The Following, Season 1, Episode 2: “Chapter Two”
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Marcos Siega
Aired Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
It’s the second episode of The Following, and now we are beginning to learn the rules of the alternate universe. In this world, anyone can be a serial killer: prison wardens, detectives, pretty boys, British professors, even emo girls. Also, since murder is so commonplace and just kind of quirky, it’s more like a drag rather than a devastating event when your husband gets convicted for mutilating co-eds. After he’s put away, you may say things like “Here’s to being a single lady again!” and flirt with the apprehending agent. If you are that agent, you may reciprocate those advances, and later treat the killer like a jealous ex, spending more time having pissing matches with him than outsmarting his psychotic schemes.
The alternate universe also has fascinating physics of space and time. Gravity seems to pull everyone to the state of Virginia, despite all reasons to leave. Whether you were terrorized or stabbed in the chest there, the forces will just be too great for you to be rational, and any attempts to get out will lead to heavy drinking and your inevitable return. Additionally, if you are investigating a sick, Edgar Allan Poe-loving cult, The Following’s Third Law states you will come across any evidence of their secret doings only seconds before they are to act on them, making you run to stop them in time. This will happen at least three times a day.
…All right, so yes, The Following doesn’t take place in an alternate universe. But, practically every scene earns that feeling. Besides the time/place problems, which one can chalk up to television being television, the worst offender truly is the discrepancy between the plot and the characters’ behavior. The Following has an extreme “serial-killers-are-everywhere” premise, yet is desperate to feel like a broad, average-stakes procedural drama. The traumatic problems and histories of the characters are simply not aligned with their run-of-the-mill dialogue, actions, and demeanor, which makes for some very distracting viewing. The characters are perturbed, when they should really be disturbed.
When he was doing the Scream movies with Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson would be able to leave gaps in his script, write “Wes will put some scary shit here,” and be good to go. This time, however, the direction of Marcos Siega is more Law and Order than horror master, and it is not going well for his style. Because it’s not that everyone needs to be on the brink of hysteria at all times—it’s that the few intense parts need to count. Claire, whose son is kidnapped, gets exactly one moment in this episode to freak out, when she attacks Joe in prison, but it is perfunctory and wimpy. Later, Ryan is attacked by someone who is part of a cult that wants to see him destroyed, but it is hardly as vicious as it should be. After the commercial break he has already shaken it off, and so have we.
The one part of “Chapter Two” that manages to come out as something almost legitimately creepy is Emma (Valorie Curry), serial killer nanny. If you ignore the fact that she’s part of this cheesy Poe cult that the show will just never make fly, there is something really terrifying about her alone. We get to see her kill her own mother, and she stakes out her territory well with her boyfriend. The inevitable question in a show about multiple serial killers is, “Why don’t they all just start killing each other?” Emma is a good candidate to do some solo damage soon, and shake up the show. At least her flashbacks get me inside her head. Claire, Ryan, Joe and new lead detective Debra (Annie Parisse, actually from Law and Order) are still anyone’s guess.
Michael J Narkunski