The Following "Guilt" Review: You've Really Outdone Yourselves

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O, my dear The Following apologists. What a sad week for you.

I'm not even sure where to start—with the simpletons in charge of the investigation? With the chaos of the murder house that lucks into wins? Or with the guy in the Poe mask asking for people's email adresses?

No, I can't even talk about that stuff yet. Let's begin with the imbeciles calling "the shots."

The engine of this show is definitely the FBI and its fuel is finding things to bungle. You can try to say that the core of the series is the rivalry between Hardy and Carroll, or hatched schemes and the crimefighting that's supposed to thwart them, but honestly, what keeps this show going other than Parker and company reaching new levels of achievement in incompetence? How often would Carroll's creepers be caught, killed, or denied by Hardy if not for botched missions and uncoordinated efforts and other things that the layman would assume are part of the training necessary to wear a federal badge?

For example, that poor fella standing in front of the hotel door—your gun is drawn, you're waiting for killers, killers who you've got surveillance footage of in the act of their most recent crime outside your room, thinking about (I guess?) getting the jump on these guys. You watched your buddies get cut down without any level of hesitation. You know they have highly powerful, military-grade weapons. And even though you have the door propped shut so they can't get in, you stand in front of the door like a fool. No vest, just guile. Every television show I've ever seen with a spy or a federal agent knows to hide around the corner from the flimsy, not-at-all-bulletproof door. I mean, even Chuck Bartowski had the common sense to use the angles of a room.

But that's not all. Parker, Donovan, and an uncharacteristically simple Deidre decrypted a URL and marveled at the website of horrors of web design displayed in front of them. Then, when the initial show was over, Donovan was like, "Huh. That was weird. I guess that's all there is." And then Parker was like, "Wait. Hold the phone." And then, after deciding that bad guys wouldn't send an encoded URL to a goofy Flash slideshow for poops and giggles, decides that she would maybe try to click around a little bit, see if there's anything more kicking around on this site. Lo and behold, there was a corner of the page where someone set the cursor to none. "Steganography!" Deidre cried.

What came afterward was possibly my favorite part of the entire episode: The recruiting video. A guy in a Poe masks sits on a stool and asks for your name and email, and promises someone will get back to you. Like you're signing up for an email newsletter. Like you're on a waitlist for a new mailbox app for the iPhone. I know the murder house isn't terribly discerning, what with all the olds who seem to knock around that place (I mean, if you're building a cult, don't you want to have a house full of the most attractive psychopaths you can find?), but all you need to do to apply is have an email address? They don't even have a "13 or older" checkbox.

The episode cut quickly to a naked makeout session already in progress because even those idiots at the bureau had to laugh at that one. It looked like they were watching someone in the middle of a black box theater show doing some weed-induced monologue. It was tomfoolery.

While we're here at the makeout session, let's take a slight detour into the murder estate before we discuss the Big Stupid of the night. Last week we talked about how I was happy to see the psychopathy scratching just beneath Jacob's Abercrombie & Fitch demeanor, trying to find a way out once he'd finally (finally? That felt dirty to even write) killed someone. And it looks like the person who's going to get the brunt of it is Emma.

Emma. I wouldn't say that anyone deserves being brutally slaughtered but she's certainly been tempting fate. She left her boyfriend to die in the house, then left them to die again after the whole thing was over, then got back to the house and promptly forgot about her lover so she could go nakey with Fearless Leader. Then, after Jacob returns, he finds her drawing Carroll on a sketchpad, though he's not privy to what's actually on the page. It's a little silly. It felt like the next time Jacob came into the room, Emma was going to be sculpting a bust of Joe with her eyes closed while listening to Lionel Richie. It may be natural for a woman as obsessed as she is (and as prone to compartmentalizing as she's wont to do) to separate the crazed mania she feels for Carroll from the romantic "love" she feels for Jacob. Or is she just playing him because he might be a future threat? It's hard to tell.

And a moo point, really. Whether or not she's trying to play him in order to keep him at bay or if she's honestly in love and, like a waffle, she's separated the butter of her obsession from the syrup of her partnership, Jacob is pretty ready to kill her. And, suddenly, you realize that living in a house full of people dreaming of murder may not be the safest place on earth.

Speaking of safest place on earth, let's talk about how Claire ruins everything.

Hardy suffers so much. He has boneheads at work, a metaphor for a ticker, and a drinking problem that I guess hasn't surfaced for most of the season. There's a serial killer that's singling him out, he has the responsibility of the safety of everyone in the Virginia area riding on his shoulders (because anyone can either be a cult member or a victim), and a "death curse" on top of it (something I wish they'd drop -- out of respect for our fallen 9/11 heroes). And the icing on the cake, the reason why he's in this mess in the first place, is because he's in love with a hapless, soul-sucking harpie.

Granted, the action, suspense, and horror genres don't provide much time for sorting out anyone's feelings. By convention, they can only meditate on any one thing for so long before an action beat needs to come around followed by some breather exposition. Typically, anytime someone brings up his or her unrelated inside feelings while a show is obviously crescendoing into a climactic fight sequence, it's going to come off to be an eyerolling or cheesy affair. It can be done right but so often it's done wrong and Claire Matthews really screws the pooch on timing.

It's almost offensive that she brings it up. Her safety is a burden on him and a symptom of the trouble he's into in the first place because he took the bride of the monster he hunted. While mounting an attack with their limited weapons (why didn't they leave the house again?), she decides to pull him aside and ask him the perfunctory question of a scorned stereotype: why didn't you call?

After Hardy concedes to having this conversation, they trade "I love you's" (with an unsurprisingly lack in chemistry) and Claire proceeds to ruin everything else. While Tyson (who may be the first adult on the show I actually like) is able to blow would-be killers up with a point blank shotgun blast and Hardy is holding down the perimeter, Claire decides she's going to go to where the crossfire would be and distract Hardy from his mission. It's like she knows that, if the FBI isn't around, someone has to be there to bungle a pretty decent plan.

So after her shenanigans basically get Tyson shot, Hardy goes after him, what with his training and years of experience, and Claire, who's been charged with applying pressure to a bleeding man's mortal wounds, to SNEAK OUT AND FIND THE HEAVILY ARMED MEN HERSELF. Like her knit sweater would be able to stop bullets.

She gets to that realization after finding them, chilling in their car (?) and decides that she's just going to go with him. After Hardy spends his entire day trying to subvert the hunters, tossing GPS, finding a buddy of his that's in Witness Protection so he's off the grid, and constantly putting his life in the balance, Claire just slides into the backseat of this car and mouths what might be the most irritating "I love you" ever filmed. If you loved me, you'd barricade yourself in the room and stay away from windows like I asked.

What may be the second best part of the episode (definitely first place if there hadn't been that doofus in the Nebbish Writer mask earlier) is that Hardy can't chase them down because they did to him what Park should've done to them just a couple weeks ago: slash the wheels. Things like this come up and I just have to assume they know. The show is winking at us. They understand. They know it's goofy. They have to, right? There's no way you go into your office and write, "a guy in a Poe masks asks for your email" and not know there's nothing serious to be conveyed through that.

I can't even be mad at this show. I almost have to applaud.


NOTES

– I'm still going to defend Joey as the smartest person on the show, even though he was seduced by s'mores. I'm a grown man and I can't guarantee that *I* wouldn't dine with a killer if it meant I could get some of that gooey deliciousness.

– Speaking of s'mores, if this show ever ends up on the bubble (which doesn't seem like anything it'll have to worry about for a while), I hope the save-the-show campaign involves sending s'mores to Fox. But what would you really send? Ravens (Game of Thrones joke here)? Poe masks? Your "chapters" based on network executives?

– The tattoo between Jacob's shoulder blades was almost distracting. I'm not sure if it's the actor's or the character's, but I'm hoping we just let it slide and we don't get a "Stranger in a Strange Land" explanation. Stay home, Bai Ling.

– Ryan Hardy certainly does have a type, doesn't he? They all look like his sister. Seriously, those are all different actresses, right?

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