One thing is clear while watching Fox's The Following: someone, somewhere told the writers they needed to add some ladies to the mix. Sweeping in to replace Season 1's deceased "tough" ladies, Claire (Natalie Zea) and FBI Agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), are a new educated blonde lady, Lily Grey (Connie Neilsen), and a new tough detective, Agent Mendez. Plus, the show has upped Ryan's niece Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) to a more commanding role this season. But despite all the new characters and the shuffling, The Following is still a man's world, and heartily so.
To be fair, Season 2 had fixed one problem prevalent in the first season: disproportionate amounts of violence against women. After all, the villain Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is famous for brutally murdering women in the name of an Edgar Allen Poe-inspired scheme that purports to be high-minded. Women are still the main victims in Season 2, with Lily taking Claire's role as Ryan Hardy's (Kevin Bacon) object of affection and frequent target of his enemies and episode one delivering a tall, lanky blonde murdered and trussed up to look like she's reading in the park. But for the most part, The Following has expanded its violent net to a more equal opportunity range; among the slain so far this season are a dancer, a mother, a father, a reverend, and a handful of random subway patrons.
But that doesn't get the series off the hook. The lineup of women in Season 2 are — as far as we can tell in two episodes — severely lacking. Lily Grey alone is something of an issue. So far, we've learned she has no connection to Joe Carroll or Ryan Hardy, she's simply the only surviving victim of the season-opening subway attack.
Yes, she's got a great job and an "interesting" background — she's traveled the world, was raised in Denmark, and lived in England for a while. She runs a gallery, sponsors charity events, and is a generally accomplished woman, and yet her only true purpose on the show is to be the only lady wearing a sexy red dress at a charity auction so she really pops when Ryan has to save her from Carroll's latest cult twins. All she's allowed to be is the spark to ignite Ryan's emotions, rendering all of her professional wrappings a thin, pretty cellophane shell and nothing more.
Max, Ryan's police squad niece suffers a similar fate. She's a tough beat cop in Manhattan — which would be enough for most prime time dramas to throw her a ticker tape parade — but it's nothing compared to Ryan's innate, obsessive need to investigate Joe and his followers. She's been promoted this season but still feels relegated to the background, where she uses the NYPD intranet to trace phone calls Ryan gets from this season's villain and serves as his glorified assistant and part time mother (he forgets to eat so she lectures him about obsessing over Joe and brings food to his apartment practically screaming "Eat, papa!" like Mrs. Claus in a stop-motion Christmas special).
The FBI's Mendez seems to be a mild reincarnation of Season 1's Agent Debra — she's intrigued and annoyed by Ryan all over again while Mike's relationship with the former agent blankets over everything.
And on Joe's side of the fence, things aren't much better. Joe's shacking up with a backwoods prostitute (the often under-appreciated Carrie Preston) who loves him and wrote him letters in prison because she's convinced that she can fix him. She's painted as the text book woman foolish enough to think she can fix a bad boy — and as we found out on Monday night, you can't make an old dog forget his old murderous tricks. Her daughter is an intriguing character, though she's yet to make much of an impact other than proving Joe's capacity for endearing himself to young women like Season 1's Emma (Valorie Curry).
In Season 2, Emma appears to be attempting to set up her own Joe Carroll commune, unaware that her fallen leader has actually risen again in the backwoods. She's dressed like an '80s punk and leads her own missions to find other missing cult members, like this season's first turncoat Carlos Perez. She has all the outer elements of the TV staple "strong female character," yet, she's still simply following the words of the leader she loved and obsessed over. She's still one hundred percent Joe's and "strong" only in the fierceness of her exasperated expressions.
It's a bit disappointing that with this seeming wealth of opportunity to create women who are full and capable characters with depth, The Following thoroughly drops the ball, obsessed instead with making every character revolve around either Purefoy or Bacon like some creepy, living nursery mobile. The writers give us what appear to be "strong female characters" — Look, two of them are cops and one's got a mohawk! Aren't they strong? But it's not enough.
There is some hope in the fact that clearly, Fox knows that audiences need to see more women on a mainstream crime thriller. It's just unfortunate that the writers at The Following clearly don't know what to do once they've got them.
Images: Fox (3)