The Following – Recap: Coffins, Carroll, Claire and a Crazy Cult
Recap and review of The Following – Season 1 Episode 14 – The End Is Near:
For the penultimate episode of The Following‘s first season, “The End Is Near” plods to such an extent that it undermines the very purposeful, urgent story at its center. It’s a race against time that doesn’t, at any point, feel like a race against time, as there’s too much of a leisurely pace to the episode. While things definitely pick up in the last ten minutes, it feels like too little, too late. However, if the show is attempting to parlay the momentum of the closing moments of the episode into next week’s finale, then maybe it’ll prove to be a wise choice to take a more measured approach to its storytelling, yet I don’t see why this couldn’t have been a wall-to-wall thriller, as the show’s better episodes have tended to be. The Following is not a show that can thrive on character or on atmosphere. For the show to be interesting in any way whatsoever, it pretty much has to bring the white-knuckle thriller aspects to the fore.
That said, while the last third of the episode ratchets up the tension, the show still has a huge problem in how it luxuriates in over-the-top, borderline cartoonish violence, continuing to lack the understanding behind what makes violence effective in drama. It’s never the violence itself, but the gravitas with which it’s imbued. Violence doesn’t really mean anything on this show because it’s treated with such a cavalier attitude, yet the show continually wants us to be shocked by it, offering buckets of blood in lieu of solid storytelling. However, I promise this is going to be the last time I harp on the show for its violence, for one, because next week is the finale so I won’t really have many more opportunities to talk about it anyway; and secondly, because it’s clear that this is just what the show is, and it’s never going to change, nor does it have any interest in changing. If nothing else, the show has stuck to its guns, and there’s something begrudgingly admirable about that. And, to get into the episode itself, tonight featured the show’s first use of violence that actually proved to be genuinely shocking and story-driven, the death of Jacob (Nico Tortorella). It’s a scene and story arc that’s so well-constructed, I’m almost willing to forgive the insurmountably depressing conclusion to the episode, in which Agent Parker (Annie Parisse) is buried alive.
The episode is divided between three major stories: Carroll (James Purefoy) holding Claire (Natalie Zea) hostage at the residence of the Grays, Vicky (Joanna Rhinehart) and Phil (Kelly AuCoin), whom he also takes hostage with the help of Jacob and Emma (Valorie Curry). Meanwhile, Ryan (Kevin Bacon), Parker and Weston (Shawn Ashmore) prepare to storm the mansion, only to track a gathering of followers to the local evacuation center. During all of this, Jacob is having a crisis of his own, as he realizes that he doesn’t want to die for Joe. He wants out of the cult, and he wants Emma to come with him. These three intersecting stories work well enough when they aren’t stuck in first gear. Claire’s story, for instance, allows her character to develop through action as opposed to exposition, such as when she shows her resiliency by using a wine bottle to attack Joe, before stabbing him with a fork in the same place she stabbed him last week, reopening the wound. This moment of action also allows Claire to display her heroic tendencies, as she releases the Grays from their restraints and ushers them on to safety before being recaptured by Emma and Jacob. Unfortunately for Claire, her heroism gets her placed on a boat with Carroll, who ferries her off to her doom — because he can’t just kill her, he has to make sure there’s an audience. Carroll’s desperate craving for attention is actually one of the subtler character traits they’ve given him, and it makes his erratic nature regarding Claire logical, in its own weird way.
Less logical is the followers’ fanatical devotion to Carroll. I get that they’re crazy, but I have no idea what any of them see in Joe. Even Jacob says he’s thankful for everything Joe has done for him, but we have no sense of what, if anything, he’s actually done for them except put them under the microscope of law enforcement. But when you have crazy people on the company payroll, they can be used to make a terrific distraction while you escape your murder mansion hideout. So that’s exactly how Joe uses them this week, as they infiltrate the local evacuation center, and begin killing people on sight. Ryan and Weston do their best to subdue the attack, instigated by the followers once the lights in the center have been cut, giving everything an eerie, dangerous vibe. Though Ryan and Weston eventually put down the uprising, Parker is captured by the followers and placed in a coffin, in which she’s buried alive while pleading for her life, in a moment that has to rank as one of the most disturbing of the series, as Annie Parisse’s performance really sells Parker’s genuine terror. She pleads with her captors not to do this, before screaming bloody murder, with the hope that someone, anyone, might find her. It’s the thing that most stuck with me once the episode ended, and not just because it was the closing moment, with the screen going black on Parker’s desperate, fearful sobs. It’s a genuine stomach-churner, and left me shaken in a way that a television series rarely has in recent years. And I’m not even entirely sure it was for good reasons, as it just felt like an extra dollop of unnecessary misery. That closing moment was almost enough to sour me on the third, relatively solid story arc we follow this week.
Jacob’s desire to leave Joe’s cult has been building since last week’s episode, when he came to realize that their death was inevitable, as long as they remained with him. After recapturing Claire and delivering her to Carroll, Emma and Jacob sit in the car to await further instructions. It’s there that Jacob proposes that they simply high-tail it out of there and never look back. Jacob forgives Emma earlier in the episode, as she apologizes for what she did to him, while also admitting that she knows there’s no chance for them to go back to the way things were. Jacob responds by telling her it’s okay, and then kissing her, solidifying the rebuilding of their romance. At this point, the prevailing expectation would be that Emma would willingly leave with Jacob, as Jacob explains that they’re on borrowed time. While he appreciates what Joe has done for him, Jacob states that he has no desire to die for him, or to die at all. Emma is tempted to leave, but she’s still tethered to Joe emotionally. Jacob tells Emma that he loves her, and Emma responds that she loves him, but that she also loves Joe too. Then, in the first genuine shocker of the series, Emma states that she can’t reconcile loving both men…so she slits Jacob’s throat. As he bleeds out in the passenger seat, Jacob has a look of complete betrayal and sadness on his face that stands as one of the most devastating moments The Following has put together. I’m not going to miss Jacob or anything, but of the followers, he was certainly the least awful (if not the most sympathetic).
“The End Is Near” survives on the merit of its last fifteen minutes or so. Surprisingly enough, I’m actually interested to see how they tie the season’s story together in next week’s finale. The show has the potential to really stick the landing by telling a taut thriller, as opposed to an abstract character study. It’s always been better at one facet of storytelling than the other. As long as it sticks to its strengths, there’s no reason that next week’s season finale shouldn’t be its best episode, from a strictly dramatic standpoint.