The Following "For Joe" Review: Said the Spider to the Ryan
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Is there a thing for fool me a dozen times?
As Ryan Hardy, chief plaything of Joe Carroll and anyone who wants to be Joe Carroll, you would think that there would be one certainty in his life, no matter how many theatrical murders occur or how many anonymous strangers get toyed with post-mortem. And that's the victim booby trap.
Ryan Hardy always knows that there's going to be some manipulative game where some beautiful killer wants Hardy to play into his or her hand. Bait the guy with some vague threats and watch him come running, probably without any backup, so that the killer can continue the game with no complications. Whether it's dragging Hardy off somewhere so that Joey or Claire can be kidnapped, or staging a meet-up in a crowd, Hardy always falls for that old walking-alone-into-a-trap chestnut. Every single time. Even a dog would eventually learn to not drool when the bell rings and there's no food.
But Hardy comes running anyway, most of the time literally. While I could've rationalized some of his solo scrambling last season when he had to move quickly and everything law enforcement touched turned to crap, it's wearing thin of late. The most obvious and painful of these situations was in the season finale last year, when Hardy could've taken Weston with him to Carroll's in order to smite Carroll once and for all. If you were like me, you tossed your hands into the air helplessly as Hardy denied Weston from coming, even though he'd just said that Carroll didn't know he was alive. "Really, man? Really? That's exactly what he wants." It was like watching a live-action version of the moment when Homer's brain walked out.
It's not new that Hardy can't get out of his own way. And it's one thing for it to be a quirk that he's self-destructive; I can deal with that. But this is exhausting.
He went to that brownstone alone after tracking the phone number (the world's quickest phone tap) so he wouldn't spook whoever was waiting. His reasoning was that the police would all show up with sirens and SWAT and heralds with trumpets announcing their arrival. It didn't occur to Hardy that the police can be subtle when they want to be. They do catch criminals every once in a while (or so I assume). Whatever, though, that's Hardy being Hardy, a guy just trying to do it for himself. But it was really, really stupid for Hardy to run all the way to whatever gala and not just give someone a bit of heads up that, "Oh yeah, the people who've been contacting me just threatened to kill Lily Gray, too, soooo..." None of that. Keep that little tidbit to yourself, Hardy. Attaboy. Really give the killers every opportunity to get away with literal murder. There's just no reason for it.
Meanwhile, the FBI has been reduced to our meta recap engine, sweeping through crime scenes to let us know how they're basically useless at everything except letting everyone know what just happened. Weston spent this entire episode restating the obvious. Mendez was nothing but sass. Phillips was nothing but gruffness when sass wasn't enough to punctuate how much they didn't like Hardy. They're a special task force dedicated to Joe Carroll and all the cult members, and no one seems to be able to track down anyone.
That might be the most troublesome thing about the The Following's FBI this season. Now that they don't have a chance to bungle anything because it happens before they even have a chance to ruin it, we're left with the fact that they have two Carroll experts on the case (Mendez and Weston both did their theses on Carroll), but no one seems to have a clue about what's happening. Except one-man-army Ryan Hardy. The government knows every time I say the word "bomb" on the telephone, but no one seems to be able to track down Emma because she's got pink hair now.
Kevin Williamson's explanation for this, at least with regard to last season, has been that the FBI can't catch Carroll or else the show is over. While Season 2 is proving that incorrect (Carroll's not even the one the FBI is after right now), I get what he means. The FBI has to have flaws, or else this wouldn't be a cat-and-mouse game. And it seems like the writers have been reading these reviews by making the FBI not look like a gaggle of simpletons, gingerly pressing buttons in their command center and hoping their magic programs will scan the images of bodies and come up with 3-D markers. Now they look authoritative when they press those buttons and hope their magic programs will come up with those 3-D markers.
But they've just become a nuisance to Hardy. At best, they move too slowly and run too loudly, and at worst, they're completely insolent and Hardy thinks he can do a better job. In the wake of shows demonstrating somewhat competent police forces that can still make mistakes (The Killing) or flawed federal agencies that don't necessarily win every time but, when they lose, they're actually outsmarted (Homeland), it feels silly to watch this version of the FBI twiddle their thumbs and then react in slow motion when things actually happen. And it's all mostly because Hardy wants to keep everything a secret-secret. "Let me check it out first. Because these other trained professionals are idiots."
Probably the most interesting thing about "For Joe" was the transformation taking place in Arkansas. Carroll lives, indeed, but what the show decided to do with him during the year away is weird and unfounded, yet might've been slightly interesting had they decided to explore it a little more. Poor Joe. He's come to terms with the fact that he's a failure at just about everything he does. He can't even lead a cult of sociopaths or raise a child. So he's taken to early retirement by growing out a beard and kicking it in the Ozarks with the town bicycle who used to send him letters in hopes of reforming him. Women, amirite?
But the fact that they made Carroll essentially renounce his entire philosophy by tossing him into depression is intriguing. It's actually slightly disappointing that he found his taste for blood again so soon. I think I might've really liked watching Carroll go back and forth a little more, seeing these kids try to get his attention while he really tried out a normal life. Maybe Ryan Hardy finds Carroll in Arkansas and recruits him, Hannibal Lecter-style, to catch the Dead Ringers. At the very least, let him mull over his situation for another episode or two before caving to his murderous instinct. It's disappointing. I mean, it took him so long to come up with a pseudonym ("What's like Carroll but starts with another letter?" "Aarroll?" "No, that's weird." "Barrel?" "No, that's a thing." "Darryl?" "Bingo!"). But at least we won't have to listen to the Southern accent anymore.
– Rousseau's name is Giselle and they're really letting her hang out and get comfortable before giving her something to do. Outside of teaching us that "morte" means "dead" in French and having a scene in a towel, her main task seems to be to antagonize Carlos and sitting in that hotel room. Obviously, she wants to be a killer, but I suppose her abilities are best utilized on a label maker.
– I know I brought this up last week, but I love that they're keeping the Matted Hair of Sadness in this show. First it was Jacob, then it was Emma this season. Now the perpetually sad twin (Mark) can be identified as the one with the matted-down locks while Luke is the one who's watched American Psycho one too many times.
– It's been a while since I laughed as hard as I did when Mark held out his hand for the soon-to-be-murdered mother to sign for the flowers. And then open-hand slapped her. It's like the violent version of "Gimme-five-down-low-too-slow."
– Lily Gray seems really calm and collected for a woman who survived a massacre and a follow-up attack that saw her friend get stabbed (but in the gut, so he's fine). There are no indications that she's part of the cult other than the fact that she was spared and that she has a surprising lack of PTSD, but it's something to keep an eye on.
– "You do a man, right." Gross, Reverend. While he was certainly not a shining example of a holy man, I'm surprised that The Following didn't take the opportunity to make him worse. When he complimented Mandy on how good-looking she is, I thought for sure his later visit to see Judy was going to involve the good Reverend forcing himself on teenage girl. The writers had a chance to demonize the Reverend, but instead they kept him in a moral gray area. Do you think that was to maintain Carroll's evil cred (if he killed a bad man, Carroll might be seen as a Dexter kind of figure), or just because the show didn't want to capitulate to the cliche of making bad guys out of people who are about to die so the audience is relieved to have that character gone? I honestly don't know the answer to that.
– The daddy issues thing. I think my eyes are still rolling. I did, however, enjoy Hardy's phone call with Luke where they both tried to poke at each other's feelings until Claire put Hardy on silent.
– So I know that Hardy continually told Max not to call the police. But why didn't she just call the police?
– Mandy hitting the Reverend with the shovel gave me fond memories of LUX Shovel.
– "What happened to you?" Nothing, Weston. Nothing has happened to Hardy. He's exactly the same. None of this should be surprising.
– "Mom's gonna be home soon. She's gonna be mad." That shows a presence of mind that most people don't possess after watching a man of the cloth get murdered in cold blood right in front of them. Mandy's going to make an excellent addition to the Carroll cult. Welcome to the family!
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