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

Monday's "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'The End Is Near'

In its penultimate episode, 'The Follow' ups the body count
Readers, I have a confession to make. I have been wrong about "The Following" this whole time. Completely wrong. Absolutely wrong. A critic's worst nightmare, the totally inaccurate judgment call. Up until now, I've assumed that when an episode has more content, it means that it's better -- the fast pace tends to elide "The Following"'s major dialogue issues, and the bloody, violent action, as reprehensible as it is, moves the warmed-over, half-dead plot a few staggering steps forward.
 
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'Saturday Night Live' power rankings: Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Nasim Pedrad, more

'Saturday Night Live' power rankings: Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Nasim Pedrad, more

We analyze the current cast’s overall importance to the show

We’re heading into the home stretch of the 38th season of “Saturday Night Live”. With only a few episodes left, it’s time to look back at the season as a whole and analyze the cast’s overall importance to the show at this point in time. These Power Rankings have absolutely nothing to do with the comedic skill of anyone currently on the show’s cast. These rankings reflect how “SNL” perceives them in the pecking order, based on overall appearances, number of signature roles, and other intangible qualities that can be assessed by watching each episode. Wonder why certain cast members only seem to appear during the host’s goodbyes? Has it ever seemed like certain not-ready-for-primetime players seem to be at the forefront of each sketch? These Power Rankings might help explain why.

Check out our rankings blow. Do you agree or disagree? Who are you favorite "SNL" players?

<p>Warren Kole of &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Warren Kole of "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'Havenport'

Roderick has to play both sides, while Ryan gets closer or whatever
Well, I'd like to start off this discussion of "Havenport" by discussing what I think has been haunting me since the very first episode of "The Following" -- What was James Purefoy thinking, signing up for this show?
 
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Vince Vaughn and Bobby Monyihan on this week's "Saturday Night Live"

Vince Vaughn and Bobby Monyihan on this week's "Saturday Night Live"

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Vince Vaughn And Miguel

The "Swingers" star swings by Studio 8H for the first time since 1998.
It’s been more than fourteen years since Vince Vaughn last hosted “Saturday Night Live.” In between then and now, Vaughn has starred in dozens of movies, many of them funny, and most of them even intentionally so. (“Domestic Disturbance” is fairly hysterical, although that doesn’t seem to be the goal.) His upcoming movie “The Internship” won’t be out until June, but ostensibly one or two people from the upcoming “Anchorman” sequel might pop up in order to support Vaughn’s appearance tonight. Was milk a good choice for me? We’ll have to find out. Along for the ride is musical artist Miguel. Let’s just both assume I know nothing about his musical output and that I’ll be going into any performance by him with the wide-eyed innocence of a newborn babe.
 
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<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?
 
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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