Unfollowing the Following
If you didn't catch it earlier, I recently posted on Twitter that after 9 episodes, I was giving up on FOX's Poe-inspired thriller, The Following.
What initially felt eerie because of some interesting literary interpretation and unexpected turns, now just feels thick with bloodsport and weak at many of the pivotal points that move the narrative forward.
Of course I was in at the start, despite the warnings of vivid violence, because how unnerving would it be to see the dark and twisted written words of Edgar Allen Poe brought to life through the hands of misled followers? In an era where simple memes and new game releases garner god-like attention, imagine those indulgences being fueled and fanned by an "intelligent, charismatic and handsome" madman. Who wouldn't be fearing for their own personal safety?
Add to the mix the iconic acting of Kevin Bacon (some of my favorites being Quicksilver and X-Men: First Class), a woman that sounds like Tina Fey but isn't (Annie Parisse) and the non-Smallville Ashmore twin (Shawn, aka Bryan Singer's Iceman) and again, you have my attention.
Unfortunately, my interests started waning when I found myself not just cringing at the brutality of the followers' actions, but being sick to my stomach at the nonchalance of basically writing in steps for youths to experience and connect with depraved murder. Where there was some semblance at the start pointing to Poe's work, Joe Carroll's "I want to hear your stories" speech at the safe haven just opened the floodgates to make the show about whatever gruesome actions the writers wanted to think up. It's the exact reason why my wife and I stopped watching CSI after the first few years; the show rapidly became about the most lurid or obscure ways to show people having sex and then being killed.
Despite this shift (or failing, depending on your perspective), I went into each of the episodes "Let Me Go", "Welcome Home" and "Love Hurts" looking for the story to come back around and redeem itself; to provide meaning to the seemingly meaningless slaughter of human life.
Side note to the writers: Having a character say "I wanted my life to mean something" right before they are killed does not in itself add meaning to the action of their death or their life. It happened twice (Charlie then Paul) and only the first one could we kinda make sense with.
In each of those three episodes, essential plot actions occur or are only possible through convenience; e.g. While I'll give you that the blonde FBI agent that shot Agent Weston could easily have been a cult plant, it was highly suspect of being a lazy last minute write-in. The added fact that some of the SWAT team members were also in on it just made the whole farmhouse siege seem sloppy. Getting Emma to leave behind the boys was genius, but then I think you (the writers) found yourself with two knife-wielding proselytes (one wounded) stuck in a room surrounded by heavily armored tac teams and went for the easy out.
Similarly, Weston's suspicions not being aroused/blaring-ly confirmed about 5 muscular, non-discreet men standing around outside of his hotel during a high-profile case where the teams haven't been able to trust anyone is just poor planning. About as poor as having him be the only one with knowledge of Claire's location and thus needing a Fight Club-esque throw down. Again, a great scene, but the setup was so heavy-handed.
Lastly, making sure that Claire Matthews #4's school was having a topical Carnivale-style festival was convenient enough that I figured some intern remembered that the show was supposed to have a connection to Poe and they added it into the location scouting. Secondary to that, with so many murders and killing happening in the area, no students thought to question the only angry looking, non-mask wearing party goer?
Again, there is some great stuff built into the show, but I don't think the end result is going to outweigh the cost of looking past narrative flaws and the strong desire to shower after each episode, trying to wash some of the villainous and psychotic images way.
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