Episode 4: Mad Love
By: Carlos Uribe
The Following is a show about an FBI Agent who must track down and find a cult of serial killers.
The huge difference between the antagonists and the protagonists in this series is how they value life. The FBI agents all want to stop this cult of serial killers from killing again but it's taking a huge toll on Ryan. It makes sense that every death he could have stopped affects Ryan so much when his backstory is made clear. He's a character who has been surrounded by death for a large portion of his life. His parents and brother have all died. This caused Ryan to close himself off from the world as he's afraid of letting people in because he might lose them. It also means that Ryan values life more than the average person. When a random victim on this show dies, Ryan is more devastated by the other law enforcement agents for this reason. It could very well be stated that Ryan stands on an extreme where life is completely valuable and losing it could threaten to destabilize his mental state. It should be noted that this doesn't make Ryan a particularly complex character. His two personality traits is that he's obsessive about his work and he's a drunk. That's basically all there is to the character. This back story adds a bit of definition to why he cares so much about the work and why he might be a drunk but it's not enough to make him a three-dimensional character. If anything giving him this backstory actually makes him more simple as it suggests that all of his problems come from one thing. All it really does is put him on one extreme on how to view life. It's an extreme that is damaging his personal life but it shouldn't be all that defines who he is. It's a good thing this show got Kevin Bacon because he remains the only reason this character feel like an actual human being.
It is important that Ryan is on one extreme of this view because all of the antagonists are completely on the other extreme. Joe and his cult don't value life but death. They might not believe that they should die themselves but that other people are there to be killed. It's a radical philosophy that makes them dangerous opponents. Death isn't just what they do but it's what bases their entire characters. That's why it comes to a shock to the audience and Emma when she learns that Jacob hasn't actually killed anyone. The whole point of this cult is that they've all the same: killers. To find out that one of them is not a killer is a huge breach of their trust. This ties into Paul's action of bringing home that girl from the store. They have to kill her because they can't just hold her nor can they let her go. It makes sense logically why they have to do what they do but it's really a bad moral line. They give this task of ending her life to Jacob because they're hoping to rectify that he's never killed anyone before. Jacob is actually conflicted about this. It's one thing to want to be a killer but a completely different thing to be one. Jacob's decision to let this kidnapped character go ends up being in vain because she's quickly recaptured. It also leads to a scene where Emma and Paul kiss and then there's a huge suggestion that the three are going to have a threesome. This love triangle is possibly the most messed up one on television history now-and that's because it's based on death. That's not a bad thing but it's just executed too ridiculously to really take seriously.
One of the marketed promises of this show was that it was so edgy that it could fit in cable. The advertising might have had a point with the violence but this is ultimately a broadcast series. There is nothing that makes this more clear than how black and white everything is. Ryan values life to the extreme but the serial killers are just the opposite. The show might have made all of the characters be deeply flawed but none of them are actually morally ambiguous. There is no grey line and that's what makes a cables series so prestigious. There is no doubt that the Following is breaking some boundaries when it comes to ridiculousness but there's never any real part where the audience is made to ponder their own beliefs system. We know whose the bad guys and we know whose the good guys. If the Following was on a prestigious cable channel then the main character wouldn't have been Ryan but Joe. This is made evidently clear when Jacob allows the captured girl to escape. The show follows the girl's attempt to leave but it's disappointing when she was captured. We want her to live and we're only rooting for her. A cable show would have conflicted the audience more by actually asking us to root for the bad guys. It's possible that this is an attempt by the series to have that conflicting but it never works because the love triangle and the character actions are too over-the-top to really be able to win over the viewers to their side.
The Following is a dark show because of the content being explored but it's really making it clear that it's not the show the network promised. This isn't a gritty show that could belong on cable because it makes many of the same pitfalls that a broadcast show would. It might be more violent but there is no real moral grey in the show. The deep character flaws don't make us question how good they really are but their competency. It is a show that has many ridiculous elements and it's going to keep getting that way because it's how it was set up. Mad Love is an episode that is actually a surprising amount of fun-even if it lacks any tension in it's climax-but it's not a good one. The show's over-the-top plot twists, flat characters, and over-reliance on flashbacks is a sign that it's seeking to be a thrill ride without any intention of fixing what works. It's difficult to write about a show that has very little regard to character because it's too busy trying to find the next surprising plot twist. It's a fun ride but it's one that you can't take seriously.
It is my belief that one should give a show at least five episodes before giving up on it. I'm not going to stop watching the Following but I can announce that the next review will probably be the last one.