The Following, Season 1, Episode 10: “Guilt”
Written by Kevin Williamson & Shintaro Shimosawa
Directed by Joshua Butler
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
“Guilt” proves, more than any episode thus far, that The Following can only be defined in one exceedingly simple image: Kevin Williamson at his computer, choosing to use his powers for evil instead of good.
The show-runner has always been a student of Hollywood clichés and structure (the self-aware Scream movies, the movie-obsessed Dawson in Dawson’s Creek, bemoaning the lack of drama in his life), but in the past Williamson had attempted to play with the formula, to call it out in order to create something snappy, young, and meaningful to others who grew up in this media-saturated society with the same awareness. The Following, on the other hand, is just a cynical, horrifically studied exercise in using that knowledge to keep an audience simply occupied.
The mind is still there, though- that’s the scary part. For example, in “Guilt,” we know Claire was always going to get in that car to see Joe (actually, we have already seen her do it, in “The Siege”). Yet Williamson and his team manage to build a whole episode around her decision only five episodes later, and still re-create every suspenseful beat. They also manage to get Ryan Hardy in the thick of every action scene that he could possibly take place in, build the story of the villains, use flashbacks to fill in information, subvert expectations of that information in the end, and convince FOX to green-light a second season.
Still, despite the outrageous commercials promising shock and awe, there is not one genuinely surprising revelation. It’s just the latest installment to repeat the first half of the season, which even then mostly amounted to saying “Oooooh” at serial killers’ dastardly deeds. Even when it’s more than that, it’s really less. I fully regret pointing out in last week’s review that the episode’s recycled plot suffered due to it not developing Ryan, the way introducing his sister did in its original version. “Guilt” now does what was asked for, introducing us to Ryan’s old partner (heretofore in witness protection), but it is painful how convenient it is to the plot and how tossed away he is the second his usefulness is outlived.
And just enough with the flashbacks, please, forever. Every episode they are a giant crutch to fill us in on a new character’s story, only to manipulate the audience to feel something for them as they’re cleared away by episode’s end. They have to fit the violence quota, and the writers just want begin fresh next time and do the same exact thing. I understand that they are serving a horror god here, and this isn’t so much a television series as a fifteen hour horror movie, with different mechanics other than realistic and sympathetic characterization and captivating story-lines. But even the main horror plot is a complete waste of time. Now, in episode 10, we are finally seeing a taste of what Joe uses to get people to join his crazy cult–and it is simply an absurd video, which a character has to tell us is “creepy,” because otherwise it is actually completely mundane.
We are reminded this week, with our new villainous pair of serial killers at the top of the episode with “mini-uzis,” that many of Joe’s cult members used all their weaponry skills, magical encrypting abilities, and subterfuge prowess for good. I have no idea if that is an intentional parallel, with Williamson knowing he’s gone to the dark side. But it’s definitely a scarier story than the one we got.