3.31.2015

Analyzing Mandy Lang (#TheFollowing)

After witnessing the epic fail of Once Upon a Time's handling of Ursula, I must admit...actress Tiffany Boone had my interest. I found out she was on The Following and had to know more.

Before we continue, let me make it clear that I do not recommend The Following. This show exemplifies everything that's currently wrong with TV; reviewers have been consistently unimpressed; the AV Club doled out "D" and "F" grades weekly, and viewers on Netflix (myself included) only gave it two stars.  So do not confuse this post with a pitch to watch the show.  Season 1 was "Meh."  Season 2 was "No."  And Season 3 was "Zzzzzzzz....." until Michael Ealy joined the cast this week.

But back to the young lady at hand.  The Following is a show about serial killers.  Seasons 1 & 2 focused on Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a serial killer who goes to jail, but then meets and cultivates a cult of serial killers from jail.  So the intended morbid fun of the show is to get people to guess which character on screen is part of the cult and which unsuspecting fool is about to get shanked (they're a knife-happy cult).  You can imagine the look on Joe's ex-wife's face when she learned her nanny of two years is part of the cult, and was specifically sent to watch her...before kidnapping her son.

At the end of Season 1, Joe has faked his death and at the beginning of Season 2, he's hiding out in Boone County, Arkansas with a sex worker and her daughter Mandy Lang.

Mandy is a fascinating character.  She was not given nearly enough time on the show and Den of Geek pointed out her death was a disappointing cheap plot point to drive a wedge between Joe and his last remaining follower from Season 1.
Mandy is young, obedient, deceptively sweet but, like Joe's other followers, completely under his spell. But what I like most about Boone's casting is that as an actress of color she gets to play a complex character that is no one's sidekick, best friend or moral compass. She commands the screen as a character whose storyline is not governed by any specific race or look (something that is fortunately becoming more of a standard on the small screen). Mandy is strictly governed by her devotion to Joe's method: organized murder, often in broad daylight, that constantly makes law enforcement look like its run by Quick Draw McGraw and Yosemite Sam (one of which is played by the show's star, Kevin Bacon).

In fact, Joe is like Mandy's god and she is his number one believer, eager to make him proud by borrowing his powers of manipulation on her own prey. It's a creepy relationship, deepened by its elements of faith and fatherhood, that allows Boone to explore the levels of human control and moral decay. It's the type of role actresses kill for.
(Source)


This is not an inaccurate assessment; however, I noticed a parallel no one else really touched upon.  Joe the serial killer has spent years on death row, unable to be with his son.  Mandy has grown up not only without a father figure, but without an attentive, caring parental figure - period.

Mandy is the mixed teenaged daughter of a prostitute who counts the local Reverend among her clients, a Reverend who eyeballs Mandy in an eerie way, mind you.  She's clearly unhappy living out in the literal backwoods of Arkansas, so when she helps Joe take the Reverend hostage, immediately thinks of a way to hide the body, and then stabs her own mother to death, none of that came as a shock to me.  Some critics didn't buy it, but I did.  And I didn't miss how delightfully surprised Joe was; after all, his own son had been raised to view him as "a bad man" who had done awful things, and didn't want anything to do with him.  But here was a kid who knew who/what Joe was upfront...and loved him anyway.

And despite the sheer demented nature of their relationship, their father/daughter love is quite real.  I thought their scenes were the best acting on the entire show.  I don't know if an acting coach gave these two pointers or what, but I was genuinely convinced of their affection - which is most likely why the writers decided she needed to go.

Joe's right-hand henchwoman/lover is Emma Hill (who also killed her own mother, by the way).  She's been his most loyal, disciplined, efficient, and determined follower for years.  Of his original cult, she's the last bitch standing - everyone else is dead or in jail.

It's no surprise then that Emma and Mandy clash; each wants the other gone and Joe wants them both to STFU and get along.  And the messed up part is, Mandy is initially willing to befriend Emma (after all, they have so much in common), but Emma is not a fan of sharing Joe with anyone.  James Purefoy stated in an interview that he believed Emma was Joe's most important relationship in Season 2...and I disagree.  Because when Emma drives Mandy to run away to her death (which Joe has to listen to), Joe's grief and fury are for real.  So while Den of Geek is correct about Mandy's death as a cheap plot device, in a way it still works (albeit in a small way) because you can clearly see Joe never looks at Emma the same way again.

Aside for Mandy's death, my other big beef is "the switch".  Mandy doesn't flinch when clobbering the Reverend from behind.  She stabs her mother and moves on with her life.  But the show's portrayal of her becoming disillusioned and scared of killing people was - to me - out of the blue.  Say what???  She killed her own mother.  Then moved on with her life.  And she even brings that up when Emma cops an attitude, like "Bitch, you ain't the only one!!!"

And then, when they're on the run and they briefly stop at one of Joe's followers' house for help, Mandy's surprised he's willing to leave the woman alive.  Joe insists she's a friend and a loyal one at that.  Mandy simply blinks and tells him that he has to do it.  He got what he came for and now he needs to kill her to cover his tracks.  Joe doesn't, but I'm like, "Wow...they really do have this young brown girl slowly becoming a serial killer.  Talk about breaking us off something new."

But this is a classic example of one of The Following's biggest problems: great ideas, shitty execution, and misguided priorities.  Mandy should've gone with her "training".  She should have survived long to at least live through Season 3.  With Joe currently back on death row and Emma Hill finally dead, there was so much more dementedness that could've been explored.

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