Matt Smith reviews episode 14 of The Following…
So I was watching the London marathon the other day for about eight seconds (I’m sorry, it’s just people running and to me is as thrilling a TV spectacle as the Grand Prix, which is people just driving powerful cars in an age where we’re supposed to be conserving energy and watching our carbon footprint) and it made me wonder. It’s pretty much human nature, but why is it the pace always picks up at the end? The middle’s just as important as the end, so why is the ending given so much precedence?
I’m not talking about a full out sprint, because no one would survive. But it’s like a deadline. Why wait until the last day to start rushing around? Why not just put a bit more effort in in the middle and by the time you’re at the end you’re not a headless chicken.
Headless chickens are usually headless because they’re getting ready for the chop (a chop that the laboured metaphor above should be getting). Joe Carroll, stabbed in the gut, is prepared for the chop, both of himself as he gets weaker, making him more vulnerable and of his ex-wife Claire Matthews, who he’s kidnapped (can you kidnap people from the place you already kidnapped them to?) and absconded from the serial killer retreat.
Carroll’s been waiting around not doing much as well, sat in his office plodding through a plot that doesn’t seem to go anywhere for some stretches, a lot like The Following in general. See what I’m doing here? Layers. There’s been a metaphor played out through the series with Carroll as puppet master and the true novelist behind all the events that occur, with Ryan Hardy as his, and our, protagonist. But now he’s been forced to change his plot at the last minute, right on deadline day at the end of the series’ run, and the pace has picked up.
The plot really is all in, engine running hot. Extras are getting killed off left, right and centre. One scene, in which Carroll’s followers create a panic, is one of those prime examples of pacing creating said panic within the viewer as well as the characters. It’s also one of the prime examples of the times you sit there as a viewer and think ‘Well I wouldn’t be as idiotic as those people. I’d climb the gym equipment, I’d hide in a cupboard, no not that cupboard because they’ll look in there, the other one, it doesn’t look like it’ll fit you, but I bet I could fit in.’
But it’s that situation, where the audience sides with those on the screen and isn’t just an observer (similar to when you yell at the cinema screen. Yes, you. You’re the one who cried when Batman died as well, weren’t you?) where quick pacing is a director’s best friend. Cross cutting, a high mark hallmark of this series, helps as well. It makes you question everything while forcing you to process new information constantly. Has Carroll lost it, or has he come up with a game changer?
This quick, plot-heavy stuff does lead to complications though. Where is Ryan Hardy’s neighbour/Joe Carroll’s follower in all this? She could’ve given Carroll Hardy on a plate anytime throughout the series, but now we know she must either turn up in the next episode or be unjustifiably ignored. Ignored like Emma’s relationship with Carroll. With truth coming out and everything coming to a head, their affair seems to have been demoted to window dressing, employed to fill up time. Instead of an interesting conflict of interest between her feelings of guilt and love for Jacob and her devotion to Carroll, the potential has been lost in favour of introducing a little sex to the show. And Jacob, another of Joe’s acolytes, seems to turn one eighty whenever the story needs someone with a bit of conflict. His arc is the most unnatural of them all.
That’s the difference between wanting to know the slowly revealed plan of Carroll and being taken by surprise by things that are just strange. Jacob’s unusual, but in an artificial way. But Carroll, played again with a masterful touch by James Purefoy, seems to be driving the conclusion of his plan, and the narrative, to its end. What’ll happen, and where it’ll stop, no one but Carroll and the producers of the show seem to know. Let’s hope the pick up in pace doesn’t lead to nonsense as a finale and the small dips in quality throughout the series were merely the writers biding their time before unveiling something worthy of an ending for us and Ryan Hardy.
Matt Smith – follow me on Twitter.