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The Following, Ep. 1.3, “The Poet’s Fire”: You take the bad, you make it good.

The Following, Ep. 1.3, “The Poet’s Fire”: You take the bad, you make it good.

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The Following, Season 1, Episode 3: “The Poet’s Fire”
Written by Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Directed by Liz Friedlander
Airs on Monday at 9pm (ET) on FOX

As written before, there’s so much wrong with this show it hurts. Its commitment to proving its characters are only wearing human suits is so remarkable, really, you may wonder if you’re better off watching it in a bad foreign dub, just to have it make more sense. Still, there is something about serial killing and horror tropes that’s so frustratingly entertaining that, even when poorly done, you end up getting involved. By God, someone gets brutally murdered every act break! Could a show like that ever be deemed a total failure…? Well, probably. But if nothing else, The Following proved this week that it’s possible to extract at least some joy from its camp factor, as long as you ignore that it really wants to be a Kevin Bacon-level drama (presence of Kevin Bacon notwithstanding).

For example: the opening. It’s a complete retread of last week’s closer, but this time just way more ridiculous, and therefore, so much better. Last week, we were supposed to be convinced someone in a mask can light a guy on fire on a busy street, in the middle of the day, and walk away scot-free. This time, we are supposed to be convinced someone in a mask can give an entire confetti-throwing street performance, then light a guy on fire on a busy street, in the middle of the day, and walk away scot-free. Improvement!

Similar can be said for the other way we kick off this week’s exciting “chapter” (just trying to keep up with the show’s masterful grasp of literature, folks), which is Ryan and Debra going over evidence they gathered from the uncovered Poe lair. Here, Ryan echoes the same grating line from last week, “We weren’t supposed to find their little clubhouse.” While previously this just did not make sense, considering the house belonged to Emma the kidnapper and surely the police would go there eventually, now it is just Ryan being Ryan. He fancies himself such an expert on Joe’s every move, and is hilariously wrong every time, it is pure glee to hear him be so sure of something, ever, and be responsible for more deaths. It also works as some good unconscious foreshadowing for the big plot point in the episode: Maggie the Killer!

Maggie being revealed as being another serial killer was the most entertaining thing the show has ever done, because it was so stupid and obvious, and made everyone look even worse than thought possible. Here is a woman who is known to be the husband of one of Joe’s followers, even getting phone calls from him while he’s out on a murder spree, but is sent home with exactly one detective for them to be completely vulnerable. When she turned around and stabbed Agent Reilly in the head (only seconds after Ryan gets tipped off and runs to the scene, the show’s favorite thing to do in the world), it was like a beautiful release. The show was whispering, “Don’t think… it’s OK… gullible detectives are cannon fodder and deserve to die,” making everything a lot more fun. Also, Jordy’s ending moment of eating his own gunshot bandages was adequately absurd. The show might be getting out of that bland, Law and Order mode it was previously stuck in, finally.

The only portion left out of embracing the corniness is the one that should be embracing it the most—the serial killers’ country home getaway. These are three maniacs in a bi-sexual love triangle, and should be hamming it up, but they play it like we are supposed to care about their emotions. Perhaps it’s because the actors are younger and see this as their big television break, so they aren’t letting go, but it’s a huge waste of time. When Paul panics and ties his date to a chair, it should have the black humor of an accidental kidnapping, like, “Uh oh! I think I did something!” Instead, it is tiresome. Emma: get a bigger knife and take the boys out, already.

– Michael