The Following, Season 1, Episode 8: “Welcome Home”
Written by Amanda Kate Shuman
Directed by Joshua Butler
Aired Mondays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
Ryan: “Nobody likes me.”
Mike: “Well, you’re inconsistent and extreme.”
The Following takes the one baby-step forward and two giant leaps back approach this week, addressing many inconsistencies in the show, as poked at in the above line, but also taking no time in waving them away at an alarming rate—all in favor of building up one of its most pointlessly violent, stomach-turning episodes yet.
It starts off with the whole Joe Carroll fiasco acknowledged as the “bureau nightmare” it is (although they left out that it’s only called that on a good day). Reference is made to the media circus ensuing, and a supervisor is finally brought in to take over who’s a little less, let’s say, witness-banging, as should have happened many times before. But, instead of taking the blunder of epic proportions that is Ryan Hardy’s career and doing anything at all to rectify it, the show immediately does the infuriating: paints Ryan and his team as the underdogs, who need to wrest the case back from others’ hands.
It is smart, in some way. Ryan and his team have been hideously incompetent thus far—so now we get to spend the next half of the season watching them claw their way back to success, not only against Joe, but the FBI itself. This show really is the master of the reversible plot direction, you have to give it that, but sadly, it just never knows how to quit when it’s ahead. Forced endorsements for Ryan from Debra, and petulant remarks and cocky “told-you-so” eyebrows from Kevin Bacon, tell us we’re supposed to cheer as Ryan rides in on his pacemaker against “the man.” It’s easy to tell why this happens: Bacon was at his best in the farmhouse, when he was goofing on Paul, Jacob, and Emma. But the writers are forgetting that whenever Ryan measures his dick against anyone else in the story, it is ultimately grating, stupid, and dangerous.
Joe also ruins episode advancements with his character traits and poor eyebrow acting. The serial killer headquarters introduced last week is a step up from the farmhouse we’ve been stuck with for the evil half of the show, but its existence is still mind-boggling when you see Joe putting around in it, giving his silly pep talks. As unconvincing as his puppy dog faces have been as “charisma” thus far, it made some sense as working on low-IQ characters like Jordy, or our favorite sexually-confused trio of killer youths. But to make Roderick, a town sheriff, and Louise, an ex-Blackwater operative, act as Vice Serial Killer President and Second Lady, is purely the stuff dream sequences are made of. And to have them build Joe an “inspiration room” so he can write his Edgar Allan Poe fan-fiction, is even more horrific than any of the grisly murders we’ve seen.
On the other hand, it is appreciated that there doesn’t seem to be some huge, overwrought master plan at work. These people simply love Joe because, as seen in one flashback, he taught them to stick knives in people. Still, ever since the third episode, when we got “trick” flashbacks, it feels like they can cheat anytime with the history. So, who’s to say what the master plan is, really, or what any of these killers have in mind?
The one thing we may definitely know now, at least, is that Joe really does love Claire and sees their family happiness as a huge goal. Even though the last time they met he was choking her (Roderick and Louise’s antics prove that serial killers like it rough), it’s at least something concrete from the madman for once. His obsession with Ryan had become so elastic to fit any given episode, it barely existed anymore. The only catch is probably the amount of gratuitous violence we’re going to have to suffer through in order for Joe to reach this new goal. Single-mindedness is great for clarity and motivation, but terrible for restraining exploitative writers.
Quickly on that note, how is it that they have the first act open up with a disgustingly gushy suicide, proceed to make the centerpiece of the episode a makeshift Thunderdome of torture, top that off with an obligatory shoot-out with five casualties, end it all on a prolonged, overwrought falling-on-the-sword sequence followed up with bloody sex—and have it not, at least, be about vampires? These are supposed to be actual human beings?
At the end of the day, The Following knows most of what’s wrong with it, but has eight episodes of story and a fifteen episode order to fill. Things “inconsistent and extreme” have clearly been chosen to go in between; so, until something finally happens in the final two episodes, go ahead and keep the vomit bag near.