Monday, March 25, 2013

'The Following' Thoughts & Theories: "Guilt" Review...

After watching Jacob (Nico Tortorella) take his first life in last week's episode of FOX's The Following, all we wanted was for him to shame spiral out of guilt. Fitting that that's tonight's episode title, right? Killing Paul (Adan Canto) may have been a mercy killing and exactly what Paul wanted, given his dire situation, but that doesn't mean Jacob feels good about it-- especially with Paul's last words being "I love you" instead of "Thank you." We've seen Jacob struggling with tapping into an inner darkness for so long that we really should have no reason to believe that inner darkness is as black as it needs to be for murder. He's just not that guy, and that's been fine thus far, even for Joe (James Purefoy), but suddenly, faced with betrayal and his own heinous actions, it may not be enough for Jacob anymore.

I feel a little cheated that we didn't get to see the initial (what I assume to be) argument between Jacob and Emma (Valorie Curry) as Roderick (Warren Kole) brought them back together. I can't imagine Emma just bolted from the room, nor can I imagine Jacob was so exhausted from grief and travel that he collapsed into sleep instantaneously. Yet when "Guilt" started, there he was, in bed at the compound, after a night of who knows what. I want to know what! There was so much for them to say to each other, and Roderick seemed to take so much delicious pleasure in his surprise, that letting any time pass without the airing of grievances felt bizarre.

Clearly Jacob didn't get any kind of closure, though, because his dreams were filled with confusing images of Paul in which he seemed to really believe his friend was truly alive, mixed with a dead Emma. You can make the argument that his subconscious, in his dream state, was showing him what he wanted and therefore what he would have to do-- to Emma, for Paul-- but I think if that were true he wouldn't have woken up screaming at seeing her bloodied body on the shower floor. The truth is, after you lose a loved one in a horrific way, you often dream that they are still alive, but if there's someone you think is responsible for them not being so, you would wake up wanting to enact revenge. I don't want to put too much of myself in this story, but after my mother passed away, from a long, drawn out bout with cancer, I would have the most vivid dreams that she was still alive, sometimes still sick, sometimes actually getting better, and I would awake sweating, thinking that was real. There was no one to get revenge on but myself, for not mercy killing her to end the suffering sooner. Guilt messes with your head. Here, Jacob seemed more scared by losing someone else he loved than by any darkness creeping into his subconscious.

I said when we first met Roderick that it was only a matter of time before he began pushing back against Carroll and trying to do things more and more his way. I think bringing Jacob to the compound when and the way he did was a small instance of that but small enough that Carroll didn't concern himself with it. With Claire (Natalie Zea) still out there, he had bigger things to worry about, after all. But Roderick saying no to being chosen to be part of a mission sure was worrisome for Carroll, and I hope he was rethinking Roderick's motives for his commitment, not just the acts themselves. We still don't know how or why or even when Carroll decided to let Roderick in on his co-ed killings back in the day, but clearly Roderick has gotten something for himself out of his time with Carroll in a way that none of the other followers care to. For the majority of those at the compound and beyond, Emma especially, it's all about feeling a part of something bigger and proving worthy of Carroll's love and affection and own devotion as you prove yours for him. But Roderick received something very selfish years earlier when Carroll took the fall for two of his murders. Carroll certainly seems to have considered Roderick like a son, but it's time he cut his losses, realize the loose cannon his oldest may be, and focus ahead on little Joey.

Little Joey who is so bonded with Jacob he sprinted towards him when he saw him, seemingly forgetting all about the time in the farmhouse. Maybe drugged hot cocoa wipes your memory while you sleep. I suspect it's more about denial, though. Joey is in a strange place with really strange people, and Jacob is somewhat familiar and that's comforting. He'll latch onto what he can get. In a way, Jacob did the same thing. He was avoiding having to deal with Emma, so he threw his time and energy into Joey. It wasn't healthy; he couldn't fully process everything, let alone move forward, but it was also an evolution for him. He has been such a sensitive character, but this alone showed a little bit of a hardened shell (or to borrow from Once Upon A Time, a black spot on his heart) caused by recent events. Of course, it couldn't go on like this for too long. In real life a person like Jacob may have ignored and avoided for weeks, and that isn't healthy. Carroll knew that. And of course Carroll's brilliance, couple with TV time, meant Jacob and Emma had to have it out by episode's end. For that, I was waiting with baited breath.

Especially once Jacob's thoughts of Paul made him the devil on his shoulder. The thing is, we can't control what we dream, but we absolutely mold the thoughts we have when we're awake. Whether Jacob was remembering a time when Paul told him Emma was a bitch or whether he was having his own new, recent thoughts come out of an image of Paul to help himself adjust to them almost doesn't matter. It's what he chooses to do with the thoughts, especially when they come into direct conflict with each other, that does.

I didn't love that Jacob only went to talk to her because Carroll told him, too. That made him more of a sheep, the zombie-like cult follower that this show has never really depicted. But with the grief he inevitably feels over Paul, that feels oddly accurate. He's going through some motions. He doesn't have a mission now; he lost the two people he cared most about; he kind of was a zombie. But facing Emma snapped him right out of it. Did Carroll know just how much he needed to be woken up? Maybe. Or maybe he just didn't want any tension in his house of happy serial killers. 

Emma was practically pleading with Jacob when she told him she loved him, and that broke my heart as much as it did his. It certainly confused things worse for him, conflicted him worse, but it was necessary. He can't deny that he has deep feelings for her, too, but the fact that he told her he would never make the decision she did just goes to show how different they actually are in design. Thoughts of revenge may continue to pop into his head, but I don't believe he'll actually act on them. In fact, killing Paul that second time, in his mind, seemed to be his way of silencing a lot of the uncomfortable thoughts. I'm sure they'll just beget new uncomfortable thoughts and inner turmoil, but still, that stabbing should have signified another important decision-- another important choice for Jacob to make. Just as he has thought about killing years before but was never been able to pull the trigger, these will be fantasies he can't quite carry out. He's lost, and he's posturing, and he probably wants to believe that switch has been flipped to get justice for Paul, but that doesn't change who he is at his core. And honestly, I can't believe no one-- not Emma, not Carroll (though he's kind of wrapped up in awaiting his wife and constantly taunting Hardy with the obvious)-- has pointed out that his killing Paul was its own sense of justice. He literally put the guy out of his misery; he did not fail him.

It should have been just as necessary for Joey to ask his father the questions he was asking Emma-- about the people at the house but also who his father was. Now, I'm not trying to directly compare the two. I don't believe Emma was manipulating Jacob, though Carroll coaxing his son to teach him to make s'mores certainly was a bit of that. Joey was still adjusting and needed to feel more comfortable, though usually engaging a kid in a consuming task keeps them busy so you can ask them questions without them thinking too hard about the answers and therefore just being honest. If Joey had done it to his father, to find out if he was really a serial killer and why his mother wasn't there, he would have been a genius, and I would be saying that he is more like his father than I could have imagined. But instead, we got a simple, small scene in which the important stuff this time actually didn't get said. Probably because he's just a kid. But how Carroll chooses to respond to such questions-- whether he lies to his son or treats him like an equal-- says just as much about his character as all the killing does. I still think it's necessary to show that to the audience.

I have to admit I was also holding my breath waiting for the moment that Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Claire were reunited, though I want to smack the Marshall upside the head for not really checking to ensure it was Hardy and Hardy alone at the door-- or for not using a code word for Claire. With all that has gone on, you'd think that he'd take every possible precaution, but you know, big gun, big stick mentality makes you cocky. If I were Claire, I wouldn't feel too safe in his care. And that's not just because he looks skeevier than any of Carroll's followers. 

Claire spoke for the audience in many cases tonight by asking aloud how it has been possible that a compound of serial killers has gone unfound. But when you think about it, you don't have to be a college graduate to be a cop. In some jurisdictions, you actually only need an eighth grade education. Yet, many of these criminals, ex armed forces and trained with special weapons or not, have extremely high IQs. They also have the benefit of not having to follow laws to track people down. These days all you need is to be a scholar of crime shows, and you'll be a couple of steps ahead of your local cops. Sure, the rules are different with the FBI, but the FBI works off of tips and often leads from the local precincts so... it's a vicious cycle that tonight ended up in a confrontation in the hotel parking lot that once again proved just how powerless the low-level followers actually are but also finally allowed Claire to fight back.

Also, I'm just really glad Hardy didn't actually take Claire to Brooklyn. It proved how smart he was thinking by not falling onto obvious behaviors or patterns, but it also introduced us to someone from Hardy's past who knew more about him-- more about the way the world works-- than I expected. Thus far, Hardy has been smart, but he has always been behind Carroll. His guy Tyson (David Zayas), at least in flashbacks, seemed to know so much more than Hardy explicitly told him-- to the point where I was convinced "Molly" was just a code name for Claire-- that Hardy told him about the relationship without telling him everything, so as to protect her-- and probably him, too, a bit. When the show actually flashed back to show a flesh and blood woman there, though-- one that Tyson seemed to be getting a little territorial with, I might add-- things complicated. He no longer seemed the intuitive best friend but instead a suspicious studier. It seemed imminent that he would end up hurting Hardy, most likely by betrayal, but possibly also by untimely death. What can I say? I don't trust new people on this show, and neither should anyone else. Obviously.

On that note, everyone assumes that at the end of the first season we'll learn someone on the FBI side has been a follower all along. I don't think a show this twisty (and twisted) would be so easily reductive, but if we're going to learn someone isn't who they say in the next few episodes, my money is on Nick (Mike Colter). The hack into the database seemed a bit convenient, but also, he's just the only important one we don't already know really well. Or at all, really.

Anyway, if The Following was a one-off horror movie, the shoot-out at the cabin would have gone very differently. Molly would have just be an inconsequential, ending-in-heartbreak story from the past. But it isn't, and she wasn't, though I have to admit I was much more hoping Tyson would have been the one to secretly show up at the compound, having been wearing a vest or something during the shootout. Another woman in Carroll's life is just bound to complicate things when Claire eventually gets there. Because Claire isn't your typical young, single girl being stalked by a psycho, either. She has something greater at stake than her own life, and call her crazy or naive, she's willing to risk it all to get in a car with a masked stranger who has proven he has no qualms about killing just for the chance to see her son and make sure he's all right. She might even think, after the adrenaline rush of the past few hours, she might be able to escape with Joey. But somehow I doubt such emancipation is on her mind right now. Preservation is first.

There has been a lot written on other websites, in other reviews, about The Following's integration of Edgar Allan Poe and how true serial killers don't copy others' works-- be it real murders or ones in art. I find that to be inherently true, but I don't see that as a flaw within The Following because I don't believe the show is making a statement that Carroll is modeling anything after Poe. Sure, he was inspired by him in his writing, and absolutely his followers have taken that a bit farther. But his followers have misunderstood some of the writing, and that the show is letting that hang out there is what is so fascinating. Charlie especially seemed desperate to make personal connections and draw lines between Carroll and Poe and specifically The Raven. I don't claim to be a Poe scholar, but The Raven is about mourning, and to a different extent, a deep belief in love and spirituality in its own way. The latter is certainly what Charlie was getting from his time as part of Carroll's "cult," wasn't it? He may have put more importance on the poem than most, tying it directly to images of murder, but with any work of art, we project much of what we want and need to see in the piece onto it, independently of what the artist intended. Any critic, myself especially included, would be in denial if he or she didn't admit he or she does the same thing when reviewing a show-- any show-- from any angle that isn't purely technical. All I would hope is that people would be inspired to pick up Poe after watching The Following and judge for themselves what all the fuss is about. 

PS where is this secret website in which I should enter my name and email and someone from Carroll's following will get back to me? Because I want to. But that's probably a given by now.

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