Monday, April 8, 2013

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

I'm just going to say it: after tonight's really poorly planned escape attempt by Claire (Natalie Zea) on FOX's The Following the only way out for her character is death. And I really think she's going to have to die by the end of the season-- maybe by accident-- but definitely by Roderick's (Warren Kole) hand. It will be cause for more contention within Carroll's (James Purefoy) compound, but it's also just the only thing that makes sense. She's not thinking clearly; she's not making good choices; and there can be only so much room for that allowed. At a certain point, these followers have to take action to be taken seriously.

In some respects, the same could be said for Hardy himself (Kevin Bacon). No one shoots him because they all know Carroll has a bigger plan for him. But it's beginning to look like the biggest plan doesn't concern him at all. So at some point, loose ends need to be tied up. Of course, in the case of Hardy, you really can't have a fully functioning Carroll without him-- without the toy he paws at and dangles over danger's edge. But the loss of Claire-- the shared woman, the love of both of their lives? That would explode the tipping point and release a number of possibilities in both their aggressions.

The thing is, Claire doesn't have any moves. She is thinking impulsively, in the moment, purely out of preservation but not truly survival instincts. She's using her kid as an accomplice in ill-fated, half-cocked ideas. She can't see all the angles. I wouldn't expect any of Carroll's followers to be able to see all the angles, either, but that's why he has so many of them: someone to cover every base, every possibility. She can't even come up with a diversion when she tries to escape, or a decent lie, so she gets an ankle monitor to keep her from doing it again. Carroll said it was because trust had to be earned, and that showed a glimpse into the more ruthless side we met last week with the deprivation bunker, but what's next when it's one's wife? Could he really put her in a cage and shock her when she does something "bad?" I said it last week, and I'll say it again: that is not earning her love, and for someone who thinks so highly of himself, it seems like a great disrespect to try to break her down, rather than simply seduce her back to him.

Anyway, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) was back this week-- back on-screen and back to work with the FBI-- in "The Curse," and I admit that at first I thought it was too soon. He was beaten within an inch of his life just a few episodes (read: days) ago, and the department shouldn't clear him for active duty, even if he claims he's fine. He has to go through psych evaluations and physical follow-ups to make sure he's fit to serve. But suspending that disbelief, as you are taught to do with any crime procedural and again have to here, I was glad to have him back because he confirmed everything I hypothesized last week about Roderick recruiting for Carroll because the deprivation bunker and army style wasn't Carroll's M.O. 

What proved that further was how Carroll clearly admitted that Hardy was the hero of his story, and therefore this one. If he had called Hardy yet again without the audience seeing his struggles at the computer first, it would have seemed like he was just taunting Hardy for kicks. But we know it was something deeper, something more serious, something Carroll really needed to help with his plans. It was insanely intriguing to watch him struggle with writing that portion of this story-- suddenly this so well put together man was slipping. Despite his use of the term "novel" to describe it, he was still basing everything on the very real events playing out around them, and being that he was not in Hardy's shoes or mind, he couldn't grasp the drive behind his behavior. That, to me, said the most about Carroll that this show ever has and maybe ever will. Carroll has manipulated events to cause the actions he wants to write about. At times, the narrative has had to be tweaked because he couldn't perfectly predict Hardy's responses, and that just goes to show that you can't truly understand someone else even if you walk in their shoes. Carroll and Hardy are completely different, coming from opposite sides of this story. They will intersect, at times they will seem to run parallel courses, but until-- unless-- they can put themselves in each others' POVs, they will never align. And therefore they will never catch each other. 

Of course, Mike having a chip on his shoulder about being previously captured and now out for his own blood (and revenge) didn't help matters when going after this mysterious militia. He was reckless, proving that he really wasn't mentally fit to be back on the job (and therefore should be not long for the world of this show). As anyone who actually watches Revenge knows, that story has a shelf-life. 

It was hard to watch him fly off the rails-- not really because of my deep love for him or anything but because both Hardy and Parker (Annie Parisse) seemed to be so baffled as to why he was behaving so strangely. Seriously? Didn't they have PTSD training in the F.B.freakin'.I.!? Better yet, hasn't Hardy been through things like this personally? It was harder to watch Carroll step out into the open and hold him hostage-- again, not because we just want him to be okay but because again it was a repetition of "he can't kill you; he needs you to get out alive" and yada yada yada. That gets old. Remember in Scream when Sidney yelled that she had heard "all this shit" about motives and reasons and murder before? That's how I began to feel tonight. No matter how much you may be personally invested in a character, the tension is cut severely when you know that a show just won't-- can't-- kill them. The Following started the season so strong by keeping the story so fluid anyone could go at any time, but I'm beginning to feel like they shot their wad too soon by killing off Billy Brown and Adan Canto. The show hasn't had the balls to actually take out Weston or even Parker, and that would be fine, if the show wasn't dangling the potential of taking them out in front of us. All of the talk around potentially stabbing Parker or snapping Mike's neck just meant that rather than get blindsided by an emotional death we shouldn't see coming, if and when it finally happened, we-- or at least I would just yell "Finally!" at the screen.

Although, I do find it quite telling that Carroll chose to torture Mike again-- and claim he didn't know Parker was there, too. That seemed awfully convenient. Especially since only he (and the audience) know that she brought him a book in prison. A book that, it bears repeating, could have anything slipped in it-- coded messages, or even a physical item. Instead, she was left with Jacob (Nico Tortorella), who postured about stabbing her if she kept talking-- mostly because she brought up Paul (Canto) and that was another punch to an already still throbbing wound.

Now, although "all the talk" around Mike-- and the completely out of left field mention of Hardy's father's death and then Jacob's father's less than picture perfect existence-- bugged me a bit (You are grown men! It is ridiculous that you're still stuck on daddy issues, and it is even worse that is if that is what your deal is, this is the first the show is touching upon it), I was able to forget about it and get lost in the moments that it was just about Carroll and Hardy. I was even able to overlook the unnecessary exposition that Carroll spewed at Hardy, though I didn't buy for one second that Carroll was just now putting their similarities together (though it seemed entirely possible Hardy hadn't connected the dots so explicitly-- simply because he didn't want to consider the possibilities). It's a courtesy I'll allow because of the beauty of the interaction, but it's a courtesy I'll only extend once.

Mike was a means to get Hardy to pay attention, but the minute that pretense could be dropped away was when they both came alive and seemed to grow. It's truly stunning to watch Purefoy and Bacon just bounce off each other, and it's good that the scenes in which they get to do so are so rare-- not just for the realism of the situation but also because it makes the ones we do get that much more special. I don't believe Carroll can truly understand Hardy, just by Hardy telling him a story. Again, he hasn't walked in his shoes, and anyone who is truly driven by death (as Carroll so clearly is) has a different brain chemistry that just complicates empathy and understanding on the most basic, primitive level. And that's ignoring the bias in the storytelling-- the details one leaves out or rewrites based on assumptions of what the particular audience wants to hear. Hardy left out the biggest part: the part that would have broken Carroll's writer's block and given him a true best seller. Hardy didn't share with anyone that he took a life, too, outside the line of duty, whether intentionally or not. Granted, his action back when he tracked down the druggie who shot his father in a convenience store didn't actually make him more like Carroll because he has spent his life since trying to right the wrong by being the good guy. It didn't unlock some secret desire to keep taking lives, in the name of justice or otherwise. But it still would have helped with Carroll's perspective. Right now, he is writing something foreign to him, and that is most likely why his writing is so bad and why he's so stuck: they say you should write what you know, and what Carroll knows is death from the inside out. Personally I don't know why he wouldn't want to tell that story himself anyway. He clearly wasn't happy when Hardy tried to tell his story for him-- and I'd argue the same thing: that because Hardy can't truly put himself in the mind of a killer like Carroll, his book wasn't as successful, regardless of copies sold, as it could have been. Read any true crime book written by a profiler; the language is dry, and though the motives are there, carefully laid out, it's done so academically, with a lot of room for clinical terms but no understanding. Carroll should be writing his own story; then his passion would leap off the page.

So what was much more interesting about "The Curse" was the compound side of things, as Claire had to adjust to life on the inside and actually got enough honesty out of Roderick that it should have inspired compassion. Even if she (obviously) didn't agree with the methods, there was something sweet and simple about his desire to just have a place to belong, where he didn't have to feel "ashamed." Yes, in his case it was shame over "basic human desires" to kill, but you could insert a lot of other things into that and the message would be the same. 

Roderick's openness with Claire, combined with his recent missteps with Carroll's plan, his disdain for Carroll's recent backseat approach, and the fact that he seems to have recruited flippantly-- including actual psychos with dabblers, first timers, dumbasses who slip and admit there's a "house" of followers, and groupies-- though is a recipe for disaster overall. When it comes to his longevity, it seems like he is a lobster in a pot, and soon the water will boil, and Carroll will have him cooked. I have to wonder if he'll fight it. When I first met him on-screen, he seemed to be high on his own small power, reluctant to just turn it over now that Carroll had returned. But he spoke to Claire with humility about not wanting to consider himself a number two. Was that just to keep him a bit cleaner in her mind in case she did get out and get them all arrested? I doubt that. He's confident enough not to think she would escape and still cocky enough not to think others wouldn't sacrifice themselves for him first. But if it's true that in "Carrollism," martyring one's self is the highest form of devotion, then wouldn't a little part of him be okay with dying, if it meant Carroll gaining further?

Roderick is fast replacing Emma as my most personally interesting follower. And that was before he and the FBI crossed paths to check out his little town of Havenport to see if Carroll and his people were in the area-- because you know that can't go well. Mike should be able to ID him pretty quickly...right!?

And speaking of Emma-- poor, poor Emma. She's going to have to become a casualty of this show, too, if they don't give her something new to do and fast. It's been an adjustment, to say the least, for her to find a place within the compound. If I hadn't seen so much good stuff of her backstory early on in the season, I would have assumed her comment to Claire in "The Curse" about first feeling at home when working for her would have implied she wanted to fit into the family as Carroll's daughter. But clearly that's not true and oh so icky to even think about. And with Claire so unwilling to even talk to her, and Joey (Kyle Catlett) sticking loyally by his mother's side, and Jacob off being damaged, where does that leave Emma? Off on the sidelines, an outcast, and somewhat unloved yet again. She was the brains of the family when it was her, Jacob, and Paul, but now? Now she doesn't fit, let alone have an important place. Carroll uses her when he sees fit, but only when things aren't going well for him in other areas, like with his wife. She's a distant second, if that high up at all, choice, and that's not how you should feel in a family. That's the opposite of what being a part of Carroll's world is supposed to feel like.

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