Matt Smith reviews the latest episode of The Following….
So, over the last couple weeks I’ve done a lot. And by ‘a lot’, I mean, ‘not much’. I’ve sat in front of the TV watching various TV shows, films and the like, some of the time frankly demolishing Easter-themed chocolate. There were foil and chocolate wrappers everywhere. Two weeks ago I watched almost two days worth of movies in… well, two days. And it slowly dawned on me that doing this could mean I start hating the things I love the most. Overexposure, too much of a good thing, what doesn’t kill you… wait, wrong cliché. But you get the idea.
Joe Carroll’s not a fan of clichés either, at least when it comes to Ryan Hardy’s alcoholism. But is he aware their relationship is among the many examples of the hero and villain being the polar opposites, seemingly purposefully created by producers to be as different from one another as possible, but have that one inescapable thing in common? The one thing that links them together forever. The Joker to Hardy’s Batman. Silva to Bond. Milka chocolate to me (it’s sweet, looks good but, ultimately, works better when a bit nutty).
Carroll’s a… would ‘people person’ be an apt description? While Hardy is the archetypal loner, heavy drinking and pushing people away because he can’t get close to anyone. But they have one thing in common, the inescapable, which is they both love the same woman. If Claire Matthews wasn’t around, Joe Carroll and his group might be working towards some other nefarious scheme. And, by the way this cult/terrorist group have essentially strolled to victory after victory to knock down our hero, we’re probably quite lucky their leader is as distracted as he is. An unexpected silver lining for everyone who isn’t Claire Matthews, I guess.
But unfortunately for Claire Matthews, she’s been bought into the cult fold with the leverage of her son Joey. Carroll’s manipulation and charisma have worked so far, but he’s forced to use physical bargaining chips when it comes to those who know him best. The author in him wishes to use ideas, to let his followers ‘decide’ for themselves what the best course of action is, so in seeing Claire Matthews with him this episode suggests the cracks in his armour, the weaknesses that can be exploited. But is the author misleading the audience?
Hardy, meanwhile, has started drinking again. The show’s commentary of what’s right and wrong in law enforcement hasn’t exactly been consistent or deep, even with this week’s question of what is morally right when it comes to protecting a witness. But the portrayal of alcoholism is nothing but romanticised. It’s nothing more than a tool to try and suggest Hardy as a character has depth and dimensions, but falls short of this request when Hardy is shown negotiating building infiltrations when he’d either be suffering from a hangover or just be plain drunk. Thank God the shooting started by the time he’d have sobered up.
As empty premises go, the alcoholism well is pretty dry in the case of The Following. Plotting has also come to a halt. One of the strong points of the series was, when it got it right, the plotting moved along swiftly and kept things interesting. I genuinely believe the strongest aspects of The Following is when multiple plots and stories come together at once, but this week it’s either more of the same or a slowdown study of Joe Carroll. While the latter is fine (and would most likely make a fine episode all on it’s own), Hardy’s quest to find Claire Matthews meanders at a tedious pace.
The tension filled tunnel pursuit deserves mentioning purely for giving Hardy’s narrative a bit of a jump-start, but it’s far off the pace of the earlier episodes. Themes and motifs are dropped and picked up at will (and when was the last time Hardy’s pacemaker was centre stage and not just a throw away line?), while the many, many betrayals means whenever a character is revealed as a cult member it’s now a shrug instead of a gasp of surprise.
The final scene promises something with potential, but the way the show’s handled some elements I’m more worried they’ll miss the opportunity. The final scene itself had opportunities for many double meanings, tension-building dialogue with the great use of flashbacks, but seemed to just happen as oppose to build up to anything.
I didn’t want to go on and on about it, too much of the same thing being a bad thing and all, but some of what happened in this episode was the same as we’ve seen before. As a Joe Carroll character study as more of his ‘family’ joined the party it worked well enough, with James Purefoy’s acting of course elevating proceedings. But the plot seemed a tad empty, exposing the show’s own weaknesses. Something about it all just seemed a little too familiar. A little change is needed. Hopefully Joe Carroll getting too much of what he wanted means we get what we really want.