Plot: Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) has taken someone very important from Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen): Her son Luke (Sam Underwood). In an act of revenge, Lily hires one of her many suitors to kidnap and murder Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup). In the meantime, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) searches for some protection.
There are a lot of reasons Season 2 is worse than Season1. One reason in particular is the fact that the previous season was a tightly constructed story that focused exclusively on the hunt for Joe Carroll. Ryan was working with the FBI, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) was constantly in danger, you couldn’t trust anyone, and we occasionally had our “killer of the week.” When new characters were introduced midway through the season, like Joe’s former right hand man Roderick (Warren Kole), it felt incredibly natural. Roderick was name dropped on more than one occasion, making him some mythically powerful follower. Season 2 however has been bogged down with multiple different plotlines and doesn’t have the focus that made Season 1 so enjoyable to watch. Yet last night’s episode gave us a taste of the past with a “killer of the week” plot so reminiscent of Season 1 that the very different events surrounding Joe stuck out like a sore thumb.
After witnessing the apparent death of her son and losing Joe in the process, Lily wants justice. Neither Joe nor Ryan should be safe from her wrath. In a move that only impacts Ryan though, Lily hires a serial killer named “The Huntsman” to take Max hostage. This is done in an appropriately clever manner with The Huntsman and his son having a fake fight with the intention of Max using her “protect and serve” duties to intervene. Of course she was suspended from the force but when did protocol ever stop someone from doing the right thing? Max’s kidnapping and Lily’s subsequent video to Ryan of the very event was suitably chilling and it set a major stake for the episode. Ryan uses the still breathing Luke (what is this guy, an unstoppable robot?) to find out the killers name and then the hunt is on for The Huntsman.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Max as the search for her got underway. This is someone who literally has no reason to exist outside of being her Uncle’s one connection to family. She has no personal reason to get hunted down by Joe or Lily. But because she’s a Hardy, she becomes their immediate target and is forced to hang inside some cabin with a guy who takes women’s tattooed skin as trophies. It became blatantly obvious through events in “Sacrifice” that Max is officially the Claire of Season 2. Despite having the means to legitimately protect herself and actually be an asset to the show, the writers have made Max into such an error prone detective who periodically makes things harder for everyone around her. She’s clearly capable but is never really portrayed as such. It’s almost so obvious by this point that, since she’s the Claire of Season 2, Max will kick the bucket near the end just like Claire did. That sucks. Max really should be much better than this.
What this episode did really well though was present Lily as the legitimate threat that she is. Everything prior was about her trying to get to Joe. She has endless wealth at her disposal but Joe was the one person she really wanted. Now that Joe doesn’t want her and she’s filled with rage, we now have an unshackled Lily who is ready to give everyone a one way ticket to crazy town. The Huntsman was a suitably creepy character to have her disposal and I really wanted to know who else she has on her employ. This is the perfect opportunity to bring the show back to the creepily messed up beginnings that started this whole show. She would have been a perfect new Joe Carroll if we didn’t already have Joe Carroll running around.
Speaking of Joe Carroll, his entire plot just screamed “WTF!” Joe opens up this episode and within a few minutes is picked up by these heavily armed people with guns. Mandy (Tiffany Boone) and Emma (Valerie Curry) rightfully question what’s going on but Joe is very calm with their surroundings. But then things get really, really weird when the trio is forced to put on these white robes and white masks to meet with this guy named Mika. Considering how The Following is entirely a show about cults, this cult lead by Mika is probably the most stereotypical of them all. Ritual sacrifices? Drinking blood? Testing someone’s truth levels? This is weird even for The Following’s standards. It also sucks that Emma is apparently still alive after getting the blood drained from her wrists. I guess that’s her role on the show then, a human sacrifice that won’t die.
What really made Joe’s story stand out though, outside of it not connecting to anything else presented throughout the episode, was how unnecessary it all felt. Do we really need ANOTHER cult introduced midway through the second season? The answer is no. Unlike Roderick and his crew, this cult had no prior mentions or even hints at their appearance. They just suddenly exist now in a heavily wooded area because this show literally couldn’t exist without someone traveling through trees. It’s almost as if this cult is here to give Joe something to do. Why does it seem like Joe has infinite reach to an unimaginable amount of people? Why couldn’t the writers make Lily the sole enemy instead of throwing in this new Mika guy for Joe to contend with? Would it really be so awful to have Joe and Ryan team up to stop a common enemy?
The Following was a great show throughout Season 1 for a whole variety of reasons, but Season 2 has so far been a big stumbling block for this program. Last night’s episode took a dip back into the past though with a “killer of the week” story, an omnipresent villain, and a twist filled ending that was completely unexpected. It felt a lot more like the episodes people enjoyed so much prior, including Max filling the unnecessary void as the new Claire Matthews. Yet the writers weren’t entirely convinced on taking pages from what worked before and they put Joe down the hacked on path of him becoming a member of this new cult. Just what this show needs! More characters that have no connections to other characters!
BILL GATES IS WATCHING: In a not so subtle moment of product placement, Ryan picks up his Nokia phone with a Windows operating system to answer a call from Lily. Oh Microsoft product placement! How I’ve missed you!