Warning: Full Episode Spoilers to Follow
Fox’s, The Following, is quickly proving itself to be adept at turning on a dime and shocking the viewer. This week’s episode, aptly titled “The Poet’s Fire,” wasted no time in earning its first gasp. But then, didn’t we expect something terrible after opening on a man in a Poe mask reciting The Raven? Still, this week’s show was a tour de force in twists and turns, all designed to torture our agent, Ryan Hardy. By the end of the episode, we’re left wondering how much he’ll be able to take before finally cracking. Perhaps that’s the twist ending Carroll hasn’t told us about?
After our masked Poe from last week finishes his performance, he opens “The Poet’s Fire” literally and figuratively, by burning one of Carroll’s critics alive at a street vendor. We later find out that his name is Rick Hester and the fifth member of our Carroll-cult. He kills again, this time a college dean who refused Carroll tenure, and calls his shocked, disheveled, and in-protective-custody wife to announce that it was all for Hardy. Jordy, chained to a hospital bed, spills the beans that Rick’s wife is also part of the group. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for the agent “protecting” her as she stabs him in the throat before escaping with her husband. Hardy fatally wounds Rick but his wife disappears into the night.
Meanwhile, things aren’t going well with Paul, Jacob, and Emma. Paul tries to reconcile, but Emma returns with a knife-slash to the arm, warning him not to try turning Jacob against her. Through flashbacks, we find out that, though they might have began as actors, Paul and Jacob fell in love during their years together. Jacob seems blind, or maybe just uncaring, about Paul’s pain. Paul reacts by snapping and goes to town to kidnap a store clerk.
Little development occurs in the plot of Joey and Claire until the end when she receives an email from the kidnappers. Through a video attachment, we can see them showing Joey how to torture small animals. It’s very much “serial killer training” and, again, the video ends with a shout-out placing the blame squarely on Hardy.
James Purefoy also features more prominently in this episode. Through flashbacks we can see how Carroll lured Hardy in with false friendship. The more we see Carroll, the more it becomes apparent that he is the show’s greatest resource. The way he looked at the pictures of his victims, enjoyed it just enough for novelty and not suspicion, was wonderfully done. There is a depth to his character that acts as an undercurrent to every surrounding event. Carroll is the reason for watching the show: we want to understand him, to touch the madness just a tiny bit, because he is a character we want to like.
In general, “The Poet’s Fire” was a much more enjoyable episode than last week’s. By the end of the its’s runtime, four bodies lay squarely on Hardy’s back and we can see the weight of that in his eyes. Bacon was also more than one-note this week, which was a nice change of pace from Caruso-like stoicism of previous episodes. The flashback sequences with Purefoy also reinforce that there is a spark between these two actors. There is little that draws you in like their squaring off, in peace or peril.
As the Jacob, Paul, and Emma storyline becomes more fraught with conflict, it’s also becoming exponentially more interesting. The bit where Paul offers a truce with Emma was unexpected and it was easy to empathize with him. Emma lashing out was a shock. There is a bit of role reversal going on here. In the beginning, Emma is the benign one when Paul would rather “snap the kid’s neck.” Now it’s Emma who’s unstable — until she drives him off the deep end with her. The kidnapped girl will likely be Paul’s personal downfall as the director makes a point to show his face captured on a mini-mart camera.
The biggest issue with this episode has been constant since “Pilot”: Hardy is the only agent worth caring about. Small strides were made with his supporting cast this week but not enough. We find out inklings more about Debra and Weston, but how about Agent Riley? His death could have been impactful, but the writers spent so little time developing him that it was hard to even recall his name. While it was easy to recognize that he was a mainstay, having been in previous episodes, his passing was one of “that guy” instead of Riley.
In general, this episode did well for itself. It didn’t suffer from the same believability issues that have plagued the last two and featured some great development in the various sub-plots. Jordy, though, let’s just hope he’s passed. The role of the bumbling CO has been played out, and too much further will create a serious conflict with Carroll’s judge of character. It is, perhaps, slightly masochistic to hope that Hardy’s torture continues next week, but something tells me it will. As he suffers more, his character gains depth, which should lend strength to the rest of the season and the inevitable final confrontation.