The Following, Ep. 1.11, “Whips and Regret”: No there there

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The Following, Season 1, Episode 11: “Whips and Regret”
Written by Kevin Williamson & Rebecca Dameron
Directed by Marcos Siega
Aired Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX

So far, there are three major types of episodes in The Following: the big conflict episodes where the main characters face off, the psycho-of-the-week episodes to fill FOX’s “x-treme” body count quota, and the table setting episodes for those previous two types—by far the worst of them all.

Guess which one this episode falls into.

Yes, “Whips and Regret” slides neatly in that dreaded third category, even if shreds of the others do pop up. We have a killer of the week, complete with his own little set of quirks (BDSM! Edgy!), but even so, he mostly doesn’t do much damage, and the episode is really only Ryan getting a “little bit closer” to infiltrating Poe-central, a complete waste of an hour. This is awful because it’s really just another string of horrifically poor decisions by Ryan, which, of course, are all pardoned in the end. All he has to do is shoot some random people and save another female, making him suddenly great, somehow.

Like always, it starts off in common fashion, a recap of last week’s events in our teaser. (Reminder: The Following will never be a show you have to turn on in the first few minutes for fear of missing something.) This time it’s Joe calling Ryan to gloat over getting his wife back; also to reach new meta heights by calling out Ryan’s “cliche” drinking habit, which he says will have to be downplayed in any future versions of the story told. Hey, I have an idea: can’t we just downplay it in the present story told? This kind of self-effacing humor works in a banter scene or as a tension-breaker, but not between Ryan and Joe, our lackluster leads—they already fail us enough every week with their hollow rivalry.

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And hollow is the perfect word to describe pretty much every aspect of this episode as it continues from there. Even side-notes, like Jacob being Claire’s handler, are simply a case of economy and convenience. Jacob shoves Claire around and threatens her, and we are supposed to get that this is a new, harder man… but a harder man than the one who befriended a woman for years only in order to abduct her and deliver her to a murderer?  Sorry, The Following, we can’t forget your whole premise as much as you’d like. All these cult members, in fact, are past the point of no return, no matter how many shades of evil the writers try to play with,. Do we really need to see Roderick punch people out and lose his grip to see he might do something bad soon? The only way it matters is its effect on Ryan’s investigation, but the show never frames anything the killers do under that perspective.

Similarly, the actual events of this episode—stinging the BDSM club and the discovery of the cult’s secret training camp—are both false in their sense of motion.  It’s really just a wind-up-and-watch-go plot device, to create another hairy situation Ryan has to shoot his way out of. This time, we split the damsel-ing among two women, though. One a savvy BDSM-er, who helps us worry for most of the time, and then the loyal Agent Parker for the last little chunk, so we get that oh-my-hero relief that couldn’t have happened with a female who’s not a saint.

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Unfortunately, the fact remains that in the bulk of the episode Ryan’s decisions this week were disgraceful, and the BDSM-er has practically every right to join Joe’s cult now, after having her life gambled with. Although, after my horny cop prediction, I’m afraid to take any more wild guesses. Still, since Ryan sleeping with Joe’s wife almost never comes up as a legitimate issue, something out of all his mistakes now should.

I suppose that could be what Molly represents (besides the other side of the show’s Madonna/Whore complex). But it doesn’t work to build tension, because she is completely new, and there are too many questions that would need to be answered first. Does Molly actually even know Ryan? Why does she want to be the one to kill him? Sure, all could be answered as soon as the teaser next week. But I have a feeling fantasizing about such a leap forward would be nothing but sadomasochism. Edgy!

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