The Following is one of those rare shows that actually gets better as it goes along. With tonight’s entry, “The Poet’s Fire”, the series evokes several jarring plot twists and expands on the ‘Cult’ of Joe Carroll while adding just the right touch of character development. I’m not a fan of formula—and yes, I know they all do, but forgive my hopeful naiveté—however in the case of The Following I find a recipe I’m all too happy to indulge in on a weekly basis.
For me, one of The Following’s most winning attributes is its mood. The show is moody. You could probably pin a lot of that on Kevin Bacon’s stoic and glum Ryan Hardy, and the bizarrely even tempered state of hilarity that James Purefoy plays against Joe Carroll’s grotesqueries. Cover all of that with the sense that literally anyone could be one of Carroll’s Acolytes—their word, not mine—and you have a tension filled story space that feels like it could swallow you whole at any moment. “The Poet’s Fire” continues on that track.
As you can guess, rescuing Joey from his murderous captors is still the gas in the story engine, but there is a somewhat relaxed feel in that the initial shock of the kidnapping has given way to myriad forms of coping. Ryan becomes more intense, Claire (Natalie Zea) becomes more frantic, and Carroll becomes more self-assured. Some of the most fascinating character work comes through the kidnappers themselves as Jacob (Nico Tortorella), Paul (Adon Canto), and Emma(Valorie Curry) begin to intermingle with grating results.
The size of the ‘Cult’ also expands in this episode, but I won’t say by how many. Increasing the size of the Cult seems to be a device Williamson and his writer’s rooms aren’t afraid to use without impunity. We are still very early in the game so it may level out as the season moves forward, but for the time being The Following is playing the “SURPRISE! New cult member” without straining the credibility of the story too much. Of course this creates character baggage that must eventually be dealt with but don’t worry, they clean up nicely.
As much of a Kevin Bacon fan as I am, and that would be a lot, it pains me to say that Ryan’s morose nature might be the most monochromatic element of the series at this point. Even when we flash back to what should be ‘happier times’ Hardy seems infused with dread and doubt, as if he is in a constant state of penance, undeserving of happiness, but for some terrible crime we have no awareness of. Another way to describe Ryan’s lack of ‘colorful’ or even meaningful character development is: the more we know about Ryan Hardy, the more he stays the same. It well could turn out that Hardy’s agonized state of being becomes the endearing signature of his character, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t care for my Bacon on the soft and gooey side.
Bottom Line: The sense of enveloping darkness that defines The Following continues with “The Poet’s Fire”, and the progression that Williamson and crew have bet on seems to be working out. With Joey’s kidnapping we have at least a medium length story arc that is helping to anchor Joe Carroll’s chaos into a digestible chunk of narrative. Surprisingly, the writer’s craft a character piece with Jacob, Paul, and Emma that strangely, and uncomfortably, relatable. Damn you Kevin Williamson, I didn’t want to understand the mind of a sociopath.
Having seen next week’s episode, I can assure you that steady increase of quality does indeed continue. There is no doubt that with The Following FOX has a dark, dreary, and engrossing hit on its hands.