Two minutes. It takes two minutes for Ryan Hardy to kill someone in “The Reaping.” That might be a record for The Following. Not in terms of being the quickest kill overall. But for being the quickest kill perpetrated by our main “protagonist,” former alcoholic FBI agent Hardy. It’s pretty much a joke at this point how high Ryan’s kill count has risen. Later in the episode, Kevin Bacon gets to pick up an assault rifle as wield it like a hyper child who wants to show everyone the new, rare Pokemon card he just got. But instead of battling the other hyper kids in this series (because a lot of them fit that description), he just kills them.
The major punctuation mark for the episode actually revolves around this idea, which might be smart if it hadn’t been so dumb to begin with. Weston, ever the nice guy we can root for, finds himself in front of Lily Gray with a gun and the lingering memory of that video she recorded of his father being murdered. The idea here is to use Mike as a foil to Ryan or to show how he has descended into the same kind of raging madness. Killing someone in cold blood isn’t him (Mike). It’s Hardy. Ryan even admits as much. And as Ryan and Max try to talk Mike down, it’s clear that The Following has no interest in its characters retaining humanity, which is stylistic choice plenty of series have done well but which The Following can’t make compelling enough because why should we even care about these people at this point? This would have been a great opportunity to take advantage of whatever the Max-Mike relationship is and to have her try to appeal to him strongly and specifically. Instead, she kind of just says “Don’t do it” and stands there awkwardly after Mike has pulled the trigger, effectively ending what could have been an interesting all-out war between the FBI, Joe’s cultists and Lily’s weird family (seriously, throwing them together in a 42-minute mixed martial arts match is probably a better idea than whatever the season finale is going to be).
And, despite trying to make concessions here and there, I can let “The Reaping” get away with how exceptionally stupid it is. Exhibit one: Claire. “Hey, I have a great idea! Let me publicly address Joe!” “Why would you possibly do that, Claire? What good could come of that that would be a respectable trade-off with putting you in more danger?” “I don’t really know, because I’m an idiot! But I bet it will throw Joe off his game! And isn’t that what we need right now!?” This might not have been the exact dialog, but it was what I heard while watching. It…just…doesn’t…make…sense. But, whatever. Exhibit two: Joe. “Joe, shouldn’t we kill Ryan Hardy right now because he’s tied up and has been trying to hunt you down with the probable intent of torture and mutilation now that he’s essentially become a monster?” “No, Emma. If we kill him, then it’s like killing me. Plus, we are in a television series, so let’s keep Kevin Ba-, I mean Ryan Hardy around a little bit longer, because I’m crazy.” This, too, might appear just slightly differently in the script, but that’s the gist of it. There are certainly rules that television series not named Game of Thrones need to abide by to keep viewers invested coming back, but a scene like this loses all credibility completely. I mean…surely Emma, at the very least, would have tried to kill Ryan anyway, since she’s the only crazy person that has an understanding of why it’s not such a great idea to let him live. But such is the nature of The Following.
The other Thing That Might Have Been Interesting if This Wasn’t The Following is the scene in which Joe is forcing Tanner’s son to kill someone else in some strange dissemination of his religious convictions. There’s something to be said about a human’s survival instinct and his capabilities of catering to that at the expense of other, strong instincts (like not wanting to murder another human). The Following has toyed with this issue in the past, and this instance might actually be the most effective use of it so far, but–again–these characters just don’t matter to us. Tanner has been built up in these past couple episodes as someone who is important to the back half of this season, but we still know so little about him and what motivates him beyond the facade of the job he does. So, we’re essentially watching a horrible scene from a distanced perspective, and yes, it is horrible, but it’s within the realm of fiction and none of the fiction characters involved in the scene are people we’ve had the chance to relate to. I don’t know why anyone would expect The Following to have graduated from titillation, but when these opportunities have been so thoroughly missed, it’s still incredibly frustrating.
[Photo via Sarah Shatz/FOX]