Does anyone care about the Poe angle in The Following anymore? I wondered that after last night’s episode, when we finally got a break from references to “The Raven” and heard a few lines from “The Masque of the Red Death.” In that tale, a mysterious robed figure is revealed to be formless—there’s nothing beneath the mask and cape.
It’s a fitting metaphor for the show so far, as all of the psychos, slashings and plot twists are scary fun, but upon closer examination, feel a little empty.
We begin in bed at the farmhouse, where Emma and Paul enjoy a post-menage-a-trois cuddle, despite the fact that just a few hours ago, Emma slashed his forearm. Meanwhile Jacob—sporting a surprising number of tats—looks creeped out. He insists he’s not gay, but Paul tells him to relax and lay off the labels. Paul would also like Jacob to carefully select a knife and stab the girl in the basement. Little Joey might be the smartest of them all, as he finds the cell phone, calls his mom, and later, uses a skateboard to break out of his room. You think the FBI has traced Joey’s call, until Mike explains the cell was scrambled, because the phone switched to wi-fi, pinged to a different address, triggered a virus, and … well, just take his word for it.
We’re treated to a slew of new characters, most notably Olivia Warren, Carroll’s attorney who could pass for Kerry Washington if you squint just a tiny bit. Why is she helping a convicted serial killer carry out his plans involving an open kidnapping and murder investigation instead of telling the FBI? Because one of Carroll’s seemingly infinite henchmen threatened her with a sharp object. Such is her fear that years later, Olivia is still doing Carroll’s bidding (again, lady, just tell the cops!). That Carroll strikes such deep and overwhelming fear in everyone—his victims, his acolytes—gives the writers an excuse to allow anyone to do pretty much anything. So Olivia leads Claire right into a trap and the waiting SUV of Hank, Carroll’s newest hitman. When a few followers die, we’re only a Poe verse away from meeting their replacements.
Two other new faces—Rodrick, a follower, and the squeamish cop who helps Ryan—end up dead. We also meet Ava, another upstate New York cop who gets a total tech boner when Mike starts talking about FBI servers. She’s either doomed or one of Carroll’s sleeper cells awaiting her call to action. As they speed toward the farmhouse (where Ryan rushes in alone, with a heart condition and a gun but without backup), Claire slips away from the worst deputy on the East Coast. We knew this would end with Joey safe and Claire the one who needs saving. But was I alone in thinking that a jumpy Ryan, who’s packing heat for the first time in a while, would accidentally shoot Joey? Not fatally, of course, but just enough to inspire the most tortured Kevin Bacon Suffering Face yet.
That would have been a shocking turn. Instead, Paul sneaks up on Ryan and puts a gun to his head. Considering that half the FBI is en route to the farmhouse, and Ryan is the centerpiece of the series, it’s not much of a cliffhanger. One theory that’s been raised for the future is that Debra might be a follower, considering her gift of the Poe book and her tendency to let Carroll play his hand (when Ryan throws a fit over Olivia’s arrival, Debra tells him to chillax). I’m hoping that’s not the plan; to turn the FBI cult expert into a Carroll groupie might be a believability deal-breaker. But using Debra as his mole on the inside would accomplish what seems inevitable—getting Carroll out of captivity and amongst his people once again. Perhaps the show’s most ridiculous choice is keeping one of its most compelling characters shackled to a table.