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Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: The Following, "Mad Love"

Season 1, Episode 4

Potential Spoilers

Kevin Williamson reminds us of his days writing slasher films with a very tense episode of The Following.  If nothing else, this episode should be praised for getting me to yell at my TV.

In this week's episode, Paul reveals a secret to Emma about Jacob that could jeopardize the group as a whole.  Meanwhile, Hardy has to briefly abandon his duties with the FBI when his sister Jenny is abducted by Maggie.

Man, it must be really rough working out the complex plot of a serial killer.  As this episode began, it seemed that the group dynamic of Paul, Emma, and Jacob was to such a breaking point that one wondered how they could even continue to work together.  This had me worried quite a bit knowing that, only four episodes in, we still have 11 episodes left before the end of the first season.  While I am enjoying Hardy's storyline for the show, it is the inner-workings of the Joe Carroll cult that really intrigue me.  None of these people seem to be stable, and, as we learned by the end of this episode, we have no idea which people will even survive to next week.

These moments with the group in the farm house were some of the stronger aspects of the episode.  Jacob's secret makes for an interesting story-telling point that serves a double purpose.  First of all, it makes one wonder when Jacob will finally be able to cross the line he has only flirted with, and who will cause it.  Secondly, I felt that we got a real taste for what the unspoken rules of this group really are.  One wants to hope that Jacob is genuinely a good person, but we have to remember that this guy has been doing the bidding of a serial killer for at least 4 years.  The look on his face when he saw that his plan to release Megan (the hostage taken by Paul at the end of the previous episode) had failed was a very revealing moment about both his character and the group itself.  At some point in this season, Jacob will have to officially pay his dues to be a true follower of Carroll.

In terms of Hardy's story, it made for a lot of great tension, but I felt like we did not get too much character development in the action of the present in this episode.  The Following has leaned on the use of flashbacks quite a bit over the past four episodes to not only establish back story, but begin to develop character.  While we certainly got some good info about Hardy's relationship with Jenny and why he feels he cannot be with Claire romantically, I do not feel like the episode really did much to develop these ideas.  If anything, we learned that Hardy has not changed his views since breaking up with Claire 8 years previously.

Perhaps the strongest moments of this entire episode were the times where the tension was at its highest.  I mentioned that we saw some of Kevin Williamson's roots in the Scream franchise.  This is very clear during the sequence where Megan is being chased by Paul and Emma across the farm.  Sure, I have seen a lot of horror movies in my day, but it really speaks a lot to the writing of this show in that I could still tense up during a scenario I have seen played out dozens of times.  The tension rose well during the scenes where Maggie tortured Hardy as well.  At first in this show the heart beat sound effect seemed mostly to re-iterate the point that this show dealt with some themes from Edgar Allan Poe.  As Poe was not even mentioned in this week's episode, it became clear that the sound of Hardy's heartbeat now can be used to make one genuinely fear for his life.

While the tension and the stakes were raised very effectively in this episode, the entire thing comes to a very odd conclusion.  There are certainly some issues within the following that have to be dealt with, but, if anything, we got a clearer picture of just how off-beat Emma, Paul, and Jacob really are.  

Perhaps my biggest issue with this episode was that I felt like there were not a lot of immediate impacts of the story developments within the episode itself.  Much of the character development we got felt like set up for things which could happen as soon as next week or as far away as the season finale.  Taking the time to properly set things up is not necessarily a bad thing if the pay-off is satisfying.  Unfortunately, this means only time will tell if this entire episode was really worth anyone's time.  For now, however, I was able to enjoy "Mad Love" for what it was.

Rating: A-

Verdict:  While this episode of The Following does not drive the story as much as previous episodes, there is a lot of set-up done which could potentially pay off in a big way later down the road.  Not to mention, the moments of tension were written and acted very strongly.
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