Episode Title: "The Poet's Fire"
Writers: Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Director: Liz Friedlander
Previously on "The Following"
This week’s episode of “The Following” better explained the appeal of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) to his devoted and murderous cult by demonstrating his abilities on Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon).
Within the world of the series, Carroll is considered to be a failed writer outside of his circle of fans and the whole Edgar Allan Poe inspired death worship is kind of hacky. Carroll is never going to win points for originality.
But what makes Carroll so dangerous is that he knows how to manipulate people. The words that come out of Carroll’s mouth aren’t just the ones that people need to hear... they’re the words that they desperately hoped they would hear. Carroll gives his followers reassurances that they could a;sp be important if they followed his example. Carroll even encouraged them to throw off conventional morality as if it was a chain holding them back.
In Ryan’s case, Carroll built him up by making Ryan’s calling sound like a vital sacrifice for society. And because Ryan needed and wanted that validation, he completely missed the fact that Carroll was the man behind the murders far too late to save some of his victims.
Full spoilers are ahead for "The Poet's Fire," so if you’re not up to date with “The Following” don’t read this review or else you won’t know why shaking hands with Emma is a bad idea.
So far, the flashbacks of “The Following” have been very effective in showing how the cult was bent to Carroll’s will. The cult needs Carroll’s approval so desperately that a man will stab his wife and two other men pretend to be in a gay relationship just to appease their mentor. The thing is, I doubt that Carroll even came up with the idea that Jacob Wells (Nico Tortorella) and Paul Torres (Adan Canto) should be a fake gay couple. Those orders are only relayed through Emma Hill (Valorie Curry), and she seems to have picked up on Carroll’s technique to get what she wants. In many ways, Emma is second only to Carroll in terms of how dangerous she can be, as Paul discovers when he makes a half-hearted attempt to heal the void between them.
But much like Carroll, Emma’s manipulations can also backfire. The big surprise of the flashback sequences is that both Jacob and Paul gave into their new roles for a sexual encounter; which Paul has never been able to give up on. Paul is so insanely jealous of Jacob and Emma’s relationship that he tries to sabotage it anyway that he can. Paul even drags a new victim, Megan Leeds (Li Jun Li) into the house where they’ve stashed Joey Matthews (Kyle Catlett), Carroll’s son.
During the drugstore sequence, it almost seemed like Paul was trying to figure out if he was still heterosexual... and at least one girl found him creepy enough to back away from him. Megan wasn’t as lucky and for whatever reason, she didn’t perceive Paul as a threat until it was too late. This guy has real problems if his hands are going to choke a girl without even thinking about it. And Paul’s brutal beating of Megan was one of the harder moments to watch.
Less successful was the full introduction of Rick Kester (Michael Drayer), the killer in the Poe mask who immolated a victim in the closing moments of last week’s episode. Rick’s agenda was to target people who had harmed Carroll professionally, including the burned critic and a college dean whom Rick stabs to death.
By himself, Rick wasn’t all that compelling or interesting. But his wife, Maggie Kester (Virginia Kull) more than made up the difference. If Emma picked up Carroll’s manipulation skills, it’s Maggie who inherited Carroll’s ability to act like a normal person. Everything Maggie initially tells Ryan and the rest of the FBI seems believable and she even has the knife wound scar to prove that her husband was going out of his mind.
However, Maggie was simply another one of Carroll’s followers who knew how to blend into plain sight. By the time that Special Agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) had learned the truth, Maggie had already fatally stabbed Agent Reilly (Billy Brown). It’s been a bad calendar year for Brown’s TV characters. He played another dead cop, Mike Anderson on “Dexter” and August Marks, a gangster on “Sons of Anarchy” whose boss ended up dead. But if Brown keeps getting roles in popular shows, it’s only a good thing for him. Still, it seemed like more could have been done with Reilly before his untimely demise.
The one really annoying thing about “The Following” is that the FBI has continuously mishandled this entire situation. The FBI believes that Maggie is potentially in danger from her lunatic husband... and they only send one agent to her home?! Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and Ryan weren’t even supposed to be there! Plus, somebody could have checked in on Carroll’s disciple, Jordy (Steve Monroe) before he achieved death by bandage swallowing.
That’s the other thing that annoyed the hell out of me. Jordy doesn’t believe Ryan and Parker that Carroll hoped that Jordy had died in the standoff. And they don’t even bother to pull out the video or audio of Carroll’s work to back up their story! Plus, what does it say about me that I knew that Jordy was singing the “Greatest American Hero” theme before the third word in the song?
The interaction between Carroll and Parker was somewhat puzzling as he acted like he hadn’t met her before. Carroll acknowledged that Parker gave him a Poe book, but their encounter in the previous episode seemed to be based on recognition of each other. Maybe Carroll was just playing to the cameras this time as he was clearly playing to Ryan as well. It’s twisted, but I think that Carroll likes and hates Ryan at the same time. Carroll admittedly wants his revenge on Ryan, but he also wants to impress his adversary.
The revelation at the end was also striking. Carroll’s followers are trying to groom Joey in his father’s image by encouraging an interest in death and coaxing him to kill bugs and a field mouse. That’s more insidious than simply killing his own son. If Emma and Jacob are able to get Joey to carry on his father’s work then it would be Carroll’s ultimate triumph.