The Following, Season 1, Episode 4: “Mad Love”
Written by Andrew Wilder and Kevin Williamson
Directed by Harry Bronchtein
Aired Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
In the best episode so far, The Following finally serves us some fun this week. It’s hard to tell how, maybe because the dreary, serial killer love triangle story-line magically gets turned into a threesome, or because… actually, no other reason tops that!
It does seem, though, like the whole show is undergoing a slight internal reworking, gradually before our eyes. The wooden writing is still there, the nonsense characters are still there, the contrived “life or death” situations are still there, but underneath, a new, better brand of bad is forming. When Ryan starts off the episode talking about how Joe’s plan feels like “amateur hour,” that the Poe masks seem “silly,” and how his philosophy makes no sense, it goes a long way to being able to turn your brain off and enjoy. The Following spent the first few weeks trying to run in the 24/Law and Order clique where it just couldn’t hang, but more and more it is learning to shed its pretenses and transfer to the True Blood/Glee school of WTF-ness and self-mockery. Obviously it’s a little pathetic for it to happen so soon, but let us not dwell on what cannot be changed and focus on what can.
This is even a mantra in the episode itself, as Ryan’s sister Jenny is introduced and voices that he should actually do something for once. Ryan is such a plaything in the show that, again, it felt good for it to even be called out. Of course, the whole story with her is horribly executed: the sister is simply another damsel in distress, the flashbacks of their relationship are painfully skimpy, and it only takes minutes after being terrorized for her to go right back to spouting inspirational platitudes. However, the other side of it is that it’s all played as frivolously as it feels, and just a means to a character-building end. Similarly, when Ryan talks to Claire about his tragic past, including a dead dad, dead mom, and dead brother in (“don’t say 9/11”) 9/11, you just have to laugh. Kevin Bacon is really learning to sell the surreal lines, and it’s just a bonus that they serve their purpose, as proven by the dream pop music used for character dramas that plays at the end. The Following is a character drama now!
All this would only feel like scraps, though, if not for the big confidence-builder that takes place at the serial killer country home. Paul’s woe-is-serial-killer-me unrequited gay love plot transforming into one about Jacob, who is a murder “virgin,” is a true sigh of relief. Besides being much more in line with the show’s preoccupations, the development also pulls double duty, as the killing-as-sex metaphor frees up use of the real thing. When Jacob, Paul, and Emma all embrace in the shower, The Following finally gives us the second half of the sex and violence popcorn formula that should have been there from the beginning. If the show can continue in that very simple direction, “amateur hour” will be less of a put-down, and more of a badge of honor.