The Following – Episode 2 Review

Matt Smith reviews the second episode of the new US TV drama The Following…

After imprisoning Joe Carroll, Ryan Hardy must find Claire Matthews’ son who has been taken by Carroll’s acolytes. At the same time, he must help the FBI find whoever’s responsible for the murder of numerous women at a university.

So, episode two of the decidedly mixed show The Following. Seems like one of those shows that would do better if it didn’t have the ‘the’ at the beginning. But then it’d take on a whole new unfortunate meaning, wherein Kevin Bacon follows people, probably in the hope of a decent acting job in the movies.

See, TV sometimes seems to have this complex when comparing itself to its bigger brother. Each has their inherent goods and bads, and The Following is no different. TV’s got to compete with budgets that are out of this world. Yet somehow by the same token breaks for adverts wouldn’t happen in a movie unless it was being post-modern, and everyone knows post-modern movies can’t be taken completely seriously.

TV needs ad money, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford to make the show. But this constant flow of money means TV shows can tell stories long after the movies would’ve had to leave, hoping the viewer’s bladder wasn’t strained. But the sprawling narrative can lead to problems when it comes to introducing newbies.

I bring up this issue purely because I fear The Following will soon fall into the trap of spending the first ten minutes doing an extended ‘previously on’ segment. Despite the actual ‘previously on’ intro, which sometimes just point blank used single words to describe the plot (I’ll do it now: ‘Carroll, bad guy, Hardy, good guy, never wears tie properly, why bother at all?), the first couple of scenes were also used to bring everyone up to speed.

Except this is only episode two. I’m hoping the producers are just doing a catch up because the first episode’s a pilot, because the multitude of characters could quickly spiral out of control and turn this show into another Heroes.

Another similarity is the various different plots, all playing out at once. And I sincerely hope the kidnapped son, while a good idea in principle to turn up the tension, actually ends up going somewhere. While you’d think a kidnapped son would be a big plot point, the show seems to think we’d be a lot more invested in the relationships between the three kidnappers. Interesting, perhaps, but not exactly the most pressing matter at hand, and a tad jarring seeing three people squabble over who gets which room when the main villain’s son sleeps in the next one.

It’s jarring mainly because the rest stays on course so well, though, and in that way The Following does very well. It (mostly) stays focused, always on course, looking for the next serial killer of the week while also resolving the current one. I don’t know if anyone’s said this already, but it really put the ‘serial’… into ‘serial killer’. Yeah. Stick that on ya poster. Pop a jaunty little tune on in the background of the TV ads. Because The Following could do with some brightening and lightening up.

It’s grisly business as usual for the FBI team, who this time find the results of the crime teased at in the pilot. Bodies being strewn everywhere is now seemingly an everyday occurrence. It works as a shock now, but will it work later in the series? ‘Oh look, another group of young women have been brutally murdered and had their eyes cut out by someone they dearly trusted. Ho hum.’

Don’’t take that as evidence not to watch though. Seeming ambivalence is only created because the show seems to have a hit a sinister turn, and I’m rebelling after spending a couple of hours analysing a show where one of the main characters is a psychotic maniac. The atmosphere is certainly a step up from last week’s episode.

The scene where Hardy rushes back to the Matthews house is so tense you could tell me a steamroller was running over my car, with all my loved ones (laptop, DVD collection, Batman posters) locked inside and I’d just tell you to go away. And could everything that seemingly goes wrong for him just be a part of Carroll’s larger plan? Who knows? It’s tension filled. It’s filled with tension. The tension is at its fullest. What could happen next? Ooh, a new paragraph!

Flashbacks make a return, meaning the producers follow through with their promise to give every character they can a good back story. However, providing back story doesn’t provide emotion, and it’s in that department where I think The Following has been lacking since the beginning. Sometimes, it reaches levels of coldness rivalled only by Joe Carroll.

Any figure of allegorical meaning seems to have been substituted as well. It feels like plot and story complexity have been abandoned somewhat, and in that sense I’m a tad disappointed. Replaced with the tension, it’s less highbrow now, which isn’t a good or a bad thing. Just depends on what you want to watch. What do you want from me, an opinion?

So, more characters are bought in to keep the water running. Some are replaced, in fact, as is the nature of TV once again. Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) is a lot more interesting than the woman she’s replacing, but the replacing itself tries so hard to be done well that it doesn’t work at all. ‘See! Look, it makes sense getting rid of this actress! But you’re the main character so for that reason we won’t get rid of you. Also, you have an alcohol problem that doesn’t actually seem to effect you or manifest itself in any way.’

The show takes its time introducing themes and motifs, such as Hardy’s alcoholism, but doesn’t really follow through with them. A pathology is mentioned, talking about the Internet-fed modern society being more at risk (but really it’s not… keep reading Flickering Myth!), but it’s nothing more than window dressing so far. Oh, and putting ‘Nevermore’ on the walls of murder victims doesn’t count as a motif.

Where The Following works is as a dark (catch-all description right there) cop show, cross cutting between narratives both to build the world and build up tension. There are small bits that don’t work (such as the Naked Gun-esque scene where a dozen officers with guns back down from one guy with a gun), but apart from that I think once the show hits its stride fully (and it almost, almost has) it’ll be unmissable TV.

Catch it every week and be thrilled as Hardy stops this week’s serial murderer. Oh, and I didn’t want to mention it again, but Kevin Bacon selling mobile phones came up straight after a break in the show. Way to bring me out of the story, advertising people.

Matt Smith – follow me on Twitter.

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