By Henning Fog, Hollywood Staff
''Umm, Joe?'' I call out meekly. His office is so cavernous my voice actually echoes, which is cool. ''Yes, yes, please come in.'' God, that dulcimer tone. Panty-dropper! Joe has already made his way to the liquor cabinet. ''Brandy?'' I hesitate, which he senses - looking me up and down like a gastropub menu. ''It's 11AM but sure, why not!'' ''Splendid!'' He pours - slowly, methodically. I'd be annoyed with the extreme protraction with which he does every. Single. Thing except he's just so sexy. You lose yourself in his -
''So Roderick says you have a question or two for me, is that correct?'' I nod. ''Well, let's get to it, then! Joey and I are making - what did he call them? - yes, ants on a log this afternoon. Mustn't be late.'' It's very true that he's got a lot of parenting work to do. I clear my throat:
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''Some of the other Followers and I have been talking, you know? And I guess, Joe, what we're wondering - we want to know what it is we're actually doing? Like, what our mission is?'' He looks me over again, slowly and vaguely perturbed, like he may need to update his contacts prescription. I sense I should say more. ''Not that we're not thrilled to be here just hanging out, making good friends. Last night's Settlers game was off the charts fun.''
More staring. Then: ''Quite right. I must say, Ha-Henning?'' He got it! Joe knows me! ''Henning, one needn't divine the misty beyond for want of proper earthbound foot. Do you understand?'' I absolutely don't, but I assume Joe is quoting Po- ''That's Poe, from his short story 'Soft Steps on the Embankment'. Have you read it?'' My GOD I can't stand P- ''Marvelous stuff. But I digress. What Poe is saying in that particular work is-'' Joe's looking at his watch, trailing. Then he shakes to life. ''My goodness gracious, look at the time! I must be going.'' He heads for the door. ''Have we put those fears of yours to rest?'' Definitely not. I smile. ''Splendid!''
ANNNNND SCENE. Joe was obviously quick to brush us off, what with needing to go turn his son into a mini-murderer, but Follower Henning's question is one that bears repeating (and answering): what exactly is Joe's ''Following'' up to?
Let's make an important distinction here. We are not demanding character-irrelevant answers in the vein of LOST, needing to know ''what the four-toed statue means'' or ''by what quantum physics theories can a frozen donkey wheel effectively unmoor an island from time and space?'' (Come on, nerds!) Nor is this just impatience with the particular speed at which The Following's writers have chosen to dole out this first season story. Plenty of similar shows have opted for the slow burn (hello, Breaking Bad!) to great effect, and in such a way as to give the audience exactly the right information needed, episode to episode.
But The Following - I mean, it's called ''The Following.'' The show is named for this group of people! And 11 episodes in, with four left to air, we only have a muddled sense as to a) who these people are and b) what it is they're aiming to accomplish. That's not mystery; it's a fundamental story problem. For a few episodes, at least, the wanton acts of violence felt if not fresh, then at least unpredictable. Which is great as far as beginnings go! But sooner or later unpredictability becomes predictable, Joe's tight lips become the writers' tight lips, and it's near-impossible to keep caring. Are The Followers even serial killers anymore? The weapons cache and ''training center'' Hardy and Parker found their way to last night suggested maybe terrorism is more their speed. Or hell, they could be a Furry splinter group. No one knows.
Yes, there's clearly a growing schism between Joe and his #2 Roderick, who's been tired of all the personally-motivated plots generated since Joe's escape. But why not NAME that schism? It would hardly nullify our sense of The Following as a group of dangerous killers; if anything, it would heighten the intra-house drama Kevin Williamson is clearly aiming at. And, help us to identify (as much as possible, anyway) with these people we're spending 15-21 minutes with each week. Maybe it's just the amateur Follower in me acting out, but I'd really like to feel more like a part of the group. That's all.
''Whips and Regrets'' divides its attention between Claire, recently arrived at Following HQ; and Hardy, putting the FBI's recent hardcore Googling to use as he tracks down the Following server (really!) and subsequently tails one of the militia boys we met last week. Keeping in line with the way she's been handled so far, we learned nothing more about Claire, or Claire's relationship with Joe, or Claire's hopes and dreams, or anything Claire-related in any of her scenes. Mama looks great in a slinky black dress, it can't be denied, but I'll tell the writers what Jacob told Claire: ''You've gotta make an effort!'' Natalie Zea might actually die of boredom onscreen if she's not given more to do soon. And considering half her lines have been about her son, with whom she was just reunited? TICKING CLOCK, EVERYBODY.
There was such an opportunity last night, too, to delve into the whys and wherefores of Claire's relationship with Joe. What was he like when they met? How does she cope, generally, with the fact that she shared a home with this serial killer? Those are valid questions! Instead: ''You're crazy, you know that?'' (We ALL know that.) And she seemed frankly cool with Joe's response, in which he explained - for the first time? - that he's got a ''disease'' he needs to deal with. By, you know, stabbing everyone to death. My only explanation is they had great and extensive couples counseling to get to this point.
Hardy followed up (LOL) on the FBI's crack web research from last week by hitting the titular ''Whips & Regrets'' S&M club/bar which, coincidentally, was right down the block from Hardy's apartment. It's a lonely Friday night - what else are you gonna do? He and Parker caught up with the establishment's owner, Hailey, who admitted to being involved with one of the Militia boys, Vince, who had come after Claire. Did they date? ''No. We just flogged each other.'' Girl, we've all been there.
Using Hailey as bait, Hardy lured Vince back to Whips & Regrets for a package pickup (literally a package pickup, you sickos, not the other kind) which quickly went south. Maybe the weird guy who tells Roderick he ''just wants to be friends'' and barks - dog barks - at club patrons on his way to see Hailey and, oh, is in The Following is slightly unhinged? But it all worked perfectly for Hardy who, reneging on his promise of protection to Hailey, used her to tail Vince - hopefully back to Follower HQ.
Instead he led them (and an accompanying SWAT team) to a new location, some bunker deep in the woods. ''It's a training center for killing'' Vince explained to Hailey. ''People must be conditioned before they can be trusted.'' Then he found the wire on Hailey and was NOT happy.
THERE'S YOUR CUE, HARDY! Running in to defuse the situation, our man found Hailey tied up in a chair and Vince, nowhere to be found. Hailey took the moment to chew Hardy out for allowing her to be kidnapped. Don't you understand your role in this episode, and the larger Following story, Hailey? Come on. And anyway, you're distracting from the real revelation/new plot wrinkle here: The Followers are hoarding explosives, with the possibility of some ''big op'' on the docket. (Please refer to our question from earlier: are these guys serial killers? Terrorists? Crazy partiers?) NO TIME TO THINK ABOUT THAT, THOUGH - another member of the SWAT team who tagged along stumbled on three people deep in the facility, seemingly held hostage. I say ''seemingly'' because duh, they were Followers, which didn't work out so well for the SWAT guy. Basic Law of People Encountered on This Show: If they might be in the Following, they are probably in the Following. Everyone got that? Hardy? You're gonna want to think about it soon, trust me!
The post-mission ambulance check-in is quickly becoming my favorite part of each episode. Hardy and Parker get to reflect on the events of the episode, make a few snide remarks about cultists and literary studies, and tally up - in case we missed it - the body count of their latest mission. Last night, that was 2 SWAT dead, along with the three ''victims'' who'd been sprung. Maybe you're not wrong about that trail of dead you leave in your wake, Hardy? Certainly it's not unfounded.
Right, Molly! The redhead ex-girlfriend of Hardy we met via flashback last week was filled in a little more. She was, it turns out, always in the Following - assigned to Hardy on Joe's orders. And now, post-breakup, she still lives in the same apartment building as the guy. They do it, occasionally. It's cool. So of course it's no surprise to find her waiting for Hardy on his return from the armory. She collected his mail while he was away, like any friendly neighbor would. Hardy, as always, is the last guy to know anything.
One more flashback: ''When it comes time to kill [Hardy] I get to do it.'' I doubt Joe would really agree to that, sweetheart, but the enthusiasm is great! Keep reaching for the stars!
Four episodes left, people. Could the show squeeze in another crazed ex-girlfriend, or would that disrupt the carefully-crafted believability of this universe? Will Joe bake a pie with Joey, cementing their fractured relationship? Will Roderick run out of Followers to take out his aggression on? Tune in next week!
[PHOTO CREDIT: Giovanni Ruffino/FOX]
Follow Henning on Twitter @HenningFog
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