The Following, Season 1, Episode 14: “The End is Near”
Written by Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Directed by Joshua Butler
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
Death is the only thing that matters in the cult philosophy of Joe Carroll. In death there is life, love, and “everything,” according to his prayer chants. It’s vague and odd, but understandable considering there’s little else that could band all these serial killers together. What’s less understandable, though, is why it’s the same philosophy for The Following. In episode after episode, as the body count rises exponentially, it becomes clear that the show is simply an exercise in who will die next. Nothing else is on the show’s mind at all, just like its villains.
This would be fine if the series owned it, but a huge piece of the show’s plot is that Joe has a master plan the audience is supposed to wait for. Even in this episode, Joe says to his followers that the world will be watching, people will finally hear their story, etc. Of course, there is one more chance for there to be a huge twist, but there won’t be. Joe doesn’t even really believe in his cult, as Jacob figured out, and is tiresomely now dead for. For Joe, it’s just all an excuse for him to get out of prison, get revenge, and be worshiped. Just as the show is just an excuse to… have a show.
For instance, this particular episode is supposedly about Joe deciding to kill Claire, but I’m stumped to see how it actually is, since he never actually tries. He says he wants to kill her in front of Ryan, but is the sense of sight so important, really? If he kills her, it’s still a huge blow and failure, whether or not Ryan’s physically present. Joe has said many times that he’s underestimated him, so there’s no reason to do so again, since it almost seems personal against Claire this time. The logic of this entire season of episodes rests on Joe having some faint reason why he does what he does. But although its what the the title claims, this end doesn’t feel “near” whatsoever.
Instead, we have another random attack/distraction with the followers pulling a “classic Poe,” and gruesomely massacring innocent extras in an evacuation center. It’s just another way to get our heroes to say lines that are pretty much like, “Uh oh, the one thing we didn’t check!” or “They knew all our resources would be at this other thing!” But which is the distraction? Is it to keep them off Claire, or the other way around? Is it all meticulously planned out to kidnap Parker, and is there really no other, simpler way to do that? It’s completely garbled and on top of it all—if you really want to go back—in the second episode, Joe’s followers did try to kill Claire. She was always in imminent danger from day two, as much as the writers would love to pretend she wasn’t.
The only clue we have of what this whole thing is even about is from one of the followers, who says Claire must die so Ryan can be “re-born.” This, for some reason, shakes Ryan. One possibly nice implication, if we take it seriously, could be that Joe wants to convert Ryan to be his cult member or some kind of fellow serial killer. As unrealistic as that is, I think that would be at least a plan, and would make the best sense in a psycho super-villain fashion. The same way the Joker turned Harvey Dent into his ally in The Dark Knight, it would show the depths of Joe’s power if he’s able to turn the man who once took him down into someone like himself.
So, would it make up for everything if both Claire and Parker died, Molly the ex-girlfriend/follower revealed herself, Ryan’s teenage killing was brought to light, and he had a complete breakdown? It would be a good way to keep Kevin Bacon on the show without another 15 episodes of him doing the exact same beleaguered hero routine, but at the same time it would be a huge stretch. After all, if he has any ability to actually break down based on his failures, it definitely should have happened by now.