Be forewarned: I'm about to say some things about The Following that could generally be construed as "nice."
For instance, I like this suggestion that we might have a case-of-the-week thing happening. "Love Hurts" returns us to our theory that the cult is nothing more than Carroll's graduate program. He's like the Old School frat that accepts all comers (I can't wait until they force Blue to garrotte someone) as long as you submit to the only requirement: Adore the Godfather. Carroll is that Godfather.
My analogy ends there, however, because Carroll actually does treat this endeavor like his followers are his students and they all have their own assignments. He delivers painfully uncharismatic lectures (I'm assuming everyone is supposed to be enraptured by his words because they're already pretty invested in the guy being right) and then demands homework and, most importantly, theses.
Their doctorates in murder come in the form of "chapters" and, from what we know about how Amanda (our new student) talks about "her chapter," everyone has one (Rick and the threesome also talked about theirs back when Rick was alive enough to have flashbacks). They seem to literally pitch Carroll the idea as if presenting to a faculty adviser and, while Joe accepted this one fairly easily, I would imagine that with others he might give notes, tell them to go back to their rooms, work on it over a nice bowl of ramen noodles. I mean, how else could they be living here? Who has time to both earn an income and stay on the run because they're wanted for their myriad collective murders?
Anyway, back to why I like this development: I like the idea of people pitching Carroll ideas and then Carroll helping them carry out those ideas as long as they fit within his plan. Have Carroll call up Hardy to foreshadow the coming crimes and then let them play out, only for everyone to have underestimated Ryan's power of persuasion, whether that be his sincere demeanor or his itchy trigger finger. Let the endgame be thwarted, and each camp regroup. That might be a show I'd watch and not dread every week.
"Love Hurts" even allowed for some incremental story movement in order to keep the narrative going while we got set up for cases of the week. Not surprisingly, it was a bit juvenile but, to be fair, a lot of the people on this show suffer from some arrested development. The Carroll/Emma/Jacob/Paul quadrangle smacks of high-school-level drama where television amps up the hormones to 1,000 percent and sets teenagers free under Romeo and Juliet state laws. These are grown adults, but Emma's unmitigated desire for Carroll—despite loving another, simpler boy—is still just another incarnation of a girl who has the chance to date the varsity quarterback and ditches the beta male. The only difference here is that Jacob has a thirst for blood and might just take revenge using some newfound confidence.
Well, maybe that's a bit of a leap. The fact that Jacob finally killed someone (and spared Ryan an addition to his body count), which was complicated by that person being Paul, should hopefully spark a difference in him. If there was some latent psychopathy scratching beneath Jacob's surface but that was smothered by his murder hymen, that's a cherry I'm glad to see popped. His aversion to murder while in a murder cult was slightly interesting in the beginning, but it'd run its course and I'm glad that he can't whine about it anymore. Paul wasn't a bad character (after he and Emma made the beast with two backs), and I'm a little sad to see him go but I'm happy to see Jacob joining the ranks. I'm only sad that Paul went out with such a whimper.
This running theme of wanting a life to mean something is the only thing right now that honestly elevates Carroll from the rest of these redshirts. It's the only believable part of this cult that I could see indoctrinating anyone. Carroll's not messianic enough to attract a following, not even this hodgepodge of housewives, ex-military men, and college co-eds. The "literary themes found in the works of Gothic Romanticism" have fallen away quickly (since they were stupid) and are present in name only (mostly because Parker keeps bringing them up). There's no visionary leadership here. The only reason these yokels find themselves in the company of a serial killer is that they haven't heard Tyler Durden's speech about being Rock Stars in Fight Club and, therefore, aren't already desensitized to the tenets of a Project Mayhem. Man, remember when Meat Loaf was awesome?
Where was I going with this? Oh, right.
The sides seem much more evenly matched, particularly now that there might be some rumblings of schism happening in the House of Carroll. Obviously, there's nothing certain yet. But Roderick's "it's not the same" concerns from last week combined with an Emma scorned and a Jacob much more deeply scorned could amount to some sort of rebuff of Carroll's authority or to people taking sides, even while still worshipping the serial killer. There's already a sense of cliquishness in the house and a bit of subterfuge, underhandedness, and, perhaps most notably, pettiness underlying everything. With imperfect minions, Hardy always has a shot (literally) to thwart their plans and for things to tilt back toward even. The we'll-get-'em-next-time conversation between Carroll and Roderick sure sounded like this might be a trend but, knowing my luck, it can't possibly be. Because Kevin Williamson hates me for not watching Teaching Mrs. Tingle.
How I want to end is by going back to the mention of pettiness. There are a lot of dumb things that happen on this show (some of them this week, even!) and I've talked a lot about the creator/consumer contract for suspension of disbelief, but chief of all the things that list as being ridiculous about this show is how seriously it takes itself. It tries so hard to make us feel the chemistry between characters and feel bad for lost loved ones, lost lives, being lost in general, that it comes off funny. But it's that sad kind of funny that's annoying whenever the writers try to convince us of its reality.
This episode was interesting in that there were a few more comic beats. Roderick's half-creepy/half-baiting recounting of Jacob's messages was the kind of moment I expect from a Williamson production and that's where the show needs to go. That might be problematic with the gravity Kevin Bacon likes to bring to a dramatic project, especially with how he's been playing Hardy thus far, but there needs to be an almost camaraderie between all the characters, even when they're at each other's throats. There just needs to be more humor in general. Louise's death: perfect. That's the self-awareness I'm looking for.
Stop trying so hard to be larger than you are and own what you have: a fairly implausible plot with characters who are supposed to be quick and smart. Let us laugh with you instead of at you. Or, at you is fine if you're okay with backhanded compliments and a published litany of ridiculous plot points.
– "I was. I'm not anymore." Did you get the feeling that Jacob's mom has a sordid nurse past?
– I liked Amanda. She seemed to have fun with her chapter. "I'm going to try it out." And then HARPOON! You're toast, Claire. Amanda stabbed a dude in the gut for getting in the way. She was a woman on a mission. And then, sadly, she found the third Claire Matthews, put a nailgun to her head, and didn't pull the trigger. Why not? I mean, if she has to die anyway, whether Amanda kills her or not, why not just plug her and run? It's not like the FBI had the place surrounded or anything. They never do. So why give Ryan the opportunity to seduce your damage?
– Louise's death really was amazing. I like that they gave her three episodes to make an impression on us and then cut her down. I'm not exactly sure why she wouldn't think that Ryan would shoot? She was there when he opened fire, unannounced, on a group of them. Why would he hesitate? Although, she's not exactly the brightest crayon in the box. She did pick up a stranger's mask from the dirty ground at a rave and put it on her face. That's how you get gonorrhea in your eye.
– I was saddened to see "New Noise" by Refused to be so misused, both because it was part of this show and because nobody even got stabby after the crescendo. If you're going to use something that bombastic with definite breaks, at least time it with the scene. It might as well have been a Ryan Adams song.
– I noticed a few comments last week touching on the violence of the show, how the gore is gratuitous and the depictions of criminal acts—not just with regard to our laws, but to man's laws—are given a sense of theater. I've never been one to believe that art has a responsibility to censor itself except in extreme circumstances, but I can see where those people are coming from. One of the major points of this show is to leave the audience torn between empathizing with these characters and watching them commit brutal violations of prime directives. It's depicting the viewpoint that people who do these things aren't monsters, but people who do monstrous things and the struggle within them for humanity. Maybe that's pinning too much on the show, but that's how it seems to me and it's a valid, potentially interesting thread if The Following can get its act together. I just want to point out that, particularly in a time when we're seeing a rise in grand-scale, theatrical violence, the people commenting about this show being too violent at 9pm may have a valid argument. What we see as an interesting perspective may be taken as validation for humans to do bad things. Discuss.
– Parker: "I feel like a failure." Hardy: "You're not." Campbell: "No, you are."
– Stop trying to sell me this relationship between Ryan and Claire. I don't buy it. I don't want it. Stop.
– We're having some technical difficulties with polls at the moment, but this wouldn't be a proper review of The Following without a discussion of the dumbest things to happen in the episode. Record your answer in the comments!
POLL: What do you think was the stupidest thing to happen in "Love Hurts?"
* The cult's phone encryption is better than the FBI's
* "Five minutes until Dad arrives. Time to fit in a quick, 20-second asphyxiation."
* The episode trying to sell us on the gravity of the phrase "love hurts" despite the fact that we all had that stupid song in our head
* Louise thinking Ryan wouldn't pull the trigger
* Amanda NOT pulling the trigger
* Did I miss one? Add it in the comments!