The Following, Season 1, Episode 12: “The Curse”
Written by Seamus Kevin Fahey & Amanda Kate Shuman
Directed by David Von Ancken
Aired Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
From the file of Too Little Too Late comes “The Curse,” an episode that contrives for our hero and villain to cross paths and have a discussion all about Ryan’s motivations for how he acts… now, three episodes before the end.
Yes, Joe can put together an entire cult, create an entire brainwashing compound, escape from maximum security prison twice, and become the most notorious killer the United States has ever seen, yet “he” can’t think of an ending for his book. To do so, “he” needs to call up Ryan and see what drove his main character in the first place. And no, “he” is not Kevin Williamson whatsoever, so buzz off! It is weird, though that Joe would begin this endeavor, create such a master plan around Ryan to torture him, yet have no ending worked out. Especially since, until now, he has been taunting Ryan about his mind-blowing “grand finale” during every previous encounter. It’s almost as if he’s making it up as he goes along, and as if there is some sort of studio is paying him to—no, never mind.
Still, we can’t really blame The Following for at least being what it is. It’s been a long road with many melodramatic detours to even get to this point. So when we get an episode that deals with the show’s actual preoccupations—the cult itself and Ryan and Joe’s past/present/history—we have to be thankful. It’s not good, but it’s not like last week’s episode, actively bad, and no character comes off like a complete dunce for the sake of tension in the episode (well, except Parker, but they’ve been dumbing her down for a while now).
Also, even though the self-referencing is definitely annoying, it is not as awkward here as it was the last few times around. That phone call Joe makes to Ryan during a moment of writer’s block is pretty humorous and shows a new, more comfortable side to Purefoy’s acting. And the creators actually treating the character as pathetic, and not just being self-deprecating about their own creative failings, is a small yet necessary change. With Parker coining “Carrollism” only moments before the phone call, the timing is perfect as well. Without going overboard, the point is made that Joe is as derivative a religion-creator as he is a derivative writer.
But does that give him permission to be a derivative villain?
After all the mentions that Joe has been sitting around Casa De Psycho too much, his departure to take care of a loose end himself doesn’t display any great villainy superior to the other serial killers we see each week. There’s more emotional punch, with Mike being re-traumatized (although at the end it seems like he’s better than at the beginning, disappointingly), but the climactic conversation between Ryan and he between that bulletproof glass is just ripped too much out of Batman and The Joker, minus the believability. Joe lives for death and wants Ryan to realize that he does, too. That’s all that Joe really amounts to, and it’s been done before, with better weapons and costumes.
And yet, I could see the broad strokes here as creepy and fascinating. If Joe really is creating a religion, which apparently “even has some Scientology” involved, and fully believes his philosophies of embracing the killer instinct to reach different levels of heaven, we could get a real sense of mania and fear when he is onscreen. We see it sometimes in Emma, as shown in this episode, and it’s why she has been the most effective villain and character so far (although she only has a cat-fight between her and Claire this episode; there will have to be a round two). Joe’s cynicism and detachment is perhaps accurate to real life cult leaders, sure, but the most fervent villains will always be the most magnetic.
I will congratulate the episode on, for the first time, using flashbacks effectively. Once again, it’s totally late in the game, and we still have no idea if Ryan killing his father’s killer will play into the end of the season, but it is exciting to see The Following have one reveal that’s actually a reveal (if still superhero derivative). And so, between Ryan’s secret, Molly, Emma and Claire’s conflict, and Jacob’s guilt and possible redemption, all the pieces are in place for an adequate finale. Now if only it wasn’t three whole more hours away, and if Joe fit in there somewhere, too. Perhaps with an idea for a massive, fantastical edit when he realizes Carrollism sounds more like Alice in Wonderland theology than Poe.