TV Recap: The Following, ‘The Messenger’

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Plot: Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen) has taken her revenge out on Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) by killing his father. Enraged, Mike desperately wants to work with Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) to enact justice. However, word is getting around that Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) might still be alive and Ryan is tapped to find him again. Joe meanwhile has wormed his way into a new cult but has aspirations for something much greater.

Photo Credit: Giovanni Rufino/FOX
Photo Credit: Giovanni Rufino/FOX

Oh The Following. What are we going to do with you? During this season, you have been such a crazy mess. Introducing new characters to do shocking things only for shock value, turning our protagonists into people we don’t like, and generally just presenting the question of “Can our heroes ever do anything right?” Every crap event built off another crap event until we were in some violent crap-spiral that left people wondering why a third season was coming. Yet as if you were somehow listening to our many complaints, you deliver an episode that is so wholly disconnected from everything prior that you leave people wondering why this couldn’t have happened sooner. With so many new characters and an excellent set up to something better, “The Messenger” is a direct example of what Season 2 could have and should have been. But that also makes it very awkwardly placed as the eighth episode.

“The Messenger” felt like an episode that needed to happen very early this season. Save for the funeral of Mike’s father, the brief mention of the pilot from two episodes ago, and the continued talk of an FBI breach, “The Messenger” lacked much connection to recent past events. Despite her surprise actions last week, Lily doesn’t appear or is even mentioned Not a single person talks about her family, the mansion up north, Luke (Sam Underwood) barely surviving in the hospital, and even Gina Mendez (Valerie Cruz) herself. Mike, who really should be declaring war on Lily, decides to continue working with Ryan on finding Joe. The surprising thing about this though is that none of this holds the episode back at all. It soars on the backs of characters we already know and it makes newer characters like Max (Jessica Stroup) so much more interesting. Obviously Lily isn’t gone for good, but after last night I find myself asking if she’s even necessary to the story now. If Lily were to somehow vanish without much of a thought, despite everything she has done or how interesting she was at times, I probably wouldn’t even miss her. So when she does come back, will we even want her?

Photo Credit: Tom Zuback/FOX
Photo Credit: Tom Zuback/FOX

Joe was in top form for the first time all season too. Last week I didn’t like the introduction of this brand new cult lead by some guy named Micah (Jake Weber), specifically because it didn’t seem necessary. This season really didn’t need any more characters after everyone else it introduced before. But last night gave me a complete 180 by turning Micah into an actually compelling new addition. His fervent desire to emulate Joe after forming his own cult over 20 years makes him an unimaginable threat to society. He has the same charisma as Joe to get people to follow him but is clearly mentally unstable. You see this when he explains how he wants to kill people and release their souls to “the 9th planet after Neptune,” which should be Pluto but is never directly stated. I initially passed this off as insane dribble on the part of the writers but it actually works for a psychopath like Joe. He feeds off the sheer devotion of others, making Micah into exactly what Joe needs to rise back to power.

Speaking of Joe’s rise to power, I will say that it’s ridiculously convenient that he’s able to get a new cult almost instantly. If this was so easy why did he just come here sooner? Everything from this episode, including Micah’s blind faith and the cult members already respecting Joe, prove that he will take control very soon. Likely next week! Micah will probably collapse in a model not entirely unlike Icarus (shout out to Bill Bodkin for thinking of that). He so desperately wants to emulate what Joe has done but Joe simply cannot live with someone else either in control or doing exactly what he does. Take Roderick (Warren Kole) for an example when he tried to oppose Joe last season. By trying to be just like Joe, Micah will fly too close to the sun and will have his wings burned off.

Photo Credit: Tom Zuback/FOX
Photo Credit: Tom Zuback/FOX

Ryan’s plot this week was a fairly enjoyable one. It opened up in an appropriately somber manner with everyone attending the funeral for Mike’s father. Even though a lot of people died on this show (A LOT), Mike is the first one to actually lose a family member. Thankfully that is given the weight it absolutely deserves. After the funeral proceedings, Franklin (Charles Dutton) comes up to Ryan and expresses his belief that Joe is still very much alive. He then gives Ryan full access to anything he could ever want to catch Joe, including total contact with Washington DC and the CIA. The FBI is clearly compromised and Ryan has proven he’s the only one who can actually accomplish things (sometimes) so it was a wise move to set him free. Sure enough, Ryan’s uninhibited investigation digs up a perfect lead in the form of Dr. Arthur Strauss (Gregg Henry), a man who mentored Joe in his youth. Now if Ryan actually abided by the rules he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. No one ever does! Instead, Ryan, Max, and Mike go balls-to-the-wall aggressive and start breaking Strauss’s fingers to get answers. This is obviously after Strauss almost kills someone and proves everyone’s suspicions. And you know what? The plan worked! Success!

What really didn’t work for Ryan’s story though were the two new characters introduced: A reporter named Carrie Cook and Strauss. Carrie is the one who wrote the book about Joe Carroll and has been hounding Ryan for over a year to get answers. Why is she coming into the fold now and why does she have to suck so bad? Carrie clearly is supposed to have a big role in the show but everything about her was so grating. First appearing at a funeral, getting Ryan drunk for answers, hounding him at every turn, and even senselessly putting herself in immediate danger. If you ever needed an example of a person who is both shitty at their job and life in general, there she is! As for Strauss, why is the man who mentored Joe only coming in now? He’s the Emperor to Joe’s Anakin Skywalker. That’s a hugely important role that can give insight into how Joe used to be and how he became a killer! He’s someone that could have been around for a while with the atomic bomb sized twist of him also being a charismatic killer. Instead he is a “bad guy of the week” who may come back next week since he lived. What a loss of potential.

“The Messenger” was a definite bright spot in an otherwise middling season. The overall plots worked well and expertly set up the crazy worldwide reveal of Joe’s survival next week. For the first time since this season started, I’m excited for the next episode. I want to see the insanity brought up to eleven and actually have the show benefit from it. Also, I’d be happy if Lily and her crew came back later rather than sooner. The show loses focus when we have multiple characters all trying different things at once. Having Ryan contend with three expert serial killers at once, each leading their own groups, would be blatantly absurd. Keep this show focused and tight and people might actually want to watch the upcoming third season.

Rating: 7.5/10

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