The Following has stumbled in the last few weeks, but the eighth episode, “The Messenger”, is great from beginning to end. Everything that works so well in The Following is found here- it’s quick and intriguing, a little campy and over the top, and features some great performances, primarily from Jake Webber and James Purefoy.
The Following very rarely spends time on characters’ emotions. Sure, we see the turmoil they face, we understand their pain, but it’s never really at the forefront of an episode. Mike (Shawn Ashmore) has been one of this season’s most compelling characters and his father’s murder at the end of “Sacrifice” last week changed his trajectory almost indefinitely. “Revenge doesn’t fix anything, I know,” Ryan (Kevin Bacon) warns him towards the end of this episode. “But you’re still here”, Mike returns. It’s a standout moment, highlighting that he’s willing to turn into Ryan to get what he wants.
The appearance of Dr. Strauss, Joe’s mentor, allows us a little more insight into the character. Learning that Joe was an orphaned loner at school gives the audience yet another perspective on him. In the grand scheme of things it might not be hugely important, but Joe is such a driving force for the show and Purefoy is so great that any extra knowledge about the character is appreciated. In many ways Dr. Strauss acts as Joe’s family, which has been a driving factor this season. Plus Strauss promises to lead us to answers concerning Joe’s half-brother.
One of season 2’s biggest issues has been the feeling that Ryan is spinning his wheels. He keeps investigating but he’s not getting anywhere because no one, with the exception of Max and Mike, believes Joe is alive. With “The Messenger”, we see that more and more people are starting to believe that Joe is still alive, most importantly FBI director Tom Franklin. He’s willing to believe Ryan and give him the resources he needs to catch Joe.
The greatest moments of the night come from Joe (Purefoy) and his skillful control of Micah (Webber). The Following has always been creepy but nothing could be more terrifying than Micah’s unhinged ramblings about family, love, and acceptance in the episode. Julia (Jacinda Barrett) remains Joe’s biggest threat. She isn’t irrational like her husband, she recognizes what Joe really is and she knows what he’s capable of. His and Emma’s (Valorie Curry) manipulation of Micah and the rest of the cult are great and perfectly played by Curry and Purefoy.
The Following’s second season has been uneven, but it has worked much better than its first. Everything seems tighter, better executed- it’s been fun and thrilling. “The Messenger” is full of great scenes that are going to push the show forward, particularly the ones featuring Micah’s cult that lead to Joe telling the world he’s still alive. “The Messenger” proves how great The Following can be when it’s firing on all cylinders.