The third episode of The Following reminded me of the pilot in a lot of ways. For most of it, I was bored by the familiar themes and routines from any number of other TV shows, books and films, but then the final scene drew me back in. In the pilot episode, the final scene saw Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) explaining to Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) his new plan, and saw Emma, Jacob and Paul kidnapping Carroll’s son Joey. In this episode (called The Poet’s Fire, probably because a guy dressed as Edgar Allen Poe recites poetry and then sets a man on fire) the majority of the running time is as problematic as the rest of the episodes have been, but the final scene sees Emma, Jacob and Paul teaching Joey about killing.
It’s an idea that I like more than anything else about the show. That Carroll’s ‘following’ could spread like a virus and affect more and more people and anyone can be ‘infected’ in the right circumstances.
But the problem for The Following is that this is just a tiny part of the episode, and the rest of it is still as bad as the first two episodes. The show is trying really hard to be shocking, but the thing about being shocking is that when you’re constantly trying to shock people, the effect starts to wear off. This episode sees a man set on fire and the revelation that Jacob and Paul have actually had a relationship instead of pretending (which really isn’t a shocking thing to see on television any more, and actually, is quite boring in the context of this show), and comes on the heels of a big pile of murders and semi-naked women stabbing themselves in the eye. The show just isn’t that exciting or surprising, and the few moments that do work are cancelled out by the problems.
I am in danger of starting to sound like a stuck record when it comes to flashbacks, but this episode had at least 10 of them, with pretty much every character (including two new ones) having at least one, and they really are just there to pad out the story. So we learn that one of the new characters, Rick, is responsible for setting the man on fire (who happens to be the book critic that gave Carroll his very worst review for his first novel), and is driven by revenge. His wife is also involved, although she tries to throw Hardy and the FBI off the scent by claiming to be estranged from Rick, and that he has been harassing her. But they are on Carroll’s side too, and a domestic assault report that she filed was actually a knife wound that Rick inflicted on her when practising his knife work (no, really).
It’s just hard to get on board with a show that only has very brief flashes of good writing. It seems that everyone knows Hardy has a drinking problem, but they don’t actually do anything about it, other than telling him to get rest or go to his hotel room, something he never actually does. Hardy has flashbacks to when he first met Carroll (when he was looking for advice, rather than suspecting him), and the way they are played out almost suggests that Carroll actually seduced Hardy (when it’s supposed to show Joe as being the charismatic guru the show proclaims him to be).
So The Following continues to be a show that is barely keeping my attention. There are little examples of a good idea, of a path the show could take towards being good, but there are so many problems that it’s hard to believe that it will ever get there. I’m not ready to give up on it, but it really needs to improve quickly.