If the most egregious mishandling of The Following is how it uses violence, its characterization of the Followers is not far behind. Usually, when a writer is bothering to tell a story about a serial killer or several serial killers, it’s with the intent of delving into the psyche of someone who falls into that category – it’s a chance to try to understand a different kind of person. For the most part, the Followers in Kevin Williamson’s act like “normal” people. They live their day-to-day lives and interact with one another, seemingly forgetting that they are, in fact, insane. Some are more played up (such as the Evil Twins), but a character like Emma doesn’t come off that much like a murderer. If the underlying suggestion here is that that’s the point – that the horror of The Following is that these people can be so much like non-serial killers – then that’s about the least interesting, laziest, factually inaccurate and offensive affront to its viewers. It’s an impossible pill to swallow and it creates a transparent foundation for the whole series. So, the more time spent trying to humanize some of these characters, the worse off The Following becomes.
Emma is the poster-child for this issue. It’s genuinely hard to guess what was the expected reaction to her reunion with Joe in “Family Affair.” Did the writers want us to feel empathy for her as she pounded her fists against the chest of the man who lied to her? Are we supposed to be happy that she’s back with someone she loves? Do we even buy into their emotional connection this season after getting such a weakly-executed first season? The way the scene plays out in this episode makes it seem like we, the audience, are supposed be invested in some way. But – again – are we just supposed to forget who these people are? The problem with giving abnormal characters normal-people problems like love and betrayal is that those problems just don’t matter. In no universe are we rooting for Emma or Joe. So, structuring an episode or a scene to try to evoke that is just a waste of everyone’s time.
All that stupidity on the Follower side of things makes Ryan’s adventures in “Family Affair” a little bit more tolerable. As one-dimensional as Max is, she’s still a new character, so her allure hasn’t completely faded yet. She’s yet another cop making stupid decisions that cops ought not to make, but hey, she’s a Hardy. If the episode has something to recommend it, it’s the climax (mainly because of the lack of stilted dialog) in which the Hardy duo is chasing down Gisele. Of course, try watching this after the last ten minutes of Sunday’s True Detective and you can see the difference in how an intelligent serial killer series goes full-blown action versus how The Following does it. Nevertheless, it’s about as tense as this is going to get and it at least provides a nice cliffhanger that isn’t Mandy turning in an awkward attempt at saying creepy things.
Looking ahead, it’s probably good that Joe is now with Lily and her “family.” Having two concurrent plotlines following two sets of antagonists (three, actually, if you count Emma’s as separate from the Twins, etc.) is not something that adds anything to this story. If there’s going to be a third storyline outside of Ryan and Joe, it had best by Weston, because his FBI crew acts as an antagonist to Ryan while remaining protagonists in the grand scheme of things. Considering it didn’t take long for Joe to meet up with everyone, though, don’t expect Hardy and Weston to be at-odds all season. Even with Mendez’s coldness, The Following is convinced that Ryan is good at what he does, so the FBI will need him at some points and vice versa.
It’s also worth mentioning that Joe asks about his son, Joey, who is in witness protection with his grandmother. There aren’t a whole lot of survivors from The Following‘s first season, and the ones have stuck around haven’t become more interesting, but Joey is a potentially useful case – or at least the idea of Joey is. All of the Followers are past their cognitive development, so seeing how Joe’s influence hooks into someone more innocent is probably the only believable way of witnessing his mystic powers of mind seduction. The writers tried messing with this regarding Joey last year and it was ugly, but if they’re going to make an attempt at saying anything meaningful about the horrific effects of the events of this series, it’s worth a second try. Mandy is a little too old to fit the bill, though it looks like she’s being groomed in that way, not knowing the difference between threat and ally. Or, you know, she could just go around stabbing people indiscriminately, because whatever. This is The Following.
[Photo via Sarah Shatz/FOX]