Last week, the majority of you TVLiners said you’d follow The Following, which tells me you are not a squeamish bunch. I, too, consider myself generally unflappable… but turn into a squeam queen while watching this show.
It’s not the ick factor. What flips my business out is the idea that the up-for-anything serial killer fan base on the show is everywhere, and it’s preternaturally patient. How is it that I can’t last the full three minutes before yanking my Eggo out of the toaster in the morning, but those freak shows can pretend to be normal, trustworthy members of society for years as they await their master’s bidding? I shudder.
This week, we get a bit of backstory on how Carroll’s closest “friends” got involved in his plan as well as how and when Ryan and Claire first hooked up. Let’s review the major developments in “Chapter 2.”
MEET THE NEW BOSS | Ryan arrives at Claire’s house in the wake of her discovery that Joey and babysitter Denise are gone. Claire has a hard time believing that her live-in nanny of two years could be working for Joe’s interests – “I did a background check,” she protests – but it’s soon revealed that Denise, like Sarah Fuller’s gaybors, used a fake ID. Ryan’s day gets worse when he returns to the FBI command center to find that Debra Parker, a new agent from Quantico, is now in charge of the investigation. We soon learn that she’s blunt (“When was the last time you had a drink?” she flat-out asks Ryan in response to his request for a gun), she knows about his dalliance with Claire and she plans to keep him in line.
The FBI thinks it’s a good idea for Claire to fulfill Joe’s request and meet with him. Ryan says hell no – flashing back to an easygoing evening during Carroll’s 2004 trial when the agent assured her she’d never have to see her twisted husband again – but pretty soon, Prof. Matthews is at the prison, sitting across from her ex. She wants to know where Joey is. He wants answers to the specific questions he posed in the letter referenced in the previous episode. She barely holds it together as she admits to a two-month affair with Ryan — after the trial and divorce, she insists – but then gets fired up as he presses on. “Was it good, the sex? Did your body quiver to his every touch?” Joe sneers. “Yes,” she says, staring him down. “It did.” (I know this is serious and all, but you just know that as he watched the interaction via closed-circuit TV, a teeny part of Ryan’s psyche was like, “Aww yeah.”) Joe’s last question, though not stated out loud, seems to be about whether she loved Ryan. It infuriates her, and she slaps him – a move he uses to grab her by the throat before Ryan and Agent Reilly can bust in and break it up.
Carroll’s pervy inquisition is made even worse when we later see a flashback to 2005, in which Ryan and Claire have a glass of wine at her place to celebrate the finalization of her divorce. They’re so clearly into each other and have obviously been waiting for a while in an attempt to do the right thing, so when she says, “Kiss me,” it’s both sexy and sweet – as is their banter about how much talking should precede a first smooch. OK, Following, I’m all in: What the heck happened to these people between then and now?
THE WRITING’S ON THE WALL | Jail video tapes and visitor logs help the Feds prove that Denise and Sarah’s gaybors knew each other and likely were working together. The FBI also piece together that “Denise” is really named Emma and the guys who brought Sarah to Joe in the previous episode are really named Jake and Paul. Emma lives close by in Petersburg, so Ryan and Mike Weston go over to check out the place. It’s a seemingly empty suburban home that’s locked… until Ryan breaks in. (“OK, you can’t do that,” Mike says nervously. “No, you can’t do that,” not-a-cop-nor-an-agent Ryan responds. Ha!)
Inside, he finds that Carroll’s followers have turned the place into a Poe/Carroll shrine, with lots of verse and paintings – as well as crude floor plans — emblazoned on the walls. It’s totally their clubhouse, guys! (Side note: How much fun must the set designers/painters have had with this one? It looks amazing/terrifying.) In one room, Ryan is momentarily creeped out by four rubber Poe masks lined up on a shelf. He continues to explore the room, and as he looks up and catches his reflection in a mirror, one of the Poe masks actually has a person in it and that person attacks him! What?! How did that even happen? I rewatched the scene a few times, and I can’t tell if Ryan just didn’t realize that there was a man standing there at first – which might be an indication that your alcoholism is starting to mess with your life in a very serious way, bro – or if the guy stepped into the room and super-quietly slipped on the mask without Ryan noticing. In any event, I yelped when it happened. “You shouldn’t be here, you know,” the guy tells Ryan before knocking him out with a blow to the head. “You’re gonna die someday, only not today.”
When Ryan comes to, he and the FBI find Emma’s dead mom boarded up in the walls of the attic with indications that Carroll’s peeps have designs on adding Claire to their collection. Debra spouts some high-falutin’ talk about gothic romanticism and “a new vacancy in our humanity” but seriously, I’m distracted by the portrait of Carroll hanging on the wall. I guess if you’ve got years to kill while waiting for your murderous marching orders, it helps to have a hobby… Back to the important stuff: Debra outs herself as head of the FBI’s alternative religion unit – “Did I not mention that? Cults – my specialty” — and finally agrees that Carroll’s followers are a “cult” and not just “accomplices.”
MEET THE GANG | Speaking of the killer’s acolytes, they’re holed up in a country home where Joey blindly trusts that DenisEmma is going along with a plan of his mom’s. The gaybors are there, too, and it turns out they’re not gay. Mostly. Jake and Emma are an item, and Paul is not happy about that – though it’s a little unclear whether it’s because he has feelings for the man he was pretending to love for a few years or because Emma is such a gigantic bitch. Via flashbacks, we watch a mousy Emma meet Carroll at a booksigning – where her Real Housewife of a mother embarrasses her by flirting with him – and then fangirling all over the place during her many visits to the prison. It turns out that Joe – working as a sort of eBizzaremony — set her up with Jake, and their first date was really cute… until I remember that these are two totally screwed up individuals who plan to do the bidding of a sick killer. They get a jump on it when Emma responds to her mom flirting with Jake by stabbing her in the back, killing her. “You did it,” Jake says in awe. “You really did it.”
Other important stuff to know about Carroll’s minions: The guy who gave Ryan a lump on the noggin is named Rick, and by the end of the episode, he wears one of the masks as he lights a stranger on fire in broad daylight. (At least, I think it’s him.) Jordy, the prison guard we met in the last episode, succeeds in killing three women at a sorority house but fails – thanks to Ryan’s sharp shooting — when he tries to off Claire. Ryan breaks the news to Carroll, who calls Jordy a “half-wit” and then blanches a little when he realizes Ryan wounded, not killed, someone privy to his plans.
By the end of the hour, Claire begs Ryan to stay with her at the house – “I don’t trust anyone but you,” she says sadly, and can you blame the lady? – so he watches her sleep in Joey’s bed. Out at the country home, Joey snoozes in an identical room as Paul spies on Emma and Jake having sex with the door open. And at the prison, as Sepultura’s “Angel” plays in the background, Debra gives Joe a knowing look as she slips him the complete works of Poe he requested. Now that can’t be good, can it?
Now it’s your turn. What’s your gut telling you about Debra? Did the mask scene startle you, too, or am I just a horror lightweight? Do you think Jordy will turn on Joe once he hears the insults thrown his way? Sound off in the comments!