By Evangeline Jennings
I wrote about The Following a couple of days ago and claimed not only that the show killed itself when it allowed Psycho Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) to re-escape from prison but also that I could write it better than its creator, Kevin “Scream” Williamson. The season finale merely confirmed my claims. So much so that it provides an almost text book example of How Not To Do It.
Let’s start with Joe Carroll’s book. This has been the “justification” for the entire show. Before he became Psycho Joe, plain old English Joe wrote a novel, The Gothic Sea, which was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s unfinished work, The Light-House. Joe’s book was as shit as anything ever written by Poe. And then some. Scorned by the literary world – and readers – Joe decided to kill and maim hot babes instead. A perfectly reasonable reaction – when you think of it, why don’t more failed writers take that route?
In possibly the most unfeasible piece of plotting in the whole show, Kevin Bacon then wrote a best-selling book about tracking and catching Psycho – The Poetry of a Killer. And, as if that wasn’t provocation enough, he also started fucking Joe’s wife.
“My first book was clearly too avant-garde. My new story is going to be a collaboration.”
– Joe Carroll
One or both of these plot elements inspired Psycho Joe to write a second book – The Fall of the House of Bacon – and he bored to an Olympic standard thoughout the season telling anyone stupid enough to listen – including viewers – that it would be his masterpiece. The first scene was set – of course – in a lighthouse where Joe finally killed the only surviving victim of his first reign of terror before allowing himself to be recaptured by the plastic-faced Bacon.
As the story began its long slow circling around the drain, Psycho Joe continued to assert not only that Story Is Everything but also that everything that happened all season long had been carefully constructed to lead his characters – Joe himself, ex-wife Claire, and Bacon – to, guess what, another fucking lighthouse.
“It bookends the story!”
– Joe Carroll
Can I get a Hell Yawn?
If I was Psycho Joe, I’d have been spitting mad and ready to kill everyone who ever lived ever when I saw the dross that The Following’s creator Kevin Williamson had written for my much vaunted Final Chapter. No cliché was left unturned. No shallow unplummeted. No idea discarded, no matter how ludicrous.
The climactic scenes between Joe, Bacon, and Claire were risible. In his desperate attempts to save Claire, Bacon resorts to insulting first Psycho’s book and then when that fails, the “loser morphine addict” Poe himself. Now provoked beyond reason, Joe attacks Bacon, stupidity happens, and it all ends with Psycho apparently dying in one of the least convincing flamy firey explosiony things seen since the silent movie era.
Or did he? The FBI say the dental records match, but HELLO! Joe Carroll! He has a Following!
I am still laughing at the End of Joe Carroll when we are confronted by the terrible punishment fate has dealt Emma the Eviscerator, my secret guilty sexual fantasy girl of shame. First, her disguise requires her to wear a truly hideous wig. Second she’s in Mobile, Alabama.
Meanwhile, the FBI forgets to charge Bacon with murder over the point blank execution of a hand-cuffed bad guy and Claire forgets she has a son so that the she and Bacon can get together over Chinese delivery food just in time for Bacon’s neighbor and ex, Molly, who is also Joe’s secret weapon, to wield the inevitable knife. Could this show get any more meh?
The best moment in the finale came when Bacon told Psycho Joe that he was “so bored of him” and that his story was too predictable. Slight shades of Screams past.
The second best came when I sat down to list all the cliffhangers and possible storylines for the second season.
Is Joe dead? Of course not. Unless James Purefoy’s contract demands are too high or a focus group says he is.
Is Bacon dead? Of course not. There’s no show without Bacon and his amazing plastic face.
Is Claire dead? I think she might be. If not, I think the FBI will announce she is anyway and send her to live in Kentucky with a US Marshall – WitSec to the max.
Will season two focus on the mission to wrap up the rest of The Following – it’s like an iceberg, but with nuts? Or will Joe reappear intent on completing his trilogy? And how many more people who aren’t me will Emma fuck and kill?
The most important question though, is how could it have been done better?
I still say the best thing for The Following would have been to leave Joe in prison and have him escape at the end of the season courtesy of an FBI traitor. But since that’s beyond the scope of the finale, we should have seen Bacon charged with the murder but released on his own thing to travel with Claire to fetch Joey and bring them both back to his home. Final shot of the season, Molly welcomes them both to the neighborhood.
So what have we learned today? I don’t know. But I do know Kevin Williamson is better than this, and my working theory is that network TV is so scared of failure and driven by the need to recoup and return for another season that all consideration for a Good Story has been lost and usurped by the formulaic and lemming-like rush for a cliffhanger – no matter how mundane and laughable. The corollary is, those shows that resist tend to be the ones we remember best and most fondly.
The Following? Unfollow.
Next up: My favourite subject. Revenge.