<p>Valorie Curry of &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Valorie Curry of "The Following"

Credit: Barbara Nitke/FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'The Curse'

A familiar face returns, the FBI gets closer and Claire confronts Emma

To quote "The Curse": "???????????????????????????"

 
In all seriousness, "The Curse" is one of "The Following"'s better episodes, but I have to agree with Claire -- Joe's writing is atrocious. If it weren't for that little aside in tonight's episode, I'd question the writers' decision to include the manuscript. Well, okay. I question it anyway. But I question it a little less now that I know at least Claire hates Joe's work, too.
 
"The Curse" is clearly one of the few episodes in "The Following's" arc that was planned out right from the start -- I feel like we've been waiting for this episode for weeks now, slogging through a few filler episodes that crammed in a kink club and a few more dead women for no clear reason. By comparison to those catastrophes "The Curse" is downright masterful -- thematically consistent and even compelling, at times. For once, it feels like things are happening -- plot devices that seem to push forward the creepiness, rather than continue treading water with empty horror and needless gore.
 
Nothing is very creepy, of course. But the episode is playing with a few of the major characters' morality, revealing some of the tension between good and evil that drives the characters forward. I'm not convinced that a morality tale is really the best way to move forward a suspenseful plot, but it provides an avenue for the killers to get inside our heads, with their twisted logic. It also gives the killers to get a chance inside Ryan Hardy's head, who is our Everyman stand-in, more or less.
 
The terrible book Joe is writing is his attempt to finish the chapter of the story with Ryan Hardy. But dude, Joe is stuck. He has writer's block. Murderer-writer's block. Because Ryan, his main character, is a dark, twisted personality whose motivations are very difficult to determine, apparently. I really did like how this storyline ended up, but I have to call shenanigans on the idea that Ryan is all that difficult to figure out. Joe already knows about his survivor's guilt, and he has all kinds of intelligence from Molly, the nurse that sleeps with Ryan.
 
According to the exposition, though, Joe is unraveling. Along with the writers' block, his followers are not as reliable as they were when they started out. Roderick is a wildcard, motivated by… something… to be randomly murderous and vicious; and as the FBI inches closer to finding the cult, Roderick's weaknesses as a manager and the cult's (obvious) vulnerability as a target are becoming more important. Joe's not in a very good mood much of the time lately, and that apparently leads him to do something drastic -- to go out in public himself to lock down the leak. (I have to say, the subplot this week about how exactly the FBI gets into the same space as the killers is very hard to follow. There's a lot of running around in abandoned hallways, but more than that, I can't tell you. Fortunately, it doesn't matter much.)
 
The climax of "The Curse" is two separate but simultaneous confrontations -- Jacob with Agent Parker, and Joe with Ryan, over a gagged and bound Agent Weston. It's the type of showdown we've seen on television before, but I liked that both conversations are mini-dramas themselves, where each character is trying to manipulate the other. Ryan's trying to draw out Joe to protect Mike, and Joe is trying to goad Ryan into admitting more details of his particular version of survivor's guilt. Parker is trying to wheedle some humanity out of Jacob, and Jacob is trying to convince her that she's in real danger.
 
"The Following" wants to be a show that plays with morality. It's not subtle enough to get into the nuances of life and death, good and evil -- but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for with shlocky exposition and sound effects, which you know, can work if you're in the right mindset. I didn't love the flashback to Ryan's father's death, but I like knowing that he killed a guy with heroin as a teenager, because that's kind of interesting. My problem is that it's hard to get into this morally gray area when the "bad" characters who you are supposed to be interested in and sympathetic to act like they are unhinged, alien, or psychotic. This isn't a war between good and evil, this is a battle between the clinically insane and the slightly less crazy.  If "The Following" can sort out who its evil characters are supposed to be, it might have a shot at getting coherent before the end of the season.
 
This is most obvious with Joe, who is the most inconsistently written character on the show. He's by turns calculating, genius, ruthless, sympathetic, and loving. I think the idea is that because James Purefoy is a recognized actor, those hiccups will work themselves out. But lately it seems like Joe is just a random series of traits strung together. Who would have guessed that the misogynist murderer from the pilot would be writing a really bad book as a way to carry out his nefarious plan? It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?
 
Still, I'm taking a feather from David Sims at The A.V. Club and trying to keep a sense of humor in mind. Because as the season draws to a close, the ridiculous elements of "The Following" are getting more and more hilarious. Random, overwrought hooking up between Joe and Emma? Yes! Fistfight between Emma and Claire because Emma wants to be "friends"? Excellent! Jacob tearfully calling his dad? Awesome! Roderick wearing his uniform all the time for no reason? Why not?! The laughs just keep coming.
 
Odds and Ends:
 
*** Is it just me, or is Agent Weston way unstable after coming out of the hospital?
 
*** Agent Parker is still the only character who feels real and relatable to me. And even she has some hilarious lines in this episode, like "I once got hit in the face with a bat and it hurt, dude, it hurt." Okay, that wasn't a real quote. But you get the idea.
 
*** I hear a heroin overdose is not such a bad way to die.
 
What do you think? Are Ryan and Joe both motivated by death? And if so, do you care?
 
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Tonight's host Melissa McCarthy

Tonight's host Melissa McCarthy

Credit: AP

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Melissa McCarthy and Phoenix

The star of the upcoming film "The Heat" makes her second appearance as host.

It’s been almost a month without new episodes, but “Saturday Night Live” returns tonight with host Melissa McCarthy and musical guest Phoenix. McCarthy was a game host during her first gig in the Fall of 2011, but the episode itself was a mixed bag. In that episode, she played quite often against Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg, both of whom have since left the show. She and Jason Sudeikis also had a lot of interactions last time around, so it will be interesting if “SNL” holds onto that dynamic or pairs here up with the many new cast members that have popped up in the interim.

 
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<p>Monday's &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Monday's "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'Whips and Regret'

Gamechanger or recapper-enrager? It's certainly the latter...
I've had my issues with many episodes of "The Following" over the past few months, but "Whips and Regret" might be the first to make me outright angry. I'd like to laugh tonight's episode along with the rest of the show's flaws—irregular pacing, terrible plotting, and haphazard character development are easy to pick apart. But tonight's episode reinforced for me how absolutely offensive "The Following" can be as it tries to inject life into what is a largely listless television show.
 
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<p>Kevin Bacon becomes the new pitchman for Budweiser Invisible Lager.</p>

Kevin Bacon becomes the new pitchman for Budweiser Invisible Lager.

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'Guilt'

Joe keeps looking for Claire, while Emma and Jacob reunite
Oh, "The Following." Why are you so dark and whiny?
 
After last week's review, it's hard to find more to critique about "The Following" when the show seems hell-bent on delivering more of the same. But I did find "Guilt" interesting for two different reasons: One, it's rather predictable, which gives us some insight into what the writers of "The Following" are hoping to achieve, and two, it aggressively enters the dream-like state that had been hinted at in the first few weeks, giving Jacob some intense hallucinations.
 
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<p>Kevin Bacon of &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Kevin Bacon of "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'Love Hurts'

Joe responds to Ryan's concealing of Claire with more violence against women
A crazy woman writing her own chapter of Joe Carroll's murderous story, several senseless murders, and one love affair gone horribly awry: Just another Monday night with "The Following." As this show goes on I'm increasingly convinced that that 16-episode season is just way too long for a show that is running on some of the same plot devices in order to maintain suspense. 
 
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<p>Monday's &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Monday's "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'Welcome Home'

Ryan bumps heads with a new authority figure and Carroll enjoys freedom
For the past several episodes, "The Following" has skirted the obvious fact that there's something sexual about Joe Carroll's murdering pattern. Whether or not he's sexually assaulting anyone (and we have not seen him do that), he specifically targets women -- young women. Almost all of the bodies so far have been women, and the men have been largely incidental manslaughters, killings on the way in or out of killing someone else.
 
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Justin Timberlake and Kenan Thompson on 'Saturday Night Live'

Justin Timberlake and Kenan Thompson on 'Saturday Night Live'

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Justin Timberlake

How will the show welcome Timberlake into the Five-Timers Club?

It’s time for Justin Timberlake to enter a special place in the “Saturday Night Live” pantheon tonight, as tonight’s hosting gig allows him membership in the Five-Timers Club. Given a certain photo that a certain member of that club tweeted this week, let’s just assume that there will be many existing members of this exclusive organization on hand tonight to mark the event. (Then again, maybe that picture simply depicts a table read for “The Ghosts Of ‘N Sync Past”.)

 
There are two likely scenarios tonight. One is that we’ll get a great episode that will ultimately rank high in the season-long rankings. Timberlake always brings his A-game to the show, and the writers/performers in return respond to the level that he brings. The other scenario, which is semi-unlikely but absolutely possible, is that the show will pull several muscles while patting itself on the back, relying on pure nostalgia to simply coast through an episode based on recognition of past achievements rather than offering up anything new, fresh, or interesting. A simply mediocre or instantly forgettable episode doesn’t seem in the cards. And hey, if for some reason the writers couldn’t come up with enough good ideas for this show, Timberlake can simply play the full version of his single “Suit & Tie”, which clocks in at roughly 23 minutes.
 
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<p>Monday's &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Monday's "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'Let Me Go'

Carroll tries to get a new home, while Emma and Joey make creepy new friends
So, Joe Carroll is really good at the game he's playing.
 
I am not typically hung up on issues of plausibility in television, but this seems to me to be a particularly convoluted episode of "The Following" -- if also one that became again truly scary, from time to time. Joe's reach, and the power of his cult, apparently knows no bounds. In "Let Me Go" they manage to coerce the prison warden of a maximum security prison into releasing Joe, who shifts from uniformed prisoner to suited murderer in the span of a few moments. He makes short work of his lawyer Olivia, killing her in her own car after she transports him to safety, before running into a mall, rendezvousing with two of his compatriots, and escaping off the roof in a helicopter.
 
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Kevin Hart and Jason Sudeikis on "Saturday Night Live"

Kevin Hart and Jason Sudeikis on "Saturday Night Live"

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Kevin Hart and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

The comedy veteran hosts the show for the first time.

After a two-week hiatus following its strongest episode of the season, “Saturday Night Live” is back with host Kevin Hart. I’ve seen Hart in "Undeclared" as well as in supporting roles in several films, but won’t pretend to be anything remotely related to an expert on his stand-up career. So I’m coming into tonight’s episode with a relatively blank slate. Anything is possible when it comes to this installment, so far as I’m concerned. And that’s a good thing, so near as I can tell. Sometimes the hype can be too much (as will undoubtedly be the case when Justin Timberlake hosts next week), and sometimes negative preconceptions can cripple an episode before it even starts (paging Justin Bieber, who lived down to that hype). 

Tonight? I’m ready to roll with whatever the show has ready to offer. Along for the ride is musical guests Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who will obviously be playing deep cuts from their album “The Heist” and in no way will play “Thrift Store” in either slot. Nope. No way, no how. Oh, who are we kidding? They will probably play it twice, and it will be f#$^ing awesome both times. In five years (or, more likely, five weeks), we’ll look back and wonder why we suddenly all lost our minds and agreed to like this song. But for now, let’s just accept the fact that if we see a broken keyboard, we’re probably going to buy that broken keyboard.
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<p>Natalie Zea on Monday's &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Natalie Zea on Monday's "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'The Fall'

Ryan is really interested in the Threesome, while Claire finds a fan
Last week's cliffhanger starts this week's "The Following," in which Ryan unwittingly makes himself the centerpiece of a hostage situation. It's a tense episode that demonstrates a bit of a tonal shift for the show—one that moves a little bit away from Ryan's internal dramas and instead focuses on him as a hero. That's great, because it lets some of the other characters' narratives take up space for a change. Here's the good, bad, and meh:
 
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