Episode Title: "Chapter Two"
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Director: Marcos Siega
If anyone was expecting a serious dropoff in quality from the pilot episode, then “The Following” failed to disappoint in its second week. Kevin Williamson and Marcos Siega managed to maintain most of the intensity that made the pilot so memorable. And while there seems to be an interesting tale ahead, I still have doubts that “The Following” has enough stories to run for several seasons of television.
There are spoilers ahead for “Chapter Two,” so don’t read this review if you aren’t up to date with “The Following” or you may not want to look too closely at the Edgar Allan Poe mask in a mirror.
Taken at face value, “The Following” has one of the more unsettling premises I’ve seen in a long time. If Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his legion of pliable serial killers were real then the public would be paralyzed with fear. We want our psychotic villains on TV and in film, not in reality.
But as a fictional creation, Joe Carroll is a great adversary. Purefoy gives Carroll an ever present sense of menace without becoming a cartoon imitation of all the serial killer characters who came before him.
However, it’s still Kevin Bacon who holds “The Following” together. Bacon’s Ryan Hardy has to carry the bulk of the story, but his performance makes both the younger and more emotionally open Ryan and the older, world weary Ryan seem believable. We know that Ryan is broken, but it isn’t clear what happened to send his life into a tailspin. In a few brief flashbacks, we see Ryan’s tentative romance with Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea); which takes place after Ryan was injured and Carroll was sent to prison. So if it wasn’t Ryan’s injury, what caused him to fall so far?
Unlike some other TV shows, the flashbacks on “The Following” are engaging because they don’t linger. We’re shown some important moments in Ryan’s life and glimpses of Carroll’s interactions with his acolytes, but the scenes never overstay their welcome. We’re in and out before a cougar can bleed to death.
Aside from Ryan, Emma Hill (Valorie Curry) gets most of the focus of this episode, as she and the fake gay neighbors, Paul Torres (Adan Canto) and Jacob Wells (Nico Tortorella) stash Carroll’s son, Joey Matthews (Kyle Catlett) in a safe house that includes a near exact duplicate of his room and everything in it.
This is where most of the tension in the episode comes from. Because Joey trusts Emma so completely, he believes her when she tells him that he’s only there because Claire wanted to keep him safe. That’s actually a brilliant way to keep him from escaping. Because why would Joey even think to run away if he doesn’t know that he’s a prisoner?
However, that deception can only go so long since Paul seems like he’s on the verge of a violent breakdown. Paul is so obsessed with undermining Emma and jealous about her relationship with Jacob that she even questions whether he was really faking his homosexuality. And it’s a valid question. Perhaps Paul played the part for so long that he can’t distinguish his sexuality any longer. Either way, Paul and Emma appear to be Carroll’s most deranged and dangerous followers.
The flashbacks to Emma’s formative meetings with Carroll were also interesting as he started manipulating her from the moment they met. But Carroll didn’t start from scratch and Emma clearly wanted to be molded by her idol... and she was even set up to meet Jacob by Carroll himself. Just imagine SerialMatch.com. a love connection to die for!
It’s almost as if Emma was just waiting for an excuse to attack her overbearing cougar mother. So when Emma’s mom flirts with Jacob, Emma fatally stabs her... to Jacob’s amazement. Clearly they spoke about the possibility of killing her, but he seemed surprised that she actually went through with it.
Back in the main storyline, Ryan was introduced to Special Agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse); who basically replaced Jeananne Goossen’s Jennifer Mason from the pilot. I didn’t find Goossen objectionable in the first episode, so her sudden replacement was a surprise. But at least the explanation for Mason’s departure was plausible.
Parisse isn’t bad in the role, but she had the thankless task of attempting to rationalize why Carroll could get so many people to do his bidding. That may have looked good on paper, but as dialogue, “Internet techno-bred minds” just doesn’t sound natural. I almost wrote off Parker as an inconsequential character until she shares an unusual interaction with Carroll in prison... which instantly makes her a possible member of his cult.
At some point, I think we all know there’s going to be a member of Carroll’s cult on Ryan’s FBI team. That’s just how these stories work. That scene between Parker and Carroll was too deliberate, so she’s probably the distraction from the real mole on the team. But that still doesn’t explain why she went out of her way to give a book of Poe’s works to the man who is making a religion out of Poe’s death imagery.
Another terrifying aspect of this show is just how incompetent the FBI agents are when it comes to protecting people from Carroll’s minions. Even Carroll’s less intelligent follower, Jordy (Steve Monroe) manages to slip past the agents and get to Claire like it was nothing. However, the only time Jordy really seemed like a threat was near the beginning of the episode when tricked the sorority girl into letting him in and showing him around the house before he started killing her and her sorority sisters.
Ryan’s rescue of Claire was one of his biggest hero moments in the first two episodes. It also demonstrated that not even Carroll can fully predict the outcome of his machinations. Carroll seemed taken aback when Ryan revealed that he didn’t kill Jordy. And Jordy may be the one person who could reveal Carroll’s plans, if he watches the tape of Carroll insulting his intelligence. That should be an intriguing test of Jordy’s loyalty.
The most talked about moment from this episode seems to be the killer in the Poe mask who assaults Ryan inside Emma’s old home. The killer’s first appearance was one of the more effective “jump” moments on TV and the reflection gave the audience a few seconds of warning before Ryan was attacked. We never actually see the Poe killer unmasked, but he immolates a man in broad daylight during the closing seconds of the episode. I’m assuming that he’ll be the next episode’s follower of the week.
And that’s the inherent danger of “The Following.” The story revolves around one serial killer mastermind and a group of like minded maniacs killing in his name for art’s sake. This could make for some really compelling television for a single season... but then what? Carroll escapes, again? More followers pop up after Emma, Paul and Jacob are inevitably found and eliminated?
There are only so many ways to go with this premise and unless Williamson has some major surprises in store then “The Following” could run out of steam really quickly.
But for now, “The Following” is very entertaining and it’s easily the best show on Fox at the moment.