Reviews, Recaps, and Personal Thoughts on All Things TV

Posts tagged ‘TV Reviews’

The Walking Dead: No. Eff you, you effing eff.

Even before the end of season 6 of The Walking Dead, I was so over this show. Having watched it religiously for 6 years, (even suffering through season 2), as a loyal fan, I felt completely disrespected by the showrunners. This is one of the highest-rated shows on television. There’s even a show AFTER the show, where the sole purpose is to talk about the show for ANOTHER HOUR. And yet, for whatever reason, The Walking Dead has turned away from even attempting to write compelling storylines, and instead has chosen to throw cheap tricks at us, for nothing more than a lazy grab at ratings they don’t even need.

The Walking Dead spent almost all of last season crawling along at a glacial pace, telling the same goddamn story they have been telling from the beginning–you either accept this new world as corrupt, or you believe there is salvation still to be had (except you’re wrong, you freaking idiots). Our heroes arrive at a town in Alexandria, Virginia, which has managed to escape the worst of the zombie outbreak. The people living there are naive to the reality of the world. And so we spend yet another season watching the consequences of people either choosing to accept it or not choosing to accept it. YAWN.

The thing that has always angered me about The Walking Dead, is that the show spends time making you care about these characters, only to rip them away from you, usually by the next episode. There’s a huge difference between killing a character for the sake of the story to move forward (i.e., Hershel), and killing a character just to kill them (i.e., pretty much everyone else). That’s not entertainment.

Let’s talk about the shit the show pulled with Glenn last season. He seemingly fell off of a dumpster and had his intestines ripped out and eaten before his very eyes. Several episodes later, we learn that the other guy on the dumpster had fallen on top of Glenn, and HIS intestines were being eaten, while Glenn pulled himself under the dumpster until all the zombies eventually shuffled away.

Why. Why would you do that? Why would you tell that story? It’s not a story! It’s a cop out. It’s a ratings grab. It’s bullshit. It’s disrespectful to the fans.

And then let’s bring in Negan–the show’s new Big Bad, who has been hinted at for quite some time, and has excited the fan base who has read the comics. Negan is pure evil. And everyone knew he was going to kill someone.

Of course, I tuned in for the last 10 minutes of the finale to find out: Who was Negan going to kill? Pulling the SAME SHIT they pulled with Glenn’s dumpster dive “death,” The Walking Dead hyped this finale up, only to make us wait until the next season to learn everyone’s fate.

Of course, I was not even the least bit excited to learn who got killed. The Walking Dead marketed the forthcoming death(s) as a game; as a teaser. Posting videos to their Facebook page of each character and asking, “Is this the end for Maggie?”, “Is this the end for Daryl?” No, I don’t want to play that game! These are characters that I care about. I have been with these characters since the beginning. I love them all. I don’t want to take bets on who is going to die!

So, season 7 opens with an extreme close up of Rick, sweating and wearing a smear of someone else’s brains on his face. People sobbing around him. Horrifying, horrible, awful stuff. Where is the entertainment value in this? We learn fairly quickly that it was Abraham who took the bat to the head again, and again, and again, until his head was nothing more than a puddle of blood on the ground. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Later in the episode (and the point at which I stopped watching), the bat is brought down on Glenn’s head. He didn’t die right away though. His eyeball popped out, and he struggled to say one last thing to his pregnant wife as she knelt horrified and hysterical, watching her husband (and a beloved character, plus one of the only Asian men on TV right now) ALSO have his head beaten to a soup of blood. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Not only did it happen, but we had to watch it. Violence for the sake of violence. Gratuitous horror for the sake of gratuitous horror. Why? Why?

I’m not buying Jeffery Dean Morgan’s portrayal as Negan–if this is supposed to be a psychotic, maniacal villain, Morgan is just not selling it. I imagine there are few actors in this world who can deliver the line “pee pee pants city” with any kind of believable conviction to make it not ridiculous. Negan doesn’t scare me, he doesn’t seem unhinged. Which makes the violence even more unnecessary than it already is. If the story is to demonstrate a psychopath, then yeah, maybe the brutal deaths would have been warranted. But Jeffery Dean Morgan is just not pulling that off. He’s not a worthy adversary to Rick. And frankly, I’m sick of seeing Rick’s sweaty hair in his face as he trembles in baffled agony at the events unfolding before him.

What I find particularly disturbing is the reaction of the audience to Negan. They couldn’t wait for this character to show up. Knowing how horrible he would be. Jeffery Dean Morgan is undoubtably a babe (Denny Duquette forever and ever amen), but what was this that I saw at Hot Topic last night:

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The description of this shirt on the Hot Topic website is:
“You really like the bad boys, don’t you?!

This fitted black tee from AMC’s The Walking Dead features a black & white photo design of Negan and his bat Lucille with text that reads “I (heart) Negan.”

There are not enough emoticons in the world to depict how I am feeling. This character BEAT THE LITERAL BRAINS OUT OF TWO CHARACTERS. HE’S NOT A BAD BOY, HE’S A SICK TWISTED MOTHERFUCKER WITH NO REDEEMABLE QUALITIES.

Seriously, what the actual fuck am I looking at? Negan is not a misunderstood emotionally unavailable man with a secret heart of gold and the ability to be saved if a woman loves him enough. This disturbs me to my core. Why aren’t more people angry about this? Where is the entertainment value in this?!?

You know who the target customer at Hot Topic is? Teenagers. Teenagers. TEENAGERS. (And me, but we’re not talking about that right now.)

The Walking Dead is one of (if not THE) most popular shows on television right now. Its scope stretches far and wide. Its marketing suggests entertainment in violent death, and now it glorifies villains. This shirt has a man on it, holding a bat that is dripping in blood, with the words a middle schooler would doodle on the sides of their looseleaf paper. Do you like me? Yes. No. Maybe. Circle One.

No. No. Fuck you The Walking Dead you fucking fuck. This show is dead to me. And yet, like every dead thing on this show, it rises back up from the dead and crawls toward me with evil intentions–it’s already been renewed for two more seasons.

 

Backstreet’s Back ALL RIGHT (or someone else, spoilers duh)

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Game of Thrones is back! Jon Snow is back! Even Ned Stark is back (kinda). It is an exciting time to be tuned it to Westeros, because Game of Thrones is entering uncharted territory. That’s right, this season they are going off book, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because, seriously, have you read the 5th book? I tried. I tried so hard. I got maybe a quarter of the way through (which, in my defense, is like 300 pages) and I just couldn’t do it anymore because NOTHING. IS. HAPPENING. Do I need 3 pages of Tyrion musing about turtles? No. And honestly, that is really all I remember from the 5th book because literally nothing else happens. And so it is with extreme excitement that I let this season take me beyond the books to heretofore unseen places and storylines, with nary a turtle in sight.

And I’m okay with the show runners doing whatever they want to this story, because it is going places and I am 110% here for it. A brief recap of where we left off last season:

In King’s Landing, Cersei gave a little too much power to a religious extremist group who imprisoned her, as well as Margaery and Loras Tyrell for the sins of incest, homosexuality, etc. Cersei confessed to her crimes so she could be released, but in exchange had to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked and shamed in front of all of the people she has ruled (who obviously hate her, for good reason because she’s a total bitch). As of the opening of season 6, the Tyrell’s are still held captive, refusing to confess.

In Dorne, Jamie travels to fetch his niece/daughter, Myrcella, and take her back to King’s Landing. Myrcella is very much in love with betrothed Dornish Prince, Tristane, and doesn’t want to leave. Ellaria Sand returns to Dorne, mourning Oberyn Martell, who got his skull crushed by the Mountain during a duel (it basically exploded, I’m still not over it). She is hell-bent on vengeance and seeks help from the Sand Snakes (a group of Oberyn’s bastard daughters, both by Ellaria Sand and other women), who are also interested in avenging their father. Oberyn’s brother, Prince Doran, wishes to maintain peace. So the sand ladies take things into their own hands (and whips), poisoning Myrcella just before she gets on the boat that is to take her and Tristane back to King’s Landing. Myrcella tells Jamie that she knows he’s her Uncle-Father, and she’s okay with it. But then she dies.

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Heyyy Uncle-Father

In Braavos, Arya is still training with Jaqen H’ghar and all the weirdos at the House of Black and White. She insists that she is “no one” when asked but she is still holding on to a part of Arya that she doesn’t want to let go. Jaqen obviously knows this. A man knows a lot of stuff. He knows that Arya assumes a disguise in order to murder one of the men on her hit list (Meryn Trant who, it turns out, was into molesting kids almost as much as he was in to cutting people’s heads off, so no one is even remotely sorry that he’s dead now). BUT, since Arya disobeyed orders and acted in her own interests, she’s blind now.

Across the sea, Tyrion emerges from his smuggling after killing his father with an arrow to the crotch. Varys came along too and tries convincing Tyrion to join the Targaryen cause. Ser Jorrah, who is depressed and in Daenerys’ exile, comes across Tyrion and kidnaps him to take him to Dani to try and win retribution (I guess?). On their way there, they are attacked by stone men who infect Ser Jorrah with greyscale (though he has revealed that to no one–and I can’t help noticing he’s still going around touching everyone he pleases!). Tyron meets Dani and joins her Queen’s Guard. Ser Jorrah enters the fighting pits to impress the queen because the dude just cannot take a hint. Then the Sons of the Harpy show up, trying to assassinate the queen. Jorrah saves her, and it looks like a pretty stick situation, until DROGON comes out of nowhere, obliterating Dani’s enemies as she mounts him and together they fly away into the sunset! BUT then she gets kidnapped by the Dothraki.

At Winterfell, Roose Bolton legitimizes his bastard, Ramsey, and arranges that he marry Sansa Stark. Sansa is brought down from the Vale by Littlefinger, who she trusts (girl, that’s a mistake), and he leaves her there with her future husband. Theon, of course, is there (or at least what’s left of him is there. That does not include his penis. That’s gone forever). Surprising no one, Ramsey brutally rapes and tortures his new bride, but Sansa and Theon manage to escape and run away.

Also at Winterfell, Brienne and Pod had reached out to Sansa pre Sansa getting married and offered their protection, which she denied (girl, that was a mistake). Stannis marches on Winterfell (girl, that was a mistake) and his army is completely obliterated. Brienne comes upon a dying Stannis and avenges the gay love of her life, Renly, by chopping off Stannis’ head. Everyone collectively breathes a sigh of relief because no one likes Stannis because he’s so boring plus he just burned his daughter alive.

Which leads me to: The Wall. Where all kinds of shit is going down. Like the White Walker army attacking and killing the crap out of the Wildlings. Stannis was at the Wall with the Red Woman, his family, and Ser Davos. Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, and Davos had formed a special friendship as she taught him how to read. This girl is like the sweetest little thing you ever could see. She also survived greyscale (so don’t give up hope, Ser Jorrah!). But perhaps greyscale would have been preferable to what did happen to her, which was death by fire. Melisandre saw Stannis’ victory at Winterfell in the flames but he needed to make a sacrifice of someone with king’s blood. Well, in his general vicinity, that was pretty much only Shireen. And Davos wasn’t there to save her, as he had already headed towards Winterfell. The fire was lit and this poor child was burned alive. All for nothing because Stannis lost anyway (which Melisandre was really bummed out about).

So, finally, we come to Jon Snow. He who knows nothing. He with the fantastic hair that looks so amazing when snow falls in it. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Murdered. Stabbed to death by his own Brothers. The closing scene of the season is Jon Snow lying dead in the….well….in the snow.

Thus began the year of speculation! Is he really dead? Turns out yes. But does he stay dead. No he does not.

(Okay, I guess that recap wasn’t so brief but I had to set the stage!)

Game of Thrones hit the ground running this season, pushing the story forward at a quick but satisfying pace. In the 2 episodes that have aired so far, already 3 significant characters have been killed (Balon Greyjoy, Prince Doran of Dorne, and Roose Bolton). Sansa was rescued by Brienne. Tyrion unshackled the freaking DRAGONS (in a heart-pounding scene for sure–could he have dragon’s blood in him? Hmm?). Melisandre was revealed to be secretly super old (which absolutely none of us saw coming). Ramsey brutally murdered his father’s widow and newborn son (it was grisly and completely unnecessary that we had to watch/hear that. Too far GoT. Seriously, too far). The more boring storylines (and by that I mean nothing has really happened yet): Arya is still blind, and Cersei and the Lannisters are plotting their revenge.

But now we get to the most intriguing storylines. First, Bran is using his mystical white eye warg powers to insert himself into moments in the past. The first of these puts Bran at Winterfell, where he sees young Ned Stark practicing sword-fighting with brother Benjen, as his sister Lyanna rides up on horseback. We also see Hodor, but he was a boy named Wylis back  then and could still speak English. The preview for next week promises more flashback scenes. GIVE ME RHAEGAR FLASHBACKS AND GIVE ME THEM NOW. My hopes and dreams are that these scenes will culminate in the reveal of the highly popular theory that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. I’m thirsting for that story, and the show better quench it because I deserve it! We all deserve it.

And finally, we’re back to Jon Snow. Surprising probably no one, he does come back from the dead. Melisandre sensuously washes his wounds (so many abs, so many abs), cuts his hair (tone it down lady, don’t cut it all off), and mumbles a bunch of Valyrian (I think) over him, all resulting in Jon Snow drawing breath and being alive again. YES.

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The show has consistently done a good job of taking the story from the books and condensing it down, either eliminating minor characters (or storylines) completely or replacing them with more important ones. (See: Sansa Stark as Ramsey’s wife, instead of Jeyne Poole from the books who is masqueraded as Arya. So confusing. Or Ellaria Sand as the one pushing for a war with the Lannisters, instead of introducing a new character to do so.) And now that they have surpassed the plot of the books, they’re doing something even better: Removing all boring moments from the books and giving the fans storylines that are interesting and satisfying.

As of the end of book 5, Tyrion had yet to meet Daenerys. In the show, not only has he met her, he now advises her and befriends her dragons, all while maintaining a comedic wit that the show desperately needs to break up the horror of most other plots. I have no idea what’s going on with Sansa in book 5 but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much further than the Vale. In the show, she has now escaped Ramsey, learned that Bran and Rickon are alive, reunited with and forgiven Theon, and has been saved by Brienne. And on and on it goes for each character. And now, the icing on the cake, we are getting flashback scenes. I’m so excited I feel like I’m taking a ride on that dragon, soaring over my enemies (namely father of the realm G.R.R.M., the maintenance people who won’t come and fix my bathroom ceiling, and any and all haters). I cannot wait to watch the rest of this season.

Side note: Do you think anyone is going to get raped this season? Who am I kidding, it’s Game of Thrones, of COURSE someone is getting raped.

Why ‘The Walking Dead’ is Still Unwatched on My DVR

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SIGH. I’m starting to really get tired of The Walking Dead’s shit. Over the past 6 seasons, the show continuously got better and better. And yet, it was getting better at telling the same damn story. That story being: Who are we after the world collapses? And, also, this is the world we live in now, you have to adapt to it.

Well, fuck, I’m bored as hell with that! The first half of the current season was spent introducing us to a slew of new characters that we all know are gonna die eventually and probably pretty soon. All of these characters have had the privilege of living behind the walls of a neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, where some temporary geographical circumstances had the worst of the zombie mobs kept away from this pristine little place. All of the people inside are, obviously, totally oblivious to how the world works now. In marches Rick and his merry band of badasses who have seen some truly horrific shit, and now they have to co-mingle with a group of doofuses and, boy, do they butt heads! lol

Except, you know what? I already saw HOW many seasons of people accepting this new world? I’m over that. I got it! It sucks and you either die or you live. I don’t need to see the character development of some rando Joe Schmo who’s going to die in the next 30 minutes anyway. I don’t even need new characters! Stick to the main characters you still haven’t killed, they’re the only ones we care about.

I also really don’t need characters like Morgan believing that there is still redemption to be  found in all humans, and that killing is a mistake. Nobody has time for this shit, Morgan. I know you’re plot point one, but see plot point two: This is the world we live in now, adapt to it!

Not only am I just generally bored with the storylines, but the show gives us so much awful and hardly any relief. I know it’s a show about zombies eating people and people killing people. But the audience does get invested in these characters. Not only are they consistently killed, but we’re also hardly ever given some happy moments or satisfying ones.

Take the shit this season pulled with Glenn and the dumpster–we thought he was dead (which was awful), now he’s alive (but the reason is bullshit), and for most of this season, we’ve been waiting for Glenn and Maggie to be reunited. It happens, but WE don’t see it. I briefly saw Glenn walking toward Maggie in the infirmary after the zombie shitshow was over and all the annoying characters got eaten. I thought I was going to punch something. You put me through all of those hours of agony, and then you don’t even give me anything in terms of a reunion? Nothing? You couldn’t give me Glenn’s hand on a baby bump, or a simple kiss? Am I machine without feelings?

And people die now just to die. Their deaths don’t add anything to the story. Hershel’s partial beheading was the last death to really mean something to me on this show. His character was important. He had become a voice of reason and a leader. He was a good man. And killing him pushed the show’s storyline ahead.

Beth’s death? EFF. THAT. That was ridiculous. And what is Maggie going to do if Glenn dies? She’ll be sad. The end. What intriguing storyline can there possibly be with that? They’ve run out of character arcs for these people, so now they’re just doing cheap tricks (like pretending to kill Glenn) and recycling old storylines with new people.

And now I hear all of this talk about Negan, from the comics. I hear that he’s a horrendous person. I hear that he kills a beloved character by bashing his brains in with a baseball bat. So Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead is sitting unwatched on my DVR. Because here’s what I’ll find when I hit play: Boring overused storylines, death and pain and no satisfaction or gratification, and the promise of terrible things to come. I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. Nah, you know what, I’ll probably just go watch it.

No, wait, there was a moment of satisfaction recently. When that weird kid got eaten by the zombies. Finally. Yeah, that part was great.

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Tiptoe through the tulips indeed, Sam.

 

#TBT Completely Valid and Legitimate Ramblings about ‘The Bachelor’ (from 2 years ago)

It’s been a long time since I posted and I very much want to get back into writing about things. So I’m sharing with you thoughts on The Bachelor that I posted to Facebook on this day 2 years ago. Remember the season with Juan Pablo? Yeah, me either. Timehop had to remind me.

February 26, 2014

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Douchebag alert, douchebag alert.

You should know that I only watch The Bachelor during Fantasy Suite episodes and for purely sociological reasons. I’m being serious when I say I don’t watch for entertainment value (though I’m not proud to admit that I do laugh at it). I don’t like the way it portrays women, nor glorifies a man who is a self-important douche, and I understand even less how all of the women proclaim to “fall in love” with him. Most of all, I just do not understand how this show happens. Last night, one of the women was a pediatric nurse, and the other an assistant district attorney. These are intelligent women, with a lot going for them.

The Fantasy Suite episodes are the most fascinating of all though because it’s the episode where each woman in turn gets to publicly decide whether or not she’ll have sex with the guy by spending a night in the “Fantasy Suite.” I was appalled last night that all three women chose to have sex with Juan Pablo (single most ridiculous Bachelor name ever) after the conversations they had with him. Every time one of the women would try and talk to Juan Pablo, he would say, “You’re doing a lot of thinking tonight,” and then start to kiss them. (Because thinking would definitely lead to the obvious conclusion that Juan Pablo’s a piece of shit, and he can’t have that.)

One woman said, “I’m in love with you” and when he said nothing back, she quickly said, “I understand that you can’t say anything right now!” and started kissing him before deciding that, yes, she would go to the Fantasy Suite with him. The self-consciousness it must take to be on this show. The fear of rejection so vast that she would rather end all conversation and have sex with the man, than maybe hear that he doesn’t love her. It’s delusional and it’s sad and I think it’s how many women in America approach and react to love, or the desire to be loved.

Another woman said, “I’m in love with you,” and Juan Pablo said, “I didn’t know that. I…..like you. Like……” and then kissed her and then SHE had sex with him. These women delude themselves into thinking they are in some kind of relationship with an emotionally unavailable man who wouldn’t even be available if he was dating ONE woman. But the women just can’t or won’t see what’s in front of their face.

The MOST frustrating thing in last night’s episode, though, was Andi. Who did go to the Fantasy Suite but woke up the next morning proclaiming to the cameras that it was a “nightmare” and that she was “Not in love with Juan Pablo, and never will be.” And I’m sitting on the couch like, “All right! Finally! Bring it, girl!” But THEN, when she confronts JP about it, he simply says, “Okay. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I respect you.” Which I thought, okay, that’s legit. But then Andi started to get ANGRY because Juan Pablo wasn’t upset that she wanted to leave. And she started to get into an argument with him, trying to get some sort of emotion out of him when it was clear that he didn’t care and wouldn’t ever care. I mean, it was her own damn fault for sleeping with him, I’m sorry it took her so long to open her freaking eyes.

I instantly started to lose respect for as she pathetically tried again and again to get him to feel sorry that she was leaving. She got hung up on the semantics–she claimed he said she was in the top 3 by default, but he claimed he never used that word and told her she “BARELY” made it to the top 3. Which, in my opinion, is WAY more offensive. She just kept bringing up, “You SAID ‘default.’ You said it.” And I think this is what’s happening to these women on the show. They get so caught up on a tiny, trivial thing that they fail to see the huge picture (in this case, that he actually said something way more offensive than what she was offended about).

Glaring communication errors aside, I think the reason the women act the way they do (participating at all, catty competitiveness towards the other women, agreeing to share a man with 27 other people, claim that they are “falling in love” with this man–and maybe even believe it, agree to have sex with him, desire a proposal from him) is most closely related to the cognitive dissonance theory that is used to explain why normal, intelligent people who also have a lot going for them would participate in crude and violent hazing rituals (either as the one being hazed or the person doing the hazing) to gain acceptance and entry to a fraternity or sorority.

In these women’s desire to find “love,” what we’re really talking about is the desire to not be rejected. To have validation. They’ve come to the wrong place. Because the very act of appearing on The Bachelor–manipulated and edited to portray the worst about women–gives you a huge audience. And everyone in it is judging and rejecting you. Not just Juan Pablo.

‘The Following’ Wears Its Sophomore Season Well

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The Following, Season 2

The Following, debuting its first season in January of 2013, had an interesting premise and a lot of potential but suffered from poor execution and over-the-top writing. The premise: Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is a serial killer and author who garners a cult following which finds inspiration in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. This following helps him to escape prison and begin writing his next novel, whose central character is FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the man who put Carroll behind bars.

The premise is intriguing, especially with the added element of Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre work from which to draw imagery inspiration. However, the execution left something to be desired. Though the characters weren’t quite one-dimensional: Ryan Hardy was destroyed by the Joe Carroll case; shot in the chest and requiring a pace maker, he became an alcoholic to escape the demons that still haunted him, and believed that death followed him wherever he went. Joe Carroll wanted to write his next novel (his first one was a flop) centered on destroying Ryan Hardy’s life. Add to that mix that Ryan was in love with Joe’s ex-wife Claire, and that Joe had a young son, who he was intent on being reunited with, and I was still intrigued. Also compelling was the fact that the central characters come to learn that people in their lives that they’ve known and trusted for years were actually followers of Joe, who were placed there so that they could strike at the opportune moment.

The problem with all of that, however, is how melodramatic and ridiculous the show ended up being. After Carroll escaped prison and met with his followers at a giant estate that became their headquarters and hideout, he managed to kidnap his ex-wife and son, and yet still allude the FBI for an entire season despite the fact that he stayed in one place for most of said season. The FBI was seemingly incapable of accomplishing anything. The characters of the cult were annoying, dispensable, and always doomed to fail—which made them boring and predictable.

Joe Carroll himself was the biggest problem of all. He was supposed to be brilliant and charismatic, but he strutted around his mansion screaming about metaphors and reciting his own terrible prose that it was hard to believe that he could ever inspire dozens of people to not only follow him, but to become murderers.

Ryan Hardy was a tortured person who was forever one step behind Joe Carroll, and forced to feel bad for himself as people around him died. The story was predictable, the ending foolish and laughable (Joe Carroll appeared to “die” by blowing up in a lighthouse, but his face as he screamed, “No! Noooo!” behind a wall of flames was so absurd that it had to be staged). The season ended with Ryan believing Joe was dead, and reconnecting with his love, Claire, only to have one of Joe’s followers pop out of nowhere and stab the both of them.

And now we get to season two. Which is such a markedly different show that I am shocked and pleasantly surprised. When season two opens, it’s been a year since Ryan and Claire were stabbed, and you learn immediately that Claire did not survive. But Ryan turned his life around—he quit the FBI, he goes jogging, he’s sober—and works as a criminology professor in New York. But at night, he becomes a secret vigilante, hunting down the remnants of Joe Carroll’s followers (called “Carrollers”) outside of the law.

Removing Ryan from the FBI was one of the best decisions this show could make. Ryan Hardy became so boring and tortured acting as the good guy. Playing by a specific set of rules, where else could his character go except to remain tragic and stuck repeating the same damn plot points? But Ryan Hardy as vigilante? So much better. He seeks revenge, and he will kill. Oh, and he believes Joe is alive.

And of course Joe is alive. He’s living in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere with a prostitute who wrote to him in prison, and her daughter. He’s in hiding, with a glorious beard and an attempt at an American accent. He claims he has reformed, and hasn’t killed anyone since he staged his own death. And it seems it’s true—he is truly struggling with his identity.

But when a cult of copycats, wearing Joe Carroll masks, storm a New York subway and murder a car of people shouting, “Resurrection!” and “Ryan Hardy can’t stop us,” it unfolds a chain of events far more interesting than anything that happened in season one.

Suddenly, there is a new cult, trying to draw Joe out of hiding, and it works. And Ryan Hardy continues to work outside the law (except with the help of his law-enforcement niece, which conveniently allows him to continue to have access to tracing phone calls and the like) helping to erase the ridiculousness of the first season with the FBI appearing to be completely incompetent.

The new cult is the best part of this season (and the show, I believe). Led by an art dealer named Lily, the cult is a hodgepodge of international orphans that Lily picked up over the years and formed a family (they all call her Mother) of twisted psychos. It’s clear that Lily wants Joe to complete that family.

What set this season apart for me right from the start was how it actually works as a suspenseful and creepy show now. Credit has to go predominantly to the brilliantly talented Sam Underwood (who is really good at playing psychos), who plays a set of sick and twisted twins—Luke and Mark. Luke slicks his hair back and Mark wears his on his forehead but you don’t need that small physical distinction to tell them apart because Underwood is a master. Luke is more assertive, more cruel and violent, but more charismatic (the kind of charisma that I think James Purefoy is lacking as Joe Carroll). Mark is bashful, shy, almost sweet, and struggles with emotion.

Together, they murder for their mother and then “have fun” with the body. It is implied that Luke enjoys having sex with corpses, but Mark likes to talk to them as though they were alive. Luke and Mark are chilling and strange.

And yet I find myself most drawn to this family of psychopaths this season. Ryan Hardy’s storyline takes a backseat to the intrigue of this new strange cult, and I find myself actually hoping that they don’t get caught, so I can see how they handle situations next. The characters are wholly more interesting than anything we saw from season one, and the show made a smart decision to kill off almost all of the original members of Joe Carroll’s cult, leaving only Emma (who they’ve somehow made less annoying, though I don’t know how). Gone, too, are the Edgar Allen Poe references and inspirations, which were becoming tedious and contrived.

Even Joe Carroll is a better character this season. He doubts himself, questions his identity, and feels failure—as a writer, as a leader, as a father. When we see Joe murder this season, we believe that he is a serial killer who takes pleasure in the sick things he does. There was some disconnect with that in season one but, removed from his cult, there is more of a realness to him that makes him more believable.

I truly had no idea how The Following could pull off a second season without just repeating the same storylines from the first season. But it’s like watching a completely different show. They removed the elements that weren’t working, took the characters out of settings that were doing nothing for them, and introduced a slew of truly intriguing and scary characters. The acting is better and the writing is better. Whereas the first season was utterly predictable, I believe this season has the potential to shock me—and I hope there will be twists. I truly struggled to get through the entirety of the first season. The second season has done the unthinkable: Made me excited to tune in every Monday. Should I say it? I’m going to say it: I’m a follower.