This is one of those weeks where I feel like Joey is the smartest person on this show. He's just hampered by being a small child.
We already know that The Following often demonstrates how smart Ryan is by surrounding him with peers who are either functionally retarded or assuredly part of Carroll's vast network of brainwashed Millennials. But the show is also starting to demonstrate that even the killers are just as slow as the agents running the show at the FBI.
Maybe that's the point of The Following. You, too, can start a cult of mindless drones if you have a winning smile, an exotic accent, and a stockpile of impressionable idiots.
Credit where credit is due, however, and I should disclose that this was one of the better episodes of the show thus far. It wasn't marred by a nauseating number of flashbacks, it did well with suspense (O, the exhausting suspense), and they totally got their Poe quote right this week (even if it went on a little long). Hooray!
I'm struck, however, by the complete unpreparedness of the threesome and their satellite followers that they were essentially done in by the kid they had under their thumbs. The plan was three years in the making and, while there were contingencies in place, none of them seem to account for anyone with a sense of logic and a will to live.
That presents us with the opportunity to examine an audience's expectations. Because this plan purportedly took three years or longer to concoct (it even had its own lair), an audience member might rightfully assume that these kinds of things would be accounted for, that Joey trying to escape would have a contingency plan stronger than "lock him in a room with a rickety door." Carroll might've guessed that Hardy would revive his "get up and go" pretty quickly with nothing else really to do but work on this case. And maybe they should've allotted some time to install a fence around the property in case anyone gets the bright idea to run in a straight line (no stopping) away from the den of sexually ambiguous murderers.
What I'm left to consider is that The Following is a show about ordinary people trying to do things that are beyond their capabilities. Despite all the planning and the chess game and the "puzzles," executing a plan in collaboration is a messy ordeal that never goes quite like it does in your head, especially if you are to assume that everyone you're playing against is a simple pawn.
Of course, there are some things that are going exactly according to plan. Claire is the most frustrating, annoying, undeniably awful character. I wish I could have sympathy for her since she was married to Carroll and she dated Ryan and her son's been kidnapped but she continues to be a liability and that never sits well with me.
Other than Ryan's surprise sister last week, Claire is his only vulnerability. Clearly, he's willing to place his telltale heart in excruciatingly dangerous situations—which he survives on a small amount of wit but mostly serendipity—so even his own life isn't necessarily valuable to him. Claire is the only thing that matters and the fact that she would get into a car without telling the FBI about it is absurd. Absolutely absurd. A woman delivers a message from your cult-leading husband that you'll be able to see your son and you believe it? That's on you. And then you get into a car with a stranger even though you know you're being hunted? Like Ed Lover says, "Come on, son."
Even though I would say getting into a strange person car when no one knows where you are is textbook stupid (I mean, like, clinical stupidity) and completely indefensible, I can understand an audience member who might look at that and say, "Well, she's just an ordinary mom who only heard the part where she'd be able to see her son. Even though she knows the FBI is not lying to her. And that her ex-husband is a renowned liar. And that her life is constantly in jeopardy. She's only human."
I can almost get on board with that. With a premise that contains so much propensity to deus ex machina (literally anyone could be a member of the cult and thwart any progress made), The Following needs a little bit of humanity. It needs to show us that people are flawed and complicated plans are doomed. Otherwise we're cursed with a repetitive show full of unmovable forces.
But I'm still troubled but much of the series' execution. The dialogue is poor at best, laughable at worst. The pacing isn't lacking in suspense, but it's so exhausting that, by the time Ryan and Lopez, who might as well have been wearing a red shirt, arrived at the old couple's house, I was ready for them to just get there already. Last week was herky-jerky with all the time travel and this week could not keep me on the edge of my seat. I slid back a lot and slumped, crossing my arms and rolling my eyes as Hardy finally found the victims that'd been hoed to death.
It's weird to say that about a show that moves so quickly. The kid being at the house with the threesome could've been a full season's worth of content (particularly for the short season Bacon demanded), but here we are, in Episode 5, and Hardy is face-to-face with our kidnappers. And yet the show's pacing makes me desensitized to suspense.
So The Following dispenses with myths of superheroes and villains constantly trying to one-up each other with vast and complicated puzzles and stories to show regular humans purposefully trying to build a masterpiece that is beyond their collective talent and means. But its execution so far is kind of a perfect metaphor.
While we watch The Following learn how to tell its own story, we're watching something flawed and unpolished as a narrative. The medium is a collaborative art, and it's almost as if the entire thing—from mastermind having to absorb the failings of those he's put in charge of carrying out his vision to the outside authority acting against the work of art instead of in concert with it—is some kind of analogous concept to how television overall gets made, specifically this series. We watch characters get sloppy and leave behind clues to be found just as much as we examine the fabric of The Following and find it sheer and weak.
Or sometimes you watch a show and you have to make up your stories to interest you.
What'd you think of this episode?
– I'm simultaneously disappointed and satisfied that we didn't see the implied Wobbly H that happened overnight after the shower. Although, from the fallout of the evening's activities, it seemed like there was a lot of time where Emma might've been sitting out for a bit.
– I maintain that Joey is one of the top two most intelligent people on the show. Using a skateboard to pry open the door? Well done. Escaping through the woods and continuing to run instead of finding a hiding spot twenty-five feet from the door? Looks like you're smarter than a typical shelf-stocker from Duchess County, squirt. Listening in on conversations between the grown-ups because they're too stupid to realize that sound carries when you're standing in a room right by the stairs? Good for you, kiddo. Way to be resourceful.
– I think I liked the Masque reference more when I thought the Twins were going to sweep through and wipe out the quarter-century crisis doofuses who've been holding Joey like a plague. It'd be like hitting the restart button and maybe we could do that whole thing all over again. Oh well.
– Uh-oh! Weston gettin' flirty with the only other female cop in Duchess County. We can assume she's absolutely part of the cult, right?
– It's a good thing Ryan is Quick Draw McGraw. I will admit that I like that people on The Following don't hesitate to shoot for dramatic pause. Unless they're villains, of course. Not every trope can be bucked.
– I know you can kind of get into a rut after having two of your fingers cut off with shears but, come on, Olivia, couldn't you get something to put on the stubs? Can't we Margot Tenenbaum those bad boys?