After last week’s generic pilot, we were hoping that Kevin Williamson’s serial killer TV series would start to pick up the pace a little with episode two. The first episode featured far too much of Kevin Bacon scowling through a predictable procedural plot, but finished with the promise of a lot more serial killer madness. Well, things are definitely moving more quickly this week but there’s not necessarily an improvement in terms of quality.
The hunt is on for Claire Matthews’ son Joey, while Ryan’s superiors are questioning whether or not to keep him and his many problems on the case. Ryan is, of course, adamant that they need him and his expertise, and his personal involvement with Claire means that he’s not going to back off. Meanwhile, Carroll’s acolyte Emma has taken Joey and met up with Jacob and Paul, the not-actually-gay neighbours who helped Carroll murder Sarah Fuller in the pilot, and Jordy Raines (the guard who helped Carroll to escape) is still on the loose.
The procedural aspects that made the pilot episode dull have been toned down in favour of increasingly campy silliness, which is both good and bad. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining than the pilot was, and it benefits from shifting some of the focus away from the police investigation and onto the killers themselves. There’s still plenty of Bacon glowering and muttering about Carroll’s Poe fascination. We also get a new agent in charge: Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), whose expertise in cults may come in handy, even if she doesn’t like using the word.
Williamson’s Scream roots come into evidence more in this episode, as we’re shown how Carroll manipulated Emma (Twilight‘s Valorie Curry) and set her up with Jacob (Scream 4‘s Nico Tortorella) in predictable but entertaining flashbacks. James Purefoy is clearly enjoying playing the seductive professor who exploits Emma’s low self-esteem and sets her on the path to killing her over-bearing mother. Curry’s performance is especially strong; hopefully she won’t just be stranded keeping Joey away from his mother for the entire series.
But actual surprises are still worryingly few and far between. What are the chances that Ryan will go through a set of blue-prints and realise what he’s looking at JUST IN TIME to stop an attack? What are the odds that Sarah’s decision will prove to be a colossal mistake? And what are the chances that one of the “not-gay” killers would feel jealous that his faux-beau leaps into Emma’s arms and leaves him as a third wheel?
It’s only the closing scene that provides a real jolt, as a man in an Edgar Allan Poe mask pours a can of gasoline over a man in the street and sets him on fire. For all Joe Carroll’s muttering about Ryan’s trials being only the start of something much bigger, this was a rare shock in an episode lacking in them. The performances are still fine. Bacon seems slightly more at ease than last week, Purefoy’s has his smug serial killer act down pat, and Natalie Zea continues to put in strong work.
More entertaning than the pilot then, but still some way short of what we were hoping for. If next week’s episode doesn’t deliver the goods then we might have to stop following.