The Following: “Whips & Regret”
F

The Following: “Whips & Regret”

F

The Following

“Whips & Regret”

Season 1, Episode 11

I am now really upset with myself for giving last week’s episode of The Following an F grade. That’s the problem with that kind of gut decision; you think you’ve found a show’s rock bottom, but Kevin Williamson and co. seem to be in the business of designing advanced excavation tools designed to drill through that rock bottom bedrock into the very depths of hell. If that was an F, this episode gets an F-. It gets a J. It gets a Z for fail. That’s not to say there weren’t parts that weren’t fun to watch. But I was simply exulting in the complete robotic insanity on display. There are exchanges of dialogue here a computer wouldn’t write so badly. There’s a guest performance that was staggering in its ineptitude. I could probably write this whole review by posting whole chunks of discourse between characters that boggled my mind.

It’s also worth pointing out that this episode was completely objectionable. That’s not really a new thing for The Following, but it’s pretty crazy that this show keeps finding ways to make my skin crawl. Much of the action of “Whips And Regret” is set at a BDSM club with that name, and the show takes great pains to tell us how edgy it is by explaining concepts like safe words, even though this is ground Desperate Housewives covered in 2004.

The bulk of this episode concerns Ryan and Debra trying to track Claire (kidnapped once again and taken to Joe’s mansion) by finding the server of Joe’s serial killer website. It’s located in the aforementioned bondage club, because just having it in some dusty warehouse wouldn’t be very interesting, I suppose. Ryan and Debra point their guns at the club’s owner, who I thought was addressed as Haley but is listed in the credits as Kate (either way she’s played by Afton Williamson). I’ll just call her Femdom, because that’s what the show wants us to know about her. She’s pretty unfazed when she’s told that her buddy Vince is kidnapping women for Joe’s murder cult. She reacts as if she’s been told that he’s been taking a ten-dollar bill from the register twice a week.

“Are you aware Vince is wanting for kidnapping and murder?” “I had a feeling you'd say something like that,” she sighs, but she’s full of excuses for him. Apparently he “lives on the fringes” and was raised by creepy militia in the mountains. “He’s had a tough life,” she explains. I’m surprised Ryan and Debra didn’t pack up their guns and go home after being told that, because that certainly follows with the whole kidnapping women for a Poe cult thing. Instead, Ryan asks how long they’ve dated, which even I had to snort at. Where would these two be dating? Would Vince have to take her home to meet his mountain family? “Date? That's cute. No, we didn't date. We flogged each other,” she says, rolling her eyes. I didn’t even know what to do at this point.

It’s also worth pointing out that this episode is incredibly, incredibly dark. Not in content. There’s just long stretches where you can’t see anything because all the lights are off and the sets have no windows. This is probably being employed to spare us the TV-MA creepiness of the BDSM club and Joe’s serial killer training dungeon that Vince takes the Femdom to; since this is Fox, we can’t actually see a lot of things, and in the dark everything is very suggestible.

Anyway, Ryan sets this poor lady up to wear a wire and lead them to Vince, since he has to come in and pick up a shipment of explosives he got delivered to the club. Ryan learns what a safe word is and they pick “red,” but when things get hairy and she starts yelling red over and over again (at one point I think she even says Vince is “seeing red”) Ryan ignores her in pursuit of Joe.

This episode was so monumentally stupid, I’m finding it difficult to unpack. Every single character behaves in a way that makes no sense even within the limited ground-rules this show has already set up. Ryan behaves so incredibly badly in this episode—he’s drunk when he wakes up, he’s not even contacting the FBI when Joe prank-calls him, he happily puts this woman’s life in danger—and Debra witnesses all of this and does nothing about it. What on earth is he bringing to the table right now? What possible success can she point to?

Joe’s murder club also makes no sense to me. Roderick wants to get things going now that Joe’s been reunited with his family, but Joe wants to keep things chill and work on winning Claire over, eventually angrily shutting his protégé down. I guess this is supposed to be Roderick’s influence, but the whole gothic romanticism thing really feels like it’s gone out the window at this point. Creepy militiamen? An army of brainwashed freaks? What happened to your novel, Joe? I feel like you’re never going to write it, no matter how much you go on about it to Ryan on the phone.

Another thing: in this episode, Joe and Claire have a lovely dinner that’s dominated by discussion topics like: Why I Don’t Like You, Why Won’t You Let Me See My Son and Don’t You Realize That I Won’t Fall In Love With A Serial Killer. Joe talks about his issue like it’s a nut allergy. “I suffer from a monomaniacal need to kill. It'll never go away, only intensify with time. And so I choose to embrace it.” Claire understandably doesn’t start ripping her clothes off at this pick-up line, but my immediate question was: really, Joe? Monomaniacal need to kill? Right now it seems like you have a monomaniacal need to sit in leather chairs and sip scotch. No wonder Roderick’s antsy. Not a lot of killing going on right now. Anyway, apparently Joe just plans to condition Claire to love him again. That sounds like fun for everyone involved.

This other big revelation of this stupid episode, along with Joe’s serial killer training dungeon and Claire’s final reunion with Joey, is that Ryan’s ex-girlfriend Molly is a serial killer nurse who lives next door to him and asked Joe for the right to kill Ryan herself. We don’t actually see him agreeing, but that is the idea, which seems like utter horseshit to me. If I read Joe’s epic novel about Ryan and it ended with “then his neighbor killed her!” I’d throw it into the garbage immediately. Talk about anti-climax.

Lord. I’m going to pepper the bacon bits with all the idiotic dialogue I couldn’t fit into this review. I am sorry to Afton Williamson, who may well be a decent actress but was perhaps the most unconvincing femdom BDSM club owner I’ve ever seen depicted in any kind of media. The guy playing Vince barely did any better; his scene with Roderick where they pulled guns on each other for no reason was one of the episode’s most baffling. Especially since it ended with Roderick just laughing maniacally at nothing. Just what on earth is going on here.

Bacon bits:

  • Go watch Where The Truth Lies if you want a kinky Bacon movie that vaguely makes sense (vaguely).
  • Joe takes a dig at the writing of The Following. “I will not be emphasizing your drinking in my book. It's a tired cliché, however true.”
  • Debra fails to connect with Ryan’s issues. “Are you an alcoholic or just a problem drinker?” “Yes.” “That can't be good for your heart.” “It's not.” “Look, I'm not good at bonding.”
  • “What the hell, man? Were you beaten as a kid? I was just looking for a new friend. Damn.” WHAT
  • Vince thinks the club is a little too quiet. “I don't hear enough sex! Let's get it on!”
  • He hates being told he’s in a cult. “The word cult is ghastly and inappropriate and it offends me.”
  • But he’s turned down when he asks Femdom for sex. “I do not have time for that, I have two bondage parties tonight.”
  • “Is this where the cult lives?” “No.” Vince says it's training grounds. “For what?” “What do you think, silly? For killing!”
  • “What do you think, silly? For killing!”
  • “What do you think, silly? For killing!”
  • “What do you think, silly? For killing!”
  • I swear to God.

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