Monday, April 1, 2013

'The Following' Thoughts & Theories: "Whips and Regret" Review...

Back before The Following premiered on FOX, I was able to sit down with its creator, Kevin Williamson, and talk about the show's themes and characters. At the time, I had only seen the first four episodes, so there was a lot I did not know, but I certainly had my theories, and he candidly answered them all. But what struck me the most was how, in doing so, he called the series a "soap opera" because of the love triangles at the center. At the time, he was talking about Carroll (James Purefoy), Hardy (Kevin Bacon), and Claire (Natalie Zea), as well as Paul (Adan Canto), Jacob (Nico Tortorella), and Emma (Valorie Curry), and he emphasized the importance of the love in all situations. As the first season has entered its middle third, the new chapter in Carroll and Hardy's second book, the show has begun to expand on that love further and much more explicitly. We have seen just how far Carroll's followers will go to win his love, sure, but we now are also seeing just how far Hardy falls at the loss of his love. Little by little, Hardy was becoming stronger, getting himself together, re-energized by Carroll. Or so it seemed. Because in "Whips and Regret," he backslid hard when Claire went with Roderick (Warren Kole) to find her son, seeming to imply that all along Hardy was only reinvigorated by the possibility of saving the damsel in distress, by being a white knight. I have to admit, that seems a bit reductive, and it pushes Carroll almost to the back burner for Hardy, just being the means to an end, equally implying that it could have been anyone threatening Claire, and Hardy's response would have been just as life-altering. They say love can heal all and blah blah blah, but I found it much more interesting when something nontraditional, like Carroll, was his savior.

Call me bitter. Go ahead, it's okay; I've recently embraced it after using the more loving term of endearment "jaded" for the better part of my teens and early 20s. I understand that love is powerful and can make people do crazy things. I actually really enjoy the nontraditional ways other characters within The Following have given into love and used it to help them find their purpose. Watching Carroll's face when Claire finally walked into the room was a pure expression of that. As much as he's probably wanted to hurt her over the years for not standing by him-- for not understanding him-- he can't deny the feelings that run deepest. It was a perfect mirror to when he first saw his son after escaping prison the second time. It was also why I questioned a bit whether or not he actually told Jacob he could hurt Claire if he had to.

(And can we just talk about this compound for a second: unless Claire and Joey are being locked in their rooms, why are they not exploring the grounds to figure out what's really going on, therefore easily able to actually reunite!?)

But what "Whips and Regret" made abundantly apparent was that while Hardy is truly working from love, in the quintessential "good guy" sense, Carroll may have been working from a point of domination instead, making him a bit more black and white as a mustache-twirling villain, and that was disappointing. It is the gray area that is fun; the ability to sympathize even with the deeply, deeply damaged and flawed. But "Whips and Regret" was written in a way that made you grasp at straws to see what you saw in Carroll initially and seemingly to also make you feel bad if you were rooting for him-- because it taunted you with the possibility that you might not actually know him. Or anyone, really.

The way Jacob has changed because of love-- specifically the drastic action he took causing the loss of it-- feels temporary. Certainly it's more exciting for the show if he has hardened and is now a more stoic, stiff, willing to push around whomever he has to man. It's the form his grief has taken. But underneath it, he's still the same sensitive guy who is so overcome with emotion he had to build a wall in the first place. We all know what snapped him into this behavior; I am wondering what will eventually snap him out of it. Emma is certainly trying, but she's in no position to succeed any time soon. It doesn't even seem likely that over time she'll be able to wear him down. But I was hoping maybe Molly (Jennifer Ferrin) could.

Molly is a character that really intrigues me. Her "angel of death" work as an RN closely mirrors Jacob's first kill, but more importantly, her cover status as a neighbor really mirrors his own initial one. I don't know why Hardy didn't learn something from that whole Sarah (Maggie Grace) debacle and distance himself from Molly the moment he found her in his apartment-- especially because he found her in his apartment! But anyway, I feel like pairing Molly and Jacob would have been both steamy and informative-- for the audience, and for Jacob to learn about himself. She didn't seem to discriminate her kills simply by which would mean showing the greatest mercy; she acted out of impulse and annoyance, too. But still. I'm not going to sit here and write my own fan fiction about how I could see their relationship playing out-- with him initially attracted to her own bluntness with how she goes about things but soon realizing that the ways he has recently tried to adapt aren't truly him-- but I see great potential-- much more so than just having her as a spy into Hardy's world for Carroll, or another way to get under his skin. Carroll's doing fine keeping tabs on him via the satellite phone. I don't believe people can change who they really are, but I believe they can adapt their behavior to fill the basic survival needs. I see that perfectly exemplified here in Jacob, and though I am often excited when shows I read so deeply into still manage to find ways to surprise me, this is one instance in which I hope to be proven 100% right. Because anything less would be to completely rewrite a character.

With the addition of Molly-- a woman who was so devoted to Carroll, she happily took detailed journals of her escapades and then just as eagerly turned them over to him (to which I hope he turned around and burned because evidence, man!)-- Roderick's dissent just seemed that much more apparent. The repetition of seeing the "recruiter" video at the beginning of the episode as Parker (Annie Parisse) showed it to Hardy for the first time shone a light on the creation more so than the images within. I highly doubt Carroll would want to find people by reaching out to the depraved; that is a recipe ripe for disaster. But Roderick? Someone who was desperate to please Carroll by bringing him a ton of followers without the know-how to actually, organically find them? He probably had no time putting a more exclusive CraigsList type ad on the internet and weeding through the submissions. Sure, there would be some crazies, some phonies, and some who didn't take it seriously, but numbers should be in his favor this way, right? It just seemed like something an assistant, tasked with something a little over his head and hoping above all hope to earn praise, would do.

"Breaking them" and "conditioning" and "deprivation" are not words I would ever imagine Carroll using when talking about his "family." He seduces them; he doesn't raise hands to them. Deprivation doesn't inspire love but domination; it's a cheap trick used to exert power by stripping someone of basic human needs. But Roderick's militia minion threw the terms out so casually, so freely, I saw a division of this story immediately. Suddenly I felt like I was watching parallel stories running side by side, like express trains rushing fast through tunnels, while the FBI rushed blindly to the wrong platform to try to catch up. Carroll has been focused on bringing his family back together, getting them to love him again the way that his followers love him. But off on the side, it appears some more rogue members of his organization have seized opportunity and a little power for themselves and are planning something much more terrorist-level threatening. It's kind of a perfect crime, really; if you get caught, everyone's calling you a cult member, so there's an innate level of "it's not your fault; you've been brainwashed" sympathy that comes with that. As does reduced sentencing. Even if they don't give up Carroll, everyone sees Carroll as the head of this cult and will want him to feel full wrath of punishment-- of justice.

For these reasons, I'll be honest and say I wasn't loving the first chunk of "Whips and Regret"-- the detour into the fetish club spent too much time with characters I didn't know, care about, or want to. The discovery at the deprivation bunker, or whatever you want to call it, introduced savages that seemed to have no place in such a usually psychologically complex drama. And I was feeling a bit personally defeated that so much of what I thought I saw in the show, this episode was trying to tell me was just my own projection-- wishful thinking, justification.  

When Carroll brought Roderick into his "office" and spoke openly of the "camp." It wasn't Carroll who lost control of his people; it was Roderick after all. And in doing so, Roderick was stripped of his power and probably set up to be the patsy should the FBI think there are parallel tracks, too. The romantic in me didn't want to admit that Carroll played me, too-- that the show played its audience-- by only showing the seduction and the unity thus far. With one icy line and a silent moment that followed it when Carroll warned Roderick he would not let him ruin things for him, I began to think that even I underestimated Carroll.

While my instinct was to fight for Carroll and say that deprivation camp was a red herring-- even one he created to throw some of his followers under the bus if he had to-- I still didn't want to believe that they really were just his tactics because they seemed so barbaric and yet pedestrian at the same time. And everything the show has told us about him makes him a smarter, better man than that, and you already know my feelings on true character versus situational behavior. Anyone can "break" people into following them, army-style, but it is truly an impressive feat to simply do it by seduction. Strangers and former family alike. There are levels to conditioning, and this was the basest, the most savage. When and why did Carroll implement this particular tactic? Did he really feel the need for an ego-boosting army, or did he just want to take some of his followers down a side project for which he could blame them? And just how many of his followers are we supposed to believe were made in that deprivation bunker? Somehow it strips a lot of the specialness out of the story if people like Emma were. Although, it would certainly explain Jacob's recent behavior a bit better. Maybe he got sent there in between his time with Paul and his time arriving at the compound...

The questions I'm asking may be nit-picky to some, but these are the kind of detailed notes I can only hope the FBI has, too. Each follower is special and unique, even though they are a part of a mass. Each has a different M.O. and a different responsibility within the hierarchy, and each is fluid, as they earn (or crap on) Carroll's trust. I admit, before this episode I was pretty confident myself on believing I knew where everything stood within that, and this episode certainly knocked me off my pedestal and told me not to get cocky. The only ego that can stand here is Carroll's. He's the only one who sees what he wants the bigger picture to be-- with a number of ways to get there, apparently. But I'm still pretty confident that he won't let Molly be the one to kill Hardy in the end. He has worked too hard for his plan to come together, and if it's truly a part of his plan to have Hardy die at some point, then he has to be the one to do it. Even if it means setting things up so she's more expendable than she appears.

With Hardy so focused on not having any more random, innocent women's blood on his hands, is he be able to step back and put some of those pieces together, though? I have this image of his notes on these cases putting all the pieces on paper but not drawing the lines and connection between them. Still not yet anyway.

So now I have this crazy theory that while we've been so narrowly focused on just finding Joey, and now finding Claire, and getting Carroll back behind bars, this militia thing has been part of the bigger plan to keep Carroll and Hardy in each others' lives longer-term. Because there is no show if they're not in each others' lives, but the search for Carroll won't be all that interesting if spread over two seasons. But what if Hardy ends up needing Carroll's help to get to the bottom of the militia thing, and they actually have to work alongside each other a bit?

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