire”

Weren’t shocked enough by the first two weeks of The Following? What, all that stabbing and blood and all those Poe references didn’t shock you out of your seat, America? Well, buckle up, because this week, we’ve got… GAY SERIAL KILLER MINIONS. Or, at the very least, they’re bisexual. Definitely very mixed-up. Yes, this week on The Following, it’s further exploration of the Emma-Jacob-Paul love triangle, and as with all the graphic violence and deviant grimness of this show, one can’t help but think that the writers are trying to spice up an inherently dull plot with whatever lurid material they can think of.

Except this is 2013 and there’s nothing particularly shocking about a gay couple, or a gay-bi-straight love triangle, or whatever it is that’s going on here. I suppose it’s worth noting that even in our enlightened times, we don’t often see two men kissing on network TV, certainly not in an unambiguously romantic way like Paul and Jacob fooling around on the couch. But I don’t think this is going to be a show that really advances any particular cause. As I said last week, it’s difficult enough to care about a serial killer; it’s basically impossible to care about his minions, and since that’s the premise of The Following so far, this show continues to miss the mark.

There’s plenty of other stuff going on outside of the Emma-Jacob-Paul shenanigans. A new acolyte is introduced—the nervy Rick (Michael Drayer), who’s not very good with a knife but extremely good with a bottle of kerosene and a lighter. He’s the fella in a Poe mask who takes down some poor sucker on the street in the most attention-grabbing way possible. Turns out the victim is the book critic who shat all over Joe Carroll’s novel years ago. Hmm. Maybe I should bump this “D+” to an “A-,” now that I think about it.

The one somewhat effective twist of the episode is that Rick’s shaky wife Maggie (Virginia Kull), who presents herself as a target of his madness and is questioned and released by the Feds, but later turns out to be a Carroll-ite just like the rest of ’em. It’s not the most original surprise, but her story was pretty easy to believe since he stabbed her (we see it in flashback and everything). But turns out that was just part of the gang’s… stabbing practice! And he missed! Or something! Look, I didn’t entirely see it coming and I’ll take what I can get, okay?

Ryan lurches around the episode in a drunken, sleep-deprived haze, glowering at every new bloody/burned corpse, chugging coffee to escape the pain. At one point, Debra calls him “vodka-breath.” I understand that the Feds think they need him around for his Joe Carroll expertise, but this episode is not an argument in favor of his work as a consultant. He doesn’t even figure out that Maggie is evil; Debra gets that from Jordy after she employs a clever interrogators trick called “lying.”

No, the bulk of Ryan’s material this week comes in flashback. Last time we saw how he nobly romanced Joe’s wife after Joe went to jail; this week we see how Joe romanced Ryan, plying him with Scotch and going on about the importance of FBI agents. “He has this power,” Ryan grumbles to Debra. “To charm and seduce… I know what his followers feel.” Once again, we are shown very little evidence that Joe has the power to do anything except speak in a mellifluous English accent and give everyone he meets tired smirks. But apparently Ryan was one Scotch away from jumping into bed with the guy the first time he met him.

Now that would be something I’d like to see on network TV. Hell, the show keeps hinting at it, why not add some weird sexual element to Ryan and Joe’s extremely strange relationship? But no, instead we have to deal with a much more obvious twist—Paul and Jacob really did fall for each other when they were pretending to be a gay couple, and now Paul’s all jealous because Jacob’s back with Emma. Emma, who grows more idiotic by the second, does not seem to have figured this out and also fails to dispatch Paul even though he’s extremely annoying and she’s a psychopath who deals with people who bug her by killing them.

Since this is a show about psychotics, Paul deals with his angst by abducting some poor girl (Li Jun Yi), bashing her head against a car door and then bringing her home as a hostage. This won’t end well for anyone, and it’s also hard to watch—just nasty and depressing. As a cherry on top, the final twist of the night is a video in which Emma and Jacob teach young Joey Carroll how to kill things by putting a mouse in an airtight jar. “I never killed anything before,” he notes, as children routinely do. “We’re just getting started,” Jacob replies, not creepy in the slightest. Apparently all you need to do to make someone a serial killer is get ’em started killing animals when they’re little.

As much as I’m making light of it, this show really is a grueling watch. It’s very silly and predictable, but it’s still so relentlessly bleak and lacking in characters to latch on to. There are a couple attempts at humor this week (some sarcastic lines from Kevin Bacon, mainly) but they barely make a dent. The episode ends with Jordy committing suicide by eating and choking on his own shoulder bandage. As a bit of relief, I’m debuting a new feature, where I celebrate the best of Kevin Bacon in this episode and throughout the wide world.

Bacon bits:

  • The glower of the week is definitely directed at Shawn Ashmore. Ryan quickly exits a stakeout he and Mike are on the minute Mike starts talking about his childhood. Smart move, Ryan.
  • Tut-tut, however, on his poor gunmanship this week. Takes him two tries to fell the pathetic Rick, and in the meantime, Maggie gets away. Too much vodka?
  • Quote of the week? Apparently Ryan could tell the serial killer loved Poe by the way he arranged the dead girls’ bodies. “There's a… romance to it.” You couldn’t sell me that line with a free side of bacon.
  • The Bacon flick you guys should all be watching instead of this shit? Beauty Shop. He shines as Queen Latifah’s villainous Eurotrash rival/former boss.

Stray observations:

  • Not much else to say. Nope. Looks like the coast is clear…
  • …wait a second. That FBI agent? The one who’s not (R.I.P.) Reilly? Or Debra? Or Shawn Ashmore? The other one? Played by Dean Alai, apparently? Well he goes by the name of DAVID SIMS. WITH ONE M. I found this out when checking the IMDb credits for this episode while writing this review. Has anyone said this guy’s full name on screen? I’m genuinely frightened and also impressed with Kevin Williamson’s forethought. How did he know I’d be reviewing this show/that I’d hate it so much?
Filed Under: TV, The Following

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