After a week away from the review scene, it was with some happiness that I checked back in with The Following. Well, happiness, sadness, and then back to happiness again. After the thoroughly enjoyable sixth episode, “Let Me Go” was a disappointment. It was contrived and enjoying it meant extending disbelief to ridiculous levels without any of the charm of “The Fall.” This week’s “Welcome Home” was a delightful return to form. Bacon let a little crazy flow, Purefoy was at his maliciously charming best, and we finally got to meet Roderick and see all that he’d been arranging during Carroll’s imprisonment. The final scenes really underscored just how much the tables have turned in the last two episodes, and while I’m not happy with how episode 7 turned out, maybe we can chalk it up to a necessary evil for the evolution of the show.
Here’s what you missed:
After Hardy’s finger-breaking escapades early in the season and Joe Carroll’s transfer-enabled escape, the FBI decided send in new management. The charming yet domineering Nick Donovan now leads the operation and he’s made it very clear that nothing will be done without his approval. Hardy plays the you-think-I’m-subservient role, stepping to the side one moment and having Weston hack into his email the next. Weston gets caught and sent home only to be taken captive by the cult. Following Carroll’s escape, Claire was put into protective custody, and they hoped to torture Weston into revealing her location. Roderick, the obvious ring leader of the eight or so assembled followers, encourages Weston to tell and reminds him that the pain won’t end until he stops breathing. Charlie, Claire’s follower, beats him with fist and pipe, eventually stabbing him in the stomach before the FBI arrives. Five cultists die, but Charlie, Roderick, and former Blackwater operative Louise escape leaving Weston cradled in Hardy’s arms.
Meanwhile, Carroll is getting acclimated to life at the compound. He seems surprised at the amount of people but also somewhat uncomfortable. He tries to reach out to Joey but the boy, now well aware that things aren’t right, remains scared and silent. Later that night after lots of “terrible, terrible scotch” things heat up with Emma. While it’s obvious that she’s ready for business, he rejects her because he’s still in love with Claire… until the end when she reminds him that his Claire isn’t there to see. When Roderick, Louise, and Charlie return it’s with some sadness since they’d lost five men with nothing to show for it. Charlie steps forward and offers his life as an apology for failing to kill Weston and, ultimately, for letting Claire escape in the first place. In a disturbingly touching moment, Carroll assures Charlie that he “will always matter” before driving a knife between his ribs. Afterwards, the show ends with Roderick and Louise having sex in one room, Carroll and Emma in another, and Hardy sitting by a deathly grey Weston in a hospital bed.
This episode developed the plot in a number of interesting ways that should play a firm hand in how the series unfolds. While we lost the Paul, Jacob, and Emma trio at the farm house, we’ve gained a compound with at least one interesting character in Roderick. The flashback sequences illuminating him as Carroll’s first protege were haunting. “I want to teach you…” Does that mean that Roderick was one of his students, and if so, how did he make the jump to being a small town sheriff? We also know that Carroll took the fall for two of Roderick’s murders, so there is a blood debt bonding the two.
The love triangles are spinning, too, and the situation is rife with drama. Still, the addition of Louise is no substitute for the still-absent Paul and Jacob. We can only hope that they make an appearance next week. The love affair between Carroll and Emma is much more interesting. What happens when Claire actually arrives? After all, she wasn’t that kind to poor Paul when the jealousy bug came to visit. Emma is just a little more than crazy, but she doesn’t seem irredeemable. We should be curious about the prospects for final confrontations. Will she kill Claire or kill Carroll for choosing Claire? Either one is deliciously dramatic.
The introduction of Nick Donovan is a curious, if believable, touch but this episode did nothing to demonstrate that he’s anything more than another inept cop. Rather than adding to the cast of characters, it would be wise for the writers to flesh out the ones they have. Walker took a back seat to Donovan this week and that’s unfortunate. We care more about Walker, we know more about her history, and she’s likable. Thus far, Nick Donovan is the copy-paste “hard nosed FBI guy” and little more. That said, what was up with Debra shooting at the blazer as they escaped the ship yard? If her arms were any more bouncy she might have shot her toe by accident.
The development of Hardy’s character is also coming along nicely. He started the season as a caricature, a cardboard cut-out of a man, but we’re starting to understand more of what makes him tick. He took Weston’s injury on himself and then denied it, but we can see that weight progressively stoop his shoulders with each passing episode. One has to wonder if he will reach a breaking point this season, if there is a point to be reached when we know that season 2 is coming and Bacon will surely reprise his starring role. In many ways, The Following is all about the degradation of this man, a character portrait of an agent so haunted by sins that he can’t stop committing. It’s unfortunate that when this character is at his best it’s when he’s free from that, such as the interview scene or when he was held hostage at kidnapper ranch. It’s in these moments that we feel a sense of freedom and ease, the ability to breathe when he’s on scene. At every other time, Hardy is a character typified by the slow intensity of a failing esteem and clung-to pride, yet this image in undermined by all that’s unbelievable around him. How does a viewer see on character with authenticity when so much surrounding him beggars belief?
The ending moments of this show highlighted the changing dynamic. Weston, the good guy, the honorable little tyke with a face too young and a steadfastness too old for his fledgling position, lies corpse-like in a hospital bed, while Carroll and the followers enjoy an evening of ease and debauch. We would be wise to guard ourselves. This dynamic is as sure to fail as Claire Matthews is sure to join Carroll at the compound. The many eyes, many adoring fans now sharing that space also present a risk. Carroll doesn’t know all of them and in fact seemed a little bit taken back by his role as an actual cult leader instead of criminal mastermind. It’s a setup fraught with breaking points. We are left to wonder, however, how exactly a site arranging this kind of activity could have escaped, and continue to escape, public eye. Did they erase their digital footprint, once the soldiers are gathered, Charlie hits the big red button and the traces are no more? That too is a thread I expect to be followed up on.
While not The Following’s best showing, “Welcome Home” is certainly a good one. The dynamics are set up to keep the tension high and at any point something terrible can happen to even the most beloved character. That’s one of the series’ strong points. Yet with seven episodes left to go, it’s remains questionable how they’ll fill the remaining hours without succumbing to un-necessary padding.