Warning: full episode spoilers ahead
The Following’s second episode, “Chapter Two,” is a lot about exposition. The show changes gears from last week in a sometimes powerful and occasionally lackluster shift of focus. Remember the questions we raised in our “Pilot” review? This episode makes exploring Carroll’s supporting crew its business. For the most part this is compelling but being mired in flashbacks takes precious time away from actually moving the plot forward. There is a notable crescendo and a final scene where our serial killer looks genuinely troubled, but the general sense is that the show’s story is widening rather more than advancing. It is clear that writer Kevin Williamson wants to keep us chomping at the bit in anticipation, but just like the first episode, several plot issues pull us from the experience and falter believability.
The show opens directly following last week’s cliffhanger ending, and we come to find that, as was probably foregone, cop-turned-killer, Jordy, has slaughtered a whole sorority house. We learn that babysitter Denise — whose real name is Emma — was a devoted fan of Carroll’s and was manipulated into falling in love with Jacob, one half of the now straight gay couple next door. All three play the role of cultist kidnappers, keeping Joey, Claire Matthews and Joe Carroll’s son, at a large ranch house. He, on the other hand, has yet to realize he’s been kidnapped. Paul seems less than happy with this scenario and is showing signs that he may have developed feelings for Jacob during their faux romp through love’s rose-lined corridors. Hardy and crew discover that Emma’s girlhood house has been turned into a meeting place for Carroll’s Poe Cult and, ever the lone ranger, Ryan Hardy is once again found alone by the bad guys. Thankfully, he lives and they discover the body of Emma’s mother hidden in the walls. Meanwhile, Jordy sneaks into Claire’s house and holds her hostage in the bedroom until Hardy returns and is forced to fire, injuring but not killing him. In another scene, Joe demands the Claire be brought to see him. When she does, the situation is quickly maneuvered into his control and we discover that, as most of us probably expected, she and Hardy had an affair — but only after the divorce was finalized, so it wasn’t really an affair after all.
A lot happens in this episode and that’s surprising because the plot doesn’t actually move very far. There are really three big events in this episode: Jordy killing the sorority girls, Jordy taking Claire hostage, and Carroll getting Claire to admit she slept with Hardy. These three events could be summed up in less than ten minutes of the show’s 40-minute run. What occupies the remainder, however, is certainly interesting and adds a lot of depth to the greater story. In episode one, we were left to wonder who the babysitter and neighbors truly were and how Carroll could have possibly manipulated them as such. “Chapter Two” focuses on Emma, how she fell in love with Carroll during lit class, and how she killed her mother the first time she brought her boyfriend, and modern day lover, home. It’s a bit disappointing that Mom was killed off so quickly. There was an interesting dynamic there; she was obviously a drunk, but more than that, seeing a mother so openly attempt to steal her daughter’s men was uncomfortably oppressive in just the right way. In those moments we could feel Emma’s pain, empathize with how terrible it must be living with such an un-motherly person.
The rest of the cast takes the backseat. The formerly gay couple we find little about. All signs point to Paul having fallen in love with Jacob, but that would mean he was either hiding his sexuality previously and didn’t let it sneak out during their years of “marriage” or that co-occupation somehow made him homosexual. Writer Kevin Williamson is also heavily telegraphing that Paul will be the weak link and probably try to kill Joey before Carroll’s plan calls for it. Jordy, too, isn’t well explored and is mainly employed as a tool to move the plot forward. The supporting FBI agents get the same treatment and are relegated to information provisioners and pretty faces.
“Chapter Two” does have a lot going for it. The exploration of the Poe-house was great and it calls back to Manson levels of fanaticism. The set direction here shone with passages and posters and haphazard paintings scrawled on the walls. The jump from several psychopaths to a full blown Carroll-cult was also an interesting twist. The question, however, is if they can conceivably wrap so many loose ends up before the end of the season, and my gut says no. Like the first episode, there are a lot of subtle elements that I really love. Carroll’s controlled volatility, what seems to be genuine love from Emma to Joey yet the ease with which she lies and manipulates him, and Jordy’s obviously slow-witted acceptance that, yes, he might just die, all stand out in my mind.
I wasn’t a fan of how the show brushes off issues that need better explaining or are simply unbelievable. The biggest of these is how Jordy could possibly have snuck into a house full of FBI agents. He had just killed a house full of college kids. That every one of those officers wouldn’t have known his face just doesn’t make sense and that “he hid under an air conditioning unit” does little to explain how he got upstairs and into the attic. It also ignores that air conditioning units are typically outside the house and mounted to the ground. Or, for example, how Hardy could have failed to notice that one of the Poe masks he looked at was attached to a man’s body when the rest were on a shelf. The man is supposed to be an FBI agent, let’s be real here. Also, is it normal for any kind of law enforcement to rush into a murderous situation unarmed and without a care to where his squadmates are?
Overall, “Chapter Two” was another enjoyable foray into the not-so-literary battle between Bacon and Purefoy. Though it may appear as if I’m ragging on the show, it is a fun watch. Just as in episode one, there were lots of examples of excellent acting and strong enough story beats to make up for the occasional ball drops. The show is still early, we must remember, so much of this can still be forgiven as footing finding. It would be a shame, however, if these issues didn’t clear up because, without exaggeration, The Following could be one of the best serials on network television. There are enough strong elements here to pull the show up and over its competition. Hopefully they push the acceptability problems right out by episode 3 next Monday.