Plot: Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is one step closer to finding Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Together with Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) and Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Ryan investigates a lead in the FBI mole mystery. Meanwhile, Micah (Jake Weber) is ready to announce himself to the world, but Joe has plans of his own.
Well that was fun while it lasted. For the past two episodes, The Following was turning a corner. It started to move on from the untangled mess of the earlier episodes and developed a much clearer focus. “Unmasked” was an episode that I actually looked forward to, something that hasn’t happened on this program in quite some time. The idea of Joe Carroll unveiling himself to the world left my head swimming with possibilities. It would be crazy, obviously, but a good type of crazy that can actually benefit this show. But I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that it didn’t work out as planned. Instead of delivering a gripping episode with Joe’s reveal significantly changing the landscape, “Unmasked” was a reckless mess of an hour. The people behind The Following were lucky it got a third season order so soon because there is no way it could have done so after this garbage.
The Following has never been a paragon of female representation. Many sites already decry the program for presenting women as weak plot devices that only exist to either get tortured or die grisly deaths. I have never personally brought this up in my reviews, but last night was so ludicrous that it absolutely cannot go unsaid. In the course of an hour, Gina Mendez (Valerie Cruz) is stabbed, Jana (Leslie Bibb) goes completely insane and shoots herself, Julia (Jacinda Barrett) gets her throat sliced with a wire by Joe, Carrie Cooke (Sprague Grayden) is threatened at knife point to play Joe’s video, and several unnamed background females are stabbed like ragdolls. What the absolute shit is this? I have never seen one program single out an entire gender in such a ridiculous manner. The only person at this point who can even come close to a positive female character is Max and she recoils in awkwardness at Mike being naked. Oh I’m sorry I thought I was watching a show about cultish murderers. Not a freaking romantic comedy.
There were two characters especially that deserve extra mentions this week. One is Jana who makes her final appearance. During the few times we met her, Jana presented herself as a normally competent Joe devotee. She lived in a beautiful house with three kids, a nice yard, and had a rocky relationship with her wife. Basic stuff essentially. Yet in “Unmasked” we saw an entirely different character. This “new” Jana is apparently a skittish mess who wants blonde hair (what is up with this show and dying hair?!), has a history of violence, and adamantly rants about the world going to hell. Where did any of this come from? You could make the case it had to do with Joe, but let’s be honest Jana never became a fully fleshed out character. And now she’s dead so who cares? The other character is Carrie who is still just as awful and unnecessary as she was last week. Except now she’s hooking up with Ryan! What, is it not possible for a female to get close to Ryan without wanting to bone him? I’m surprised a giant target wasn’t painted on her back too.
Then we have that “shocking” reveal at the end that Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) has actually been alive this entire time. I’m still kicking myself for not seeing this sooner. It follows one of the biggest rules of TV! No body, no death. We never actually saw Claire’s corpse so any mention of her death really shouldn’t have been taken seriously. But now here we are regardless. Why couldn’t she just stay dead? Doesn’t this season have enough characters already? The body count was stupidly high last night, including Micah and some new guy named Lance (who literally only existed to die later), and yet there are still more characters unaccounted for. Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen) got a passing mention but no appearance, no acknowledgement of Mark or Luke (Sam Underwood), Mandy (Tiffany Boone) has apparently vanished again since the show doesn’t need her, and the still very much alive Arthur Strauss (Gregg Henry) got no more than a “He’s in custody.” No please, bring on more characters, like a new confidant for Joe named Robert (Shane McRae). We can still fit more into this clown car.
As you can see, there wasn’t a lot I was a fan of last night. One thing I did like though was Joe becoming the new leader of this unbelievably ridiculous cult. Micah and Julia fulfilled their brief roles and now Joe has taken the reins. At least that plot has the tenacity to soldier on when everything else around it is a crumbling mess. Joe also fits perfectly into this type of environment too. He’s a massive egomaniacal psychopath who is only good at guiding people to do his bidding. Giving him the moniker Prophet Joe fits his exact mindset to a tee. This absolutely needed to happen and I’m glad it did so soon.
Joe, Max, and Mike actually weren’t terrible last night either. Yes, they failed to get Jana and stop her poor children from living without their mother. That’s unforgivable. But when you have a show like this where law enforcement can’t fight their way out of a paper bag, it’s a win that they were able to get to the house in the first place. Of course they had to follow every common trope to get there. Long list of potential mole suspects to look at? Don’t worry, just cross-reference the names with this and that to get a result. Yes! Cross-referencing! The solution to everything! Oh look, now we only have six names, but the only one that matters is the one person we’ve actually interacted with before. MISSION COMPLETE.
I’m not even certain the writers know what’s going on anymore. So many characters were killed off last night I basically became numb to it all. “Oh look. It’s another person dying a horrible death. That’s what…number 10?” Now with Claire back in the picture it’s almost as if we were watching the show trying to reboot itself. As if the writers know that we’re getting fed up with how this season has gone. “Unmasked” was just an explosive mess. I have maintained a lot of weekly reviews since I started writing for this site but I don’t think I’ve ever given out a failing grade for one of those shows. Congratulations “Unmasked,” you have made The Following my first weekly reviewed program to get the numerical equivalent of failing. Have this medal. Wear that as a badge of honor, but not on a female character. I don’t want it to get stabbed.