Cliffhangers, cult followers and Stan’s Soviet mole

I’m a lot better at season finale cliffhangers than I used to be. I’ll credit Lost for that. After all of those agonizing waits between seasons I learned to let a show recede from my memory. Besides, how could any show ever leave us hanging as hard as Lost did every May? Cliffhangers now are a cakewalk in comparison!

I also stopped watching previews for future episodes of the shows I watch. Those are done by marketing departments, not story writers, and are designed to leave you feeling anticipation for the next episode. If the show is good, you’ll want to watch the next episode. If not, you won’t. Ain’t nobody got time for marketing departments.

Here are some quick thoughts on a few shows I watched that ended with life-and-death cliffhangers. On The Americans we know that the Keri Russell character is not going to die. The Following gave us three life-and-deathers: Joe Carroll, Ryan Hardy and Claire Matthews. Carroll might actually be dead, but we can be pretty sure Hardy and Matthews are not. Is the point of a cliffhanger then to really leave us wondering if a character will survive? Most of the times not. Instead it usually leaves us wondering, “How will they get out of this one?”

The Following

I liked The Following from its beginning but was apprehensive about what would happen when the shock value from its brutal violence wore off. If you remember the first season of American Horror Story, The Following was similarly messed up in psychology but with a startling level of violence. The disturbing apex of that quality featured escaped serial killer Joe Carroll honor killing one of his cult members, followed by Carroll – covered in blood – having sex with a follower as two other followers achieved the mood by choking each other.

The show did lag in parts of its 13-episode first season, but overall The Following remained very strong. It has a similar feel to the early episodes of Revenge, a story fitting together so perfectly that it almost has to be being told in review. Former college professor, failed author and Edgar Allan Poe worshiper Joe Carroll is writing a new story  about the FBI agent who put him in prison and stole his wife.

The continuing revelations of more followers is something I will grant, for now. If they show up too conveniently too often they will cross the line from being part of the story to being a “hand of God” to bail it out. It got dangerously close to that point when people kept appearing out of the woods to help break out of the farmhouse.

How will the story change? Joe is dead, I will buy that for now yet not be surprised if he isn’t. He’s too good to remove from the show entirely, so some flashbacks wouldn’t be out of the ream of possibility. The scene of the girl in the restaurant reacting to news of his death might indicate some sleeper cells.

The Americans

I wasn’t wild about the pilot. I can’t quite put my finger on the uneasy feeling it left me with, maybe I thought it was a little forced. Having Stan suspect his neighbors of being spies to the point that he would break into their garage seemed too convenient to me. We can’t expect television to always portray realistic situations, but that felt like it went too far. In any case I wasn’t sure I would stick with the show and put it on the DVR level. An article detailing how the series creator had a background in intelligence convinced me to give it a chance. After a couple episodes I was not just enjoying the show, I was loving the drama. Most times a show generates its drama with action, but not The Americans. It carried drama throughout its episodes by placing the characters’ dialogue gently on top of its already tense Cold War setting. Very nicely done.

I didn’t like the choice of making Stan’s Soviet mole as someone so obviously sexy, I felt it undercut Stan’s reason for falling for her in the first place. He didn’t carry on an affair with her because she is gorgeous and he is horny. He couldn’t stop himself because spending years under deep cover with a white supremacist group cleaved his marriage. His wife hoped his new assignment in Washington would give her back the Stan Beeman she fell in love with. It hasn’t. Stan is as preoccupied with his work as ever, barely knows his teenage son and his wife dangerously close to leaving him.

He sees Nina as someone vulnerable who understands what it is like to live a lie, something his wife just cannot do for him. Had they cast someone less drool-inducingly sexy I think that would have played better.

(Stan’s wife is played by the perfectly beautiful Susan Misner, leading me to quip, “Yeah, I’d cheat on my wife Susan Misner. Sure I would, right after I spy for the Soviets.” Meaning of course that I would never.)

Otherwise I thought the show was pretty well done.

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