"Mad Love" doesn’t advance any plotlines significantly, which feels a little frustrating after three episodes that are essentially action-packed. Instead we are immersed into backstory for most of the episode, and though we do learn some interesting information about Ryan’s family--and his fraught relationship with Claire--overall the episode feels stagnant, with none of the pulp and gore that drove last week’s "Poet’s Fire." That’s fine, and it’s somewhat interesting in terms of building character, but this is not going to be anyone’s favorite episode of the show. The wacky stuff gets pushed to the outskirts, to the murder-cult house with little Joey, while Ryan’s storyline takes on pretty normal dramatic strokes. The tonal shift is frankly kind of confusing after three episodes of crazy.
The primary storytelling device is a slightly choppy series of flashbacks, giving us the information necessary to care about the action in the main timeline. But, it’s weird--with the exception of Maggie’s death, the entire episode could lift right out of the show. So we’re treated to pretty low-stakes narrative. You know that whole adage about storytelling, "Show, don’t tell?" "The Following
" is a show that should be showing, 100 percent of the time. It wants to revel in taboo and shock value. It’s a murder cult populated with oversexed, slightly insane amateur serial killers--the entirety of the show’s entertainment value is in seeing these people go nuts. And yet there’s precious little of that in "Mad Love." We certainly see Maggie get a bit unhinged, but her method for killing Ryan is laughably overcomplicated, and needless to say, it doesn’t work.
Debbie, Ryan’s sister, is an interesting enough character, but it seems unlikely she’s going to return. Her existence in this episode seems to be mostly to confirm how messed up Ryan is. And he is pretty messed up. His family appears to be cursed with early deaths and violent tragedy; Ryan himself has courted death too many times to count. Of course, Debbie is the person who knows this best, but we learn that he divulged some of this trauma to Claire, too. This type of thing does make relationships pretty hard, as both Debbie and Claire are aware. Both urge him to open up, and value what he wants, but he’s unable to do so.
Above all, "Mad Love" is romantic setup for Ryan and Claire--setting the foundations for a relationship whose endgame is clearly inextricably tied to vanquishing the cult. But I wish the relationship felt a little more earned--the constant flashbacks are trying to prove to me that something exists between them, but I’m honestly not interested. I’m willing to accept their chemistry at face value--and it doesn’t feel necessary to the story.
Meanwhile, the murderers’ backstories do feel relevant, if only because they continue to be so bizarre. It emerges that Will has never actually killed someone, so Emma tries to bully him into killing the poor girl that is still trapped in the basement. Because that’s love, or something. WIll tries, and tries, but he can’t. He frees her instead. Emma and Paul get wind of it and track her down like wild dogs. They all end up in the shower, in a vaguely sexual threesome, with Emma and Paul vowing not to give up on Will. They’ll all be murderers together! That sounds a little more like the show that I expect "The Following" to be. Crazy, nightmarish, unhinged. I’m not convinced I need a mega-arc about survivor’s guilt to get me through to the end.
Odds and ends:
***Why do you think everybody kills everyone else with kitchen knives? They’re professional serial killers--don’t they have special killing-people knives?
***How do serial killers make money?? Yeah, I have a lot of questions.
***What do you guys think--is the show getting better, or worse?