There has been a lot of talk that The Following is nothing but gratuitous violence. Sure, the third episode opens with a masked Edgar Allen Poe impersonator dousing a book critic in gasoline and setting him on fire, and there are a few stabbings littered throughout the episode, but the show is about the motivation behind the violent acts. Never once do I feel like the show is glorifying these acts of violence; instead it shows how horrid they truly are.
It doesn’t take long for Hardy and the team to realize that this cult is bigger than they think it is. “The Poet’s Fire” takes us deeper into the lives of the Followers and reveals a lot of things. Last episode was a strong introduction and found a decent balance for the two sides of the story, but this week’s episode really hit the nail on the head.
The man underneath the Poe mask is Rick Kester, who in a flashback reveals that killing with a knife isn’t really his thing and he prefers fire. He also wants his chapter in Carroll’s story to be about revenge. He does this by setting a book critic who wrote a scathing review about Carroll’s book ablaze and stabbing the dean of the university who denied Carroll tenure. All of this builds up so that Hardy understands this is all for him. The “book” Carroll is writing will put Hardy in the middle of everything.
Kester’s wife, Maggie, is scared for her life and is brought in by the FBI for questioning. They initially think she’s part of it, but they wave it off when they see how terrified she truly is. It’s revealed that she was taken to the hospital years earlier after Kester tried to stab her to death. Instead they place Agent Riley in her house to be her guard, and Hardy and Weston stay outside even though “Vodka Breath” was told to go home and get some sleep. The scene turns very much Scream-like and there’s a lot of tension in the house until eventually Maggie gets a text reading “now” and she stabs and kills Riley. (This marks the third gruesome death for the actor Billy Brown after recent stints on Dexter and Sons of Anarchy. What’s a guy gotta do to survive a show?)
It was a shocking blow to the team, but viewers had to see it coming. I knew Riley had to die, but didn’t think it’d be Maggie to deliver the fatal blow. We learn that she was there with the cult over the years, and they all practiced stabbing each other. If the previous scene wasn’t taken out of Scream’s script, this one had to be. It turns out Kester stabbed Maggie too deep during the practice and she actually had to be taken to the hospital. The Followers worked it into the eventual plot, which shows that they’re pretty intelligent even though they’re absolutely crazy.
The other half of the episode delves into the jealousy Paul feels about the relationship between Emma and Jacob. Last week I called his tiff with them unwarranted, but in reality Paul actually grew to love Jacob during their time as a fake gay couple and can’t stand to see Paul happy with a woman. He goes to a local store and kidnaps a girl so that he’s not the third wheel anymore. He’s definitely unraveling and will come undone soon enough.
Joey (Carroll and Claire’s son) still thinks everything is OK and doesn’t realize the three have kidnapped him. After all, Emma is his nanny, so he thinks they’re on vacation. He looks happy on the video they sent his mother, who watches in horror as she sees them make her son kill an insect and then tempt him into killing a bird. Chills went up my spine when we realized they’re turning him onto the rush of killing so early on and attempting to bring him into the Following.
What I like so much about this show is how it plays from week to week. It’s a 15-episode season, and this episode marked the end of its first act. Williamson does a great job of crafting the stories, which started on a narrow premise but have blossomed into an investigation into the mind instead of the manhunt show many were expecting. It’s a show that rivals many of the bloody dramas on HBO and Showtime and might possibly bring well-crafted serial dramas back to network TV.