I really appreciated “Teacher’s Pet.” For a minute there, it had me worried that the inclusion of Emily Kinney from The Walking Dead meant that her fate on that show was not looking good (the prospect of another actor from a better show, like Natalie Zea from Justified, making the jump to The Following makes me sad). Thankfully, though, The Following introduces Emily Kinney’s character as Lance’s boyfriend–and if you don’t remember Lance from last week, no one is blaming you–and kills her off just like that. No harm, no foul. Back to the status quo. Moving along.
Unfortunately, it’s kind of difficult to move along from Claire being re-integrated. And while I’m glad Zea is getting work, this is neither the right outlet nor the right process through which to give her a paycheck. It’s lazy writing to just hit the rewind button and show how Claire actually survived the stabbing when we’ve hardly spent time thinking about her for most of the season (however, the way that the cold open mimicked the cold open of the season premiere was a good example of symmetry, so there’s that). Homeland received a lot of vitriol in its last season for a sleight of hand that was less worthy of condemnation, and although no one is holding up The Following to the same standard of the former Emmy-winner, it’s still necessary to point out when a storytelling device just doesn’t work.
The same could be said about a lot of things in “Teacher’s Pet,” but after last week’s episode nearly made me go insane, I feel like there should be some effort into explaining some of the things The Following is doing less wrong. For one, the casting of Jessica Stroup as Max was a great move. She’s been given very little thematic material to bounce off of, but when she’s been asked to do chase scenes or other action-based material, she’s excelled at it. Max isn’t an interesting character, really, and I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would voluntarily work with Ryan Hardy, familial bonds or not (unless they, too, are insane). But little visual cues like how she looks at Weston in “Teacher’s Pet” indicate that there’s untapped potential there or just that Stroup is more than capable of elevating the material. There. That wasn’t so hard.
And it should also be stated that The Following is a much better bad show when it’s taking place in a more metropolitan area, giving off the impression that this could happen to just about anyone. The semi-random nature that the killers pick their victims in “Teacher’s Pet” (that one looks like some guy who picked on that character in high school, that one has a dog…) is superficially disturbing. Everything about Corbin is too isolated for Joe’s followers to feel like much of a threat or to have that side of the story come off as something worth spending time on. Take, for instance, the spat between Emma and Mandy, which is just melodramatic nonsense. When there’s a cat-and-mouse game taking place in the city, The Following is–at the very least–raising its stakes.
None of that, though, takes away from the fact that all this is just dumb. Very, very dumb. The main character (who we really don’t know all that well, if you think about it) isn’t likable, which isn’t a problem in and of itself, since a lot of television series derive their meanings from their anti-heroes. But it’s a problem when the serial killer is more enigmatic and is displayed as someone the audience should enjoy spending more time with, because that’s an obvious glorification of something pretty horrific. I don’t think The Following is suggesting that Joe is a swell guy, but it definitely feels like the writing favors him in terms of characterization and intelligence. Ryan just occasionally shoots people and occasionally sleeps with people, both to accomplish his own devices.
There are some potentially interesting flashbacks in “Teacher’s Pet,” which detail how Joe initially met Gregg Henry’s Dr. Strauss character. The origin story there, though, doesn’t exactly explain how Joe’s psyche went from point A to point B. Strauss is just kind of crazy and influences Joe to become crazy. Henry does a great job at hamming it up, but that’s about all that can be said. Strauss is behind bars, and although we’ve seen that that isn’t a fact that matters in The Following, because the law enforcement agencies are absolutely awful at their jobs, it just seems like it would have made more sense to spend a couple episodes before his capture looking at how Joe became the way he is. But, again, that would only make sense, something The Following specifically avoids in favor of being as sensational as possible and throwing in twists when the narrative is dragging–so, constantly…
[Photo via David Giesbrecht/FOX]