Claire finally gets to see her long-lost son in this week’s episode of The Following, and the reunion is as touching as you’d expect it to be. The circumstances surrounding it, though, are 10 kinds of messed up (and the forecast only calls for even more “What the?!” in the weeks to come).
See, abrupt shirts of power never go well, especially when you’re dealing with a band of lunatics whose coping mechanisms are particularly sharp and pointy. As members of Carroll’s “family” begin to doubt him – a conclusion that, based on this week’s events, seems forgone — the FBI may just have a shot at taking him down. That is, if Ryan can crawl out of the bottle and keep his heart ticking until then. (Based on this episode, that may be a tall order.)
Let’s review the major developments that take place in “Whips & Regret.”
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UP AND AT ‘EM! | Claire is on her way to Joe’s country loony bin, and he’s super excited about that. The episode opens on Carroll taking a literal victory lap around the estate, then using his satellite phone to offer Ryan a chirpy good morning. Our hungover hero isn’t psyched about this wake-up call; in it, Joe basically calls him lazy, slow and a dysfunctional alcoholic. But it’s all very psychotically good-natured and therefore funny — when he admits that he wants to “gloat a little,” the combination of James Purefoy’s reading and clipped accent reminds me of Stewie Griffin. Joe hangs up, all “toodles!,” and of course he feels productive: He’s done more before 9 am than most sociopaths will do all day.
Downstairs, Roderick and Vince pull up to the house, take Claire out of the backseat and pull the hood from over her face so she can meet Jacob. He unties her hands and leads her to her room, calmly sidestepping her demands to see Joey and locking her in until later.
MOURNING GLORY | Back in Brooklyn, the TV news is recapping all of the FBI’s – and therefore, Ryan’s – failings in the Carroll case. I can’t blame Hardy for wanting to sleep in; I don’t think I’d be too chipper if I had to rise and shine to a public play-by-play of my shortcomings. (“Well, Bob, last night Kim totally meant to order a grilled chicken salad for dinner but caved at the last minute and polished off a pizza by herself, then shame-spiraled for the better part of an hour. Oh, and she skipped doing her laundry again and is therefore wearing a bathing suit bottom as underwear. Back to you!”) Debra shows up at Ryan’s place with coffee and concern. He decides pants aren’t necessary for the visit – opening the door to his de facto boss wearing his boxer briefs and a t-shirt – but she immediately asks him to rectify that situation. Ha!
The important information exchanged in this scene: His pal Tyson (who was injured when his home was infiltrated in last week’s episode) is going to be OK, and the FBI has traced Joe’s secret server to somewhere in lower Manhattan. After Debra eyes an empty jug of spirits on his table, we get this fatalistically awesome exchange:
DEBRA: You an alcoholic or just a problem drinker?
DEBRA: That can’t be good for your heart.
RYAN: It’s not.
She makes her case for him pulling his stuff together – namely, she needs his help – and I can’t help but wonder: If people as polar opposite as an FBI agent and an insane cult leader both agree that your life is in the crapper, Ryan, maybe you wanna take it as some kind of sign?
WHIP IT GOOD | The FBI tracks Joe’s Internet server to an S&M club called Whips & Regret. Lovely. Ryan and Debra accompany a SWAT team as it busts in; among the moaning and flogging (some of which is illegal), they find the owner/manager (played very well by Afton Williamson, late of Nashville) in a back office, where we learn Joe’s followers are using her bondage-business computer set-up to mask their own recruitment communications. The club owner isn’t a Carroll acolyte, but she knows one… and is willing to sell him out in exchange for a deal. She dons a wire and calls Vince (aka not Roderick and not Tom Pelphrey) to come meet her to pick up some explosive chemicals he’s had shipped to the club. But when he gets all grabby and then forces her into his car, her use of the FBI’s secret rescue-me code word doesn’t save her – Ryan’s decided that it’s more useful to tail Vince and his hostage straight to Joe.
CHANGE OF PLANS | Problem: Vince isn’t going to the estate, at least not directly. He brings Nosering McLeatherpants to an old armory, which Joe’s group is using as a weapons depot/follower boot camp. He gets frisky and finds her wire, which sets off a whole lot of running around in dark tunnels with bouncy flashlight beams and nearly getting killed. (Seriously, the amount of plot-dependent stuff that happens in the dark in this show makes Mulder and Scully seem like they were frolicking under floodlights in the midday sun, no?) The authorities come across a cell of people who at first seem like Joe’s prisoners but who turn out to be followers undergoing a “deprivation” test – they all go down, but they take out two law enforcement officials in the process. And Ryan saves Debra’s life, for which she is incredibly grateful (though seriously shaken).
At home once more, Ryan is surprised to find neighbor (and ex and, unbeknownst to Hardy, Carroll acolyte) Molly in his kitchen. While they chat, Joe watches video of one of their past hook-ups, courtesy of the lovely psycho. We learn a lot about her during the episode, but here are the key takeaways she’s a nurse on a terminal ward who engages in mercy killings – and also offs those who just kind of tick her off. She moved to New York on Joe’s orders, she’s spunky (I love her bragging that she’s killed more people than Joe has) and she has just one condition for her mentor: When Ryan dies, it’s going to be at her hand.
WHO’S DADDY NOW? | Remember when Roderick said that having Joe around was “different”? He doesn’t mean “exciting and new.” He means “I can’t believe that after years of calling the shots, I have to kowtow to this slow-acting showboater.” When Vince gets away from the FBI and calls Joe to shut the server down, Joe wants to know who gave the minion permission to go into New York City. That would be Rod-man, who gets a punch in the face for his troubles. “You don’t make decisions anymore, Roderick. I am here now,” he purrs, warning the blonde not to “ruin this for me.” Even though he’s copiously bleeding from the nose, Roderick shoots back, “Don’t you mean ‘for us’?'” Based on Roderick’s incredibly mercurial emotional state – his pull-a-gun-laugh-sob-punch-someone-for-no-reason moment earlier in the episode is truly scary – I’m thinking he’s not long for a command post in Joe’s army.
BEASTLY BEHAVIOR | But who might take his place? How about the manned-up Jacob, who brings Claire a dress and instructions for dining with Joe that evening… then body-slams her to the floor when she mouths off. (Side note: Special thanks goes to my fellow editor Meg Masters, who forever tarnished Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for me by noting the parallels between this scene and the one where Belle is being led to her room. Now whenever I watch the animated classic, I’m going to see Something There That Wasn’t There Before.)
Claire, appropriately freaked, plays along and shows up to dine with her ex-husband in hopes of seeing Joey. Joe knows she doesn’t love him now, but is pretty damn smug in his assurance that she will. “Human emotions can be conditioned, Claire,” he says, chilling me as I imagine the experiments he must’ve conducted to be so certain of that fact. “You will love me again.” He moves to kiss her but stops when she commands “Don’t” – interesting, right? When has a victim’s pleas ever stayed his hand before? – and later buys a little goodwill by bringing Joey to his mom’s room. Aw, Natalie Zea gives some great, gulping sobs as Claire hugs her son. I know it’s not going to go well for either of them, but let’s ignore that fact for now, cool?
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Jacob’s “It’s just me now” line to Emma? What do you think is really going on in Molly’s pretty little (crazy) head? And is it just me, or is Debra’s gaze at Ryan turning a wee bit less-than-professional? Sound off in the comments!