Has anyone been keeping up with Ryan Hardy's body count? Who's the real serial killer here?
I kid because one constant of the show that I absolutely applaud, one thing that seems to be a Kevin Williamson trademark as far as genre-busting is concerned, is Ryan's quickness to pull the trigger on everyone. No announcement to freeze, no dramatic moment between him, the victims, or the captors. Just turn the corner and open fire with precision and no mercy. Eight people set out to rough up one dude, three come back. Ryan may not romanticize any of his casualties, but he sure does know what it sounds like when the bodies hit the floor.
I was prepared to bore everyone this week with some literary theory about the reliability of a storyworld and how it factors into the storyteller's ability to bend the rules with irony and fantasy (to paraphrase a paraphrase of Christopher Hicks), so feel some relief that the quality of this episode staved that particularly pedantic elitism for another week.
"Quality" is, of course, relative for a show that has demonstrated a laughable lack of it. But "Welcome Home" showed what The Following has hinted at in momentary glimpses throughout the first seven episodes: It knew that what was happening was silly. Thus far, the consequences for the FBI's bungling of everything having to do with Carroll have been nil. Parker led a task force comprised of anyone the agency could find within a fifty-mile radius and still let every single person in that farmhouse slip into the night—including a guy bleeding to death from his gut—and no one said boo. So when you heard Nick Donovan hit the word "helicopter" (as in "he flew away in a helicopter"), it was sweet relief that someone had to take some responsibility.
Consequences are an important thing for this show to consider. So far we haven't seen a whole lot of them. We've seen Ryan take too much responsibility for anything that happens, but it's the FBI's fault for royally screwing up everything they get involved with, like some kind of reverse King Midas whose touch turns everything to doo-doo. Paul basically threatened the entire operation by kidnapping someone but not only did she go free, so did he. Presumably every person in Dr Carroll's School for Gifted Psychopaths is a murderer who got away with it, and it seemed like there were more people in that that foyer than there are at St Peter's to listen to the Pope talk about Easter.
So seeing things like Weston getting the crap kicked out of him, Charlie getting the ol' seppuku treatment, Parker essentially being demoted, and Roderick struggling to deal with How Things Are—it was actually a little refreshing, gave the show a little bit of reliability, assured us that we're not just watching human game pieces fly around the tiles willy nilly. Knights can't always just magically pop up and off enough of your pawns so that the queen can slip through. The chess board has rules, reason, and consequences for making terrible mistakes.
Was the episode perfect? Oh, my heavens, no. We did watch a dude gnaw a cyanide pill out of his hand, Parker run down a car while firing shots like she'd just taken a three-hour nap on her arm (and just after we watched Ryan pick out murderers like he was breezing through the first level of Duck Hunt), and, of course, witnessed the search for the least stealthy band of kidnappers ever assembled (you remember, the ones standing in broad daylight just before the hooded kidnappee was shoved into the back of their overly suspicious car). Possibly the worst was how the car was spotted: Police saw a suspicious vehicle in a dark, abandoned corner of the docks and they were just like, "Huh. That's weird. Oh well." You're patrolling the docks. Docks are a breeding ground for no-goodniks. That's like security for an abandoned warehouse watching a child-molester van pull up and saying to himself, "Nah, that's probably legit."
Consequences are how we understand the world, and for a story to go so long without having any messes with the alchemy of its reality makes it difficult to follow—unless we project our own values and rationalizations onto it, even if they clash with the show itself. Worse, we could just turn off our brains and try to "enjoy" the show, a common defense of The Following that boggles the mind since it amounts to saying we are passive participants in television, brainless consumers of whatever's emitted from the box in our living rooms. No one passively views art. It would be wrong of us to do so. This isn't zen. We aren't trying to religiously commune with the show about serial killers and police authority like some sort of Taoist sand garden being raked and assembled for us. Watching The Following shouldn't evoke the same terminology as meditating. But I digress.
As "Welcome Home" introduced some consequences, we also got a look at a new political system. Now that Great Leader is out of prison, the House of Carroll has to deal with its guiding light evolving from a disembodied voice in an echo chamber to a physical presence that commands submission and demands moving forward with his Master Plan. It seems like Roderick has done the equivalent of moving Carroll's forces to the purple parts of the Risk board so he can build up his infinite army, but the recruiting and trap-setting phase of the plan is over. It's time to move forward and Roderick is no longer the big man on campus. The First Student was the only accessible Master for a while, so reverting to being the Student again shouldn't be an easy thing to swallow. I'm hoping his melancholy (and subsequent pre-coital choking) in front of the fire is a harbinger for his challenging Carroll's dominance.
This episode was by no means perfect, but its display of consequences, small bit of humor, and setting of the table for a schism at least provide a faint glimmer of hope at the end of this terrible, squalid, dark tunnel we keep trudging through. Is it me or is that dim light, no matter how much we slosh through the muck, the same size as it always is?
– You know how you don't win over the kid who's frightened to be in the same room with you? Sit in his room and be the first thing he sees when he wakes up.
– Is it me or are you not afraid of any one of those people we saw in the Carroll Mansion foyer? Here they are again, have another look:
You get the feeling that, even if they all attacked as a group, you could probably take them.
– This episode in flashbacks: a surprisingly low number. The first one was completely unnecessary (the one where Roderick admitted to killing two of the girls assigned to Carroll's career), but the other one was fine. It showed Carroll practicing what he preaches better than anyone else we've seen commit a murder this season. It wasn't quick or spontaneous or even advantageous. Killing people is far creepier if you do it slow enough that you can whisper. Um, I mean that it's creepy all the time. I'm don't condone murder, no matter the speed.
– "Hold close your fear. It is all that you know when you take your last breath." The entire scene with David was almost a parody of the show. Misquotes, jokey repartee, and over-the-top everything while Ryan smiled it off. Ryan pointed out the poor paraphrasing of Ted Bundy and we watched an absurd amount of blood pour out of David as he chewed out the pill. It's almost like Hardy was doing my job.
– Don't think it's lost on me that the only episode I've seen that hasn't made me wretch also had zero Claire in it.
– Forced Fight Club was ridiculous. Is it still weird that, even after seeing him get the crap beat out of him right up to the brink of death, I still think Weston could be a deep Carroll operative? That Charlie didn't drive the knife all the way through is somehow evidence to me that he wasn't supposed to actually kill Weston? No? Just me? Okay.
– Well, for anyone who's still attracted to James Purefoy after this show (sickos), at least you got to see some good examples of his O face while he was sticking Charlie.
– And did anyone think for a second that Carroll would not meet Emma at that hollow vale by the end of the episode?