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THE CONQUEROR BOOKWORM Does Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) represent the "phantom chased for evermore by a crowd that seize it not?" Or am I just completely misinterpreting and misapplying a Poe story I've never read?
Failing to get Joe to cough up Joey, Hardy and the team dug deeper into The Nanny Formerly Known As Denise, Emma Hill, and “The Gay Neighbors,” Jacob and Paul. Agent Weston tracked down Emma’s old address in Petersburg, Virginia. It belonged to a house that had been untended for months. The FBI agents couldn't enter without a warrant, but Hardy didn't think the rules applied to him. After all, he wasn’t an agent. Wasn’t even allowed to have a gun, despite his request for one. Hardy broke into the home through the side door and found a squalid space that looked part crack house, part Friends of Carroll clubhouse, totally crazy. Lines of Poe scrawled on the walls, images of eyes and gouged sockets, schematics of buildings, names and portraits of the women in Poe’s life and work who died (and pictures of the women in Carroll’s life, too), newspaper clippings of Carroll’s divorce, fingerprints of eight or nine people, and more. It was like a nutty Carroll shrine site adapted into the real world, or what might happen if Doc Jensen's dumb head exploded and sprayed the walls with pretentiousness, pulp, and poorly conceived blah blah blah.
The inevitable BOO! moment was a genuine jolt. We watched Hardy search the house solo and enter a bedroom and examine four rubber Poe masks. We saw those same Poe masks – plus one more that hadn’t been there before -- in a mirror as Hardy turned his attention to another object in the room, a copy of his book, The Poetry of a Killer. It was a clever shot that disguised the fact that the extra Poe mask wasn’t on the shelf with the others but on the head of a mystery man who was shadowing Hardy. Faux Poe attacked. “You shouldn't be here. You know you’re going to die. Just not today.” Faux Poe cracked Hardy upside the noggin with his gun, then split and disappeared. It wouldn’t be the last time in the episode that Hardy was reminded that in many ways, everything that’s happening is somehow, someway about him and for him – an idea I find creepy and intriguing.
Hardy recovered. More madhouse archaeology and analysis. Parker was finally ready to use the word she had been resisting. “So: We have a cult!” she said with near glee. Yay! We're officially in my area of expertise! Let me now lay some dubious media theory on you! “Carroll’s using Poe’s work as a religion. He’s speaking to people through Gothic Romanticism – the pathology of today’s Internet/techno-bred minds. It’s created a new vacancy in our humanity.” Just when I was beginning to wonder if she might be referring to me – You’re talking about the fanboy geeks who like to play with their Twitter, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?! -- and implicating me and my kind as potential Friends of Carroll, Parker let us off the hook with this: “Find the ones with additional disorders: Jackpot.” Ah. THOSE geeks. Yeah, they’re, like, Totally Lost! She continued: “Enter a handsome, charismatic man who can touch them. Make them feel their lives for the first time. Conditions them. The only way to truly live… is to kill.” So… Neil Gaiman gone Hannibal?
Agent Weston made a gruesome discovery: A corpse buried in the walls. “’The Black Cat.’ ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ Classic Poe,” said Hardy. The dead woman was Emma’s mother, and in flashbacks, we revealed the young woman’s twisted saga of empowerment and transformation, as well her strange relationship with the ambiguously gay duo of Jacob and Paul. Emma met Joe Carroll back in 2003 when the professor had not yet been exposed as a monster, giving a reading of his novel, The Gothic Sea. The passage seemed to describe, via allegory, a culture that could no longer believe in heroism, that now romanticized darkness. "Good and bad no longer existed. It was all degrees of evil now. Gwendolyn held his dying body as the storm raged on. Death had finally arrived and it was glorious to the touch."
Afterward, Emma fawned. Praised him for his “vivid” prose. Carroll ate it up, then sent Emma swooning by tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “You have such lovely eyes, Emma. Don't deprive us of them,” said the creepy peeper collector. Emma – oblivious to the irony – asked if Gwendolyn died at the end of the story. Carroll was more interested in her theory -- the savvy dodge for any writer or showrunner without a master plan. “I think she died!” she said excitedly. “She was swimming toward the horizon, toward the sun. In death, she found hope.” Emma Hill: A spooky little death eater indeed.
Then Emma’s mom – a floozy flirty cougar named Sharon with a low opinion of her nerdy daughter’s femininity or interests – showed up to crap on the charged moment. She tried to hijack the attention by flattering Carroll’s looks and undressing him with her eyes. Carroll’s glances suggested he thought little of the woman, and pitied Emma for not having a mother worthy of her. He finished signing her book. “To Emma: Hopefully yours, Joe.”
He was. And she was all his. Emma remained faithful even after Joe was imprisoned for his 14 murders. She visited him four times, and during one their meetings, Emma showed up with a new haircut. She lost the long locks that Carroll had brushed away for a stylishly butchy Anne Hathaway-in-Les Miserables hackaway. “My Mom says it makes me look like a boy, or a girl who doesn't like boys,” said Emma, fishing for a compliment. She got one, and something more: Carroll wanted to set Emma up with another one of his friends. He came off as quite sincere, as if he was trying to push her away and break her obsession with him, but gently. Emma looked a little rejected (Say it ain't so, Joe! Say it aint' so!), but quickly forgot the hurt when she laid eyes on Jacob during their first date. “Joe said you’d be my type,” he said with a big grin. Intriguing. The Girl With The Boyish Makeover gets hooked up The Boy With The Shifty Sexual Identity. Clever, Joe. Clever. Jacob thought Emma was “special.” The feeling was mutual. Love bloomed. And it was what Joe wanted.
NEXT: A New Order to a Bizarre Love Triangle