Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this aspect of The Following since it really subverts audience expectations. But isn’t it funny how bad Agent Ryan Hardy is at his job? And yes, technically, he’s not an agent anymore, he’s retired with a weird book, a pacemaker, and a dark Brooklyn apartment. But he’s our antihero! He’s there to crack skulls, to throw out the rulebook, to take down the devious Joe and his minions by any means necessary. If we’re going by this ludicrous, otherwise action-packed episode, for Ryan, “by any means necessary” means “sitting in a chair and making snarky comments and then later trying to chase someone down but collapsing from a minor heart event.”
Yeah, Ryan’s really not bringing much to the table right now. He’s not a man of action—he’s got SWAT teams and Feds and young gun Mike for that. He can’t work a computer, he doesn’t play well with people (it’s largely Debra who does the hostage negotiating this week) and he can only run about 100 feet before going into cardiac arrest, at least after receiving an electrical shock (and what budding serial killer doesn’t have a cattle prod lying around?)
Now, I’ll admit, Ryan definitely does manage to get a knife into his hands at one point so he can free himself and cause a ruckus and possibly rescue poor, filthy Megan, who’s been locked in the basement for quite a few episodes now. Plus, he sows real discomfort among the Jacob/Paul/Emma threesome by making crafty comments like “You’re posing as a gay couple for that long, sooner or later you have to put out.” Genius. But hell, even the flashbacks weren’t about Ryan this week. Kevin Bacon can raise a sarcastic eyebrow with the best of them, but Ryan feels pretty surplus to requirements right now.
After all, he can’t even guess at Joe’s Big Master Plan, which was supposed to be revealed tonight. Pretty sure that didn’t get revealed, unless his Big Master Plan was to sue the federal government for violating his eighth-amendment rights. Yeah, that should move its way through the court system real fast. Joe still seems supremely confident in whatever it is he’s planning, and I’m sure the writers have many twists and turns coming down the pike, but dude’s not really accomplishing all of his goals.
He’s also going about everything in the weirdest way, which I guess can just be explained away by the fact that he’s a jailed serial killer obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe, which means he’s stupid and convoluted (no offense meant to real Poe, just to fictional lovers of super-simplified Poe). One element of the scheme goes off horribly: Creepy new follower Charlie (Tom Lipinski), who has kidnapped Claire, is revealed to have been stalking her for two years, keeping methodical notes and reporting back to Joe. He was in the army and he can use computers and stuff, which is why no one’s ever noticed him, or so we’re meant to believe.
Even for Joe’s acolytes, Charlie is pretty weird. He’s very robotic and methodical and seems to have fallen in love with Claire, although his attempt at kissing her is followed by him bashing his head repeatedly into a metal pole, so he’s not exactly a catch. Why he’s doing this is not entirely clear—apparently Joe is teaching him to “feel his life,” or something, but if he was teaching him to kidnap Claire effectively, he did a bad job, since she’s free by the end of the episode (seriously, just keep her in a metal box in the Atlantic Ocean from now on, guys).
On the other hand, Emma, Paul, and Jacob do very well to escape their Dutchess County fortress with their lives, using only their wits and a crack team of assassins hired by Joe and placed in the town months in advance. None of the Feds understand just how Joe has this much reach, and it’s of course utterly absurd watching his fake SWAT team take out the real SWAT team just as they have Joey’s kidnappers dead to rights. How on Earth Joe (and mysterious benefactor “Rodrick”) managed to sneak cultists into positions of authority in this small town is beyond everyone, but hey, I guess the show must go on. I figured Emma et al. wouldn’t make it out alive, but I guess I’m fine with having them around, since otherwise we’d just meet a new bunch of acolytes and get new flashbacks and ugh, I don’t even want to think about it.
Especially since this week we get Debra’s backstory, which is quite a doozy. On the plus side, her mom is placed by Kristine Sutherland, who was Joyce Summers on Buffy The Vampire Slayer! So that’s nice. On the minus side, everything else. Turns out Debra’s interest in cults comes from a surprising part of her past. She was… in a cult! A very crunchy looking cult that she fled when she was forced to have sex with some creepy guy, undoubtedly as part of some sort of awful Martha Marcy May Marlene type ritual. Now, as far as we can tell from these flashbacks, she just left, she didn’t turn anyone else in, and she has some attachment to the whole thing, even though she became an expert on cults and undoubtedly knows how full of shit they are. But, as she knowingly tells us after deconstructing Emma’s mind with a sprinkling of pop psychology, “parental influence defines us.”
I don’t know, guys. The episode was undoubtedly gripping and had some pretty surprising, if insanely implausible, twists. The Debra flashbacks really slowed things down and seem to suggest that the whole flashback format is never going away (please make it go away!) but otherwise, things moved along. Sure, we’re still at the status quo—the serial killers are alive, Claire is safe but Joey is not, Ryan is generally useless—but it feels like things have changed. And in the end, isn’t that what’s important?
- Emma is drugging Joey with “special milk.” Ryan knows exactly what special milk is— I’m sure it’s how he gets to sleep too.
- Ryan did some effective glowering and mocking from the chair he was tied to for most of the episode, but really, like I said, that was about all we got from Bacon this week.
- But we can’t forget the Kevin Bacon flick of the week. Guys, everyone should check out The River Wild. Why haven’t you already? Talk about a thriller that’s actually gripping!