Episode 3: The Poet's Fire
By: Carlos Uribe
The Following is a show about an FBI Agent who must track down and find a cult of serial killers.
So this is going to be that kind of show. There are certain television series out there that deal with spies. The idea behind those shows is that anybody could be a spy so you have to watch out. This can lead to effective plot twists where a civilian is revealed to have been a spy. There are spy dramas that can pull this off because they know it's best used sparingly but there are others where they confused “anybody can be a spy” with “everybody is a spy”. There is a huge difference between the two. The latter Jacob use the plot twist that a civilian is a spy so much that it should just be assumed by the viewer that anybody who has a line is somehow involved. It's ridiculous but it's also particularly weak writing. The former show is the one that's able to show restraint but in doing so creates a more realistic world where the plot twist not only works but the tension that anybody can be a spy actually works. So why bring this up? After all, The Following is a show about a cult of serial killers and it has nothing to do with spies. The problem with the Following is that it's starting to become increasingly apparent that the writers have confused “anybody could be in this cult” with “everybody is in this cult”. It's simplification but there's basically four types of characters on this show: the cops, the serial killers, the victims, and Claire. It's starting to become increasingly obvious that if somebody is introduced then they're going to turn out be involved somehow. That's not strong writing as it makes this show predictable. It's not just predictable but it's weak writing in that it weakens the tension. We're not going to be wondering if a person is a serial killer but rather when the characters are going to figure it out. This is a dangerous path for the Following to follow but it makes sense. For a show that values shock over quality, it makes sense that it wouldn't want to set up even a semblance of a real world. That would involve too much work into scenes where people aren't getting stabbed. If you need any proof, just look at Maggie.
Who is Maggie? The previous episode had ended with the guy in the Poe mask setting a person on fire. This episode goes a little deeper into this action as it reveals that the victim was a critic who didn't write a positive review for Carroll's book. Carroll single-handedly seems to blame this critic for the book's poor reception. The police are able to figure out that he's Rick. Rick is a character who has always been more comfortable with fire than with stabbing people. His wife is Maggie. She claims to have been separated from him because he kept trying to kill her. There was a time where he had even stabbed her. This led to a police report that seems to validate that theory. So it looks like Maggie is an innocent bystander, right? Wrong! She is a serial killer as well because then the show wouldn't have it's twist. The stabbing didn't come from a domestic abuse, as the flashback led people to believe, but because it was Rick practicing. He had accidentally stabbed her a little too deeply so she had to go to the hospital. Now you'd think that this hospital visit would have led to at least Rick getting his fingerprints in the system but you would think wrong. The FBI aren't able to identify Rick's or Maggie's fingerprints at the beginning of the episode at the safe house they were in. It's a twist that caught me off-guard and it made for a cool moment but it's not a good one in the long-term. This is because I now have the impression that everybody I'm going to meet is either going to have a badge, die, or being a serial killer. That's not a good impression to have simply because it makes the Following too predictable.
The investigation does get them closer to finding out where Joey is because they're able to figure out that Ryan used his credit cards to purchase toys. The same toys that Claire is able to identify as being Joey's favorites. The suggestion is that if they're able to find Rick then they'll be able to get the location. This is confirmed by Jordy. Parker is able to trick a question out of him by telling him a lie. Jordy reveals that Maggie (hence the twist) was the one who planned the abduction with Emma. When Jordy realizes he had betrayed Joe based on a lie, he kills himself. It's slow-going but it doesn't seem like the series is in any actual rush to rescue the little kid. This does lead into the episode's cliff-hanger where Claire and Ryan get an e-mail where they are training the little kid into being a serial killer when they force him to kill animals. I'm not sure their plan is actually going to work. Do serial killers like to kill animals when they're kids? Yes-but not because they're being told to by adults but because they have a desire to kill. On the other hand, kids are extremely impressionable at that age so who knows? Maybe they have a chance of him becoming one of them.
Which me brings me to discuss a large part of the episode where the show seems insistent on delivering a love triangle between three serial killers. In the middle is Jacob. Jacob's in love with Emma but he's had a long relationship with Paul. It's been sort-of obvious that something happened between the two guys. They might have been pretending to be gay for a couple of years but there came a point where they became bisexuals when the two actually consummated their fake relationship. I guess this is supposed to be edgy for being a bisexual love triangle AND a serial killer love triangle at the same time but it mostly feels like it's added to make the plot at the house interesting. It isn't succeeding as it's more ridiculous than anything else. I personally would be more interested to see their attempts to turn little Joey from a normal human being into one of them. It could be a way for the show to make a comment on nature vs. nurture in a way that had stakes for the character: his soul. Alas, the show decides to portray their conflict amongst each other. Oh, and Paul's decision to kidnap Megan so he can stop being a third wheel makes no logical sense in any form and feels like it was added on to make things more complicated rather than an actual character move. Heck, at this stage I wouldn't be surprised if Megan decides to join them. That would be surprising despite making no sense with characters-right up this show's alley!
The Poet's Fire is an episode that has a lot of plot but I'm finding my interest in it quickly slipping. The quality for the show dipped significantly this episode and I find myself actually bored through the love triangle scenes. There are moments that were good but there was simply too many mediocre or outright bad parts that overshadowed these signs of hope. The show is going to need to step up it's development of characters and make sure not to overplay the “this person is a serial killer” twist if it wants me to remain onboard.