Recap and review of The Following – Season 1 Episode 2 – Chapter Two:
The Following is settling into more serialized aspects than we might have gotten any hint about in the series premiere. “Chapter Two” is an episode that tips the hand of the show’s serialized aspects far more than last week. We’re getting less of a straightforward cat-and-mouse procedural, and more of a character study, showing how each of the characters got to the twisted points in which they’ve settled. It’s not a bad narrative device, by any means, but this episode exemplifies some of the real problems the series is going to have, going forward. It isn’t a bad episode, but it leaves me worrying how the series is going to make heads or tails of the difficulty of its premise. You can have Kevin Bacon chasing a serial killer, and that’s all well and good. You can even have James Purefoy as the alluring, charismatic killer in question. But when you go about populating the periphery with Purefoy’s less charismatic underlings, and you then expect us to spend time with them and, perhaps, even sympathize with them, that’s just not going to happen. At least not without some major conceits. As it stands right now, we spend a fair chunk of the episode with the people who handed Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace) to Joe Carroll last week, and then kidnapped Joey (Kyle Catlett), all after having posed as well-meaning friends to their victims. It’s a tall order to expect the audience not to condemn them outright, but to actually identify with them in some form or fashion.
For the most part, I’m talking about Emma Hill (Valerie Curry), who masqueraded as babysitter Denise, flying under the nose of Dr. Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), watching over little Joey without arousing any suspicion whatsoever. This week, we learn how she came to fall under the influence of Joe Carroll, the teacher-turned-author-turned-killer. Turns out Emma was a plain Jane growing up, although it’s a rather distracting case of “Hollywood Homely”, where we’re supposed to look at this person who we’re told is ugly, despite the clear evidence that she’s actually quite pretty. Granted, this could have been the point, as there’s a clear sense of injustice to how poorly Emma’s mother treats her (in flashbacks that run throughout the episode). Emma’s first meeting with Carroll, at a book-signing, is tinged by such an incident, wherein Emma’s mother embarrasses her by flirting with Carroll. Ultimately, Joe reconnects with Emma down the line, and sets her up with Jacob (Nico Tortorella), a like-minded follower of Carroll’s who sees in Emma everything that her mother never has. This is all cute and fine, except that these people are unambiguously crazy. They can earn our sympathy, to a point, but that gets cut off the minute they start breaking the law and following the dictates of an obvious psychopath currently on death row. Making matters worse is the lingering threat of the third wheel in this party, Paul (Adan Canto), who posed as Jacob’s gay lover as part of the ruse to lure Sarah Fuller to her death. He’s angry that Jacob is back together with Emma, as he doesn’t think she’s anything special. He also hates children, and there’s a sense that he might hurt Joey if given the opportunity, although it never comes to pass. Joey, for his part, thinks that his mother sent him away with “Denise” as a safety precaution, so he doesn’t even realize he’s been kidnapped, nor does he seem to think anything is amiss when Emma suggests that, perhaps, he should consider that his biological father isn’t as bad as people are saying. It’s all very warped and unusual, but at least there’s a tension there, as we know these people are killers (we see, in the flashback, Emma killing her mother during a dinner at home with Jacob, the presumptive completion of a pact/initiation with each other, and with Carroll).
But there are other developments in the plot beyond the babysitters. Carroll’s obsession with Ryan (Kevin Bacon) having had an affair with his ex-wife makes for some excellent drama, particularly when Claire confronts Carroll in prison and admits to the affair, hoping that by satisfying his masochistic desire to torture himself with that knowledge, he’ll reveal Joey’s location. But it’s no use, and Claire can do little else but flip out on him, as anyone would in that situation. Ryan promises they’ll find Joey, but given his familiarity with Carroll, Ryan seems to recognize that the clock is ticking. Which is why it’s probably a good idea for him to have gotten a new partner, Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), an FBI specialist on cult behavior. Parker seems less impressed with Ryan than his last partner (if you could even say that he had a partner last week), and she’s frequently given to long exhortations about cult ideology, and emotional transference. They don’t really seem like much of a team at this point, but I guess that’ll be for the coming weeks to define. As it stands now, they at least succeed in bringing down one of Carroll’s followers, Officer Jordy (Steve Monroe), who attempts to kill Claire, only to get himself shot and taken in (a turn that Carroll hadn’t expected, as he’d sent Jordy on the mission with the expectation that he’d get himself killed by law enforcement). It’s all very tense, all though I still wish the police weren’t portrayed as being so routinely incompetent in what they do, letting Claire wander her house with only one cop to guard her, and then acting all surprised when something bad actually happens. But I guess it’s for the purpose of establishing the formidable nature of Carroll’s followers.
Ultimately, “Chapter Two” is good enough to get the job done, but I did expect better, following last week’s premiere. The climax, in which a man in an Edgar Allen Poe mask lights a stranger on fire in broad daylight, is a pretty shocking visual to close the episode on. But it doesn’t have much import within the larger context of the episode, and feels placed for no other reason than to provide said shock. And shock only works if it’s rooted in a good story, and isn’t simply there for its own sake. This just felt too random to be worth much of anything. That said, I do expect the series to get more nuanced in the coming weeks, as it gets used to the serialized aspects of its storytelling, and the cast develops chemistry, if not at least a visible rapport. This was fine for what it was, but there’s a better series underneath all this meaningless, excess grimness.
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