Image credit: David Griesbrecht/Fox
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?
Their relationship took a pivotal turn one fateful night in 2006 when Emma invited Jacob over for dinner… and something more. While Emma cooked, Floozy Mom drank white wine and flirted, and the episode continued to cast shade on Jacob’s sexuality. When he said he was between jobs, Mom replied, “Well, you’re too pretty to work.” Mom said she couldn’t believe the two were dating, and found it even harder to believe that anyone could love her daughter: “So you like the no-fuss plain janes. That’s sweet. Most boys don’t.” And with that, Emma snapped. She jammed a carving knife into her Mom’s back. She collapsed, gurgled, expired. Paul’s eyes: Girlfriend, you are scary. AND HOT. “You did it,” he said. "You really did it." Emma eyes: Ice pick cold. Her transformation into something strong and terrible was complete. The soundtrack drove it home: “Change (In The House Of Flies)” by the Deftones.
I watched a change in you/It's like you never had wings/And you feel so alive…
Sometime after the matricide, Emma and Jacob embarked on their separate assignments like missionaries sent into the field. Jacob was paired with Paul, a computer whiz with a history of fraud and skilled at creating false identities. They posed and lived as a gay couple as they watched and managed Sarah Fuller, The Victim Who Got Away, until Carroll was ready to bust out of the joint and finish her off. Emma worked as Joey’s nanny so she could abduct the boy at the appropriate time, i.e., the last episode, when Emma, with sleeping Joey in tow, rendezvoused with Jacob and Paul and took off for parts unknown…
Which turned out to be a spacious ranch house in Rural Someplace, Some State. As they drove up, we saw Joey bolt out of the car as if trying to escape… but then he smiled, and Paul ran after him and scooped him up, and we realized they were just playing. Emma had convinced Joey that his mother, Claire, wanted to keep him safe and hidden until the business with Joe Carroll had died down. The kid didn't seem to be aware of the exact nature of Carroll’s crimes. “Why is my dad such a bad man?” he asked Emma. The faithful Friend of Carroll – who held a high rank in Joe’s army of darkness -- broke character just a tad to defend her liege: “Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we just don’t understand him.” Joey reallyreallyreally wanted to call Mom, but he rolled with it, especially after he settled into a bedroom that was pretty much an exact replica of his bedroom at home, from the space-themed bed sheets to the ninja warrior toy. He trusted Emma.
But Paul did not. In fact, he didn't really care too much for this plan at all. He hated the kid. Wanted to “snap his neck.” And he resented having to give Jacob back to Emma, or at least share him with the bossy tomboy in the leather jacket. This peculiar and increasingly fraught love triangle mirrored, in some ways, the Carroll-Claire-Hardy love triangle. In a tense moment between the two romantic rivals, Paul asked about the sleeping arrangements. Emma said she and Jacob would be sharing the master bedroom: “You’re not gay anymore. Remember?” Paul balked. He wasn’t gay, he insisted. But maybe they should keep up the pretense because of Joey. Prettyplease? Emma recognized the point, but sure as hell didn't like being wrong. Later, after she kicked Paul out the room so she could get to boning with Jacob (“Be a good wingman, Paul”), Emma spelled it out in piggish terms: “Are you sure he’s straight? Because he’s acting like a jealous little bitch.” She cocked an eyebrow when Jacob tried to empathize – “He just feels like the third wheel… It was just me and him for a long time!” – and we were made to wonder just how straight “The Gay Neighbors” were during their time together.
We left them for now as Paul cruised past Emma's bedroom and peeped on the lovers as they continued to make up for lost time, Emma once again on top. He fumed, feeling like a cuckold. He had never felt more like the master he served. To be continued…
NEXT: The Village Idiot Strikes Again
Meanwhile, at Claire’s house, another Friend of Carroll also found himself struggling to keep the faith. Jordy Raines had infiltrated Casa Matthews despite dozens of cops on guard. His mission seemed to be to kill Claire. But things got murky as Jordy held Carroll’s ex at gunpoint, and as Hardy tried to talk him out of murder (with a gun in his waistband as a back-up plan, thanks to a cop who deftly placed it on his person as Hardy shut the door). “You. Finally,” said Jordy upon seeing Hardy. “We’ve been waiting for you.” As the drama played out, Jordy showed signs of losing his nerve. “I have to kill her, and you have to watch. Those are the rules, or… uh… you have to kill me,” he said. “I’m not sure I want to die.” He tried to pump up his flagging courage by exploding at Hardy for trying to sweet talk him into surrendering. “Joe chose me,” bellowed the demented disciple/freaky fanboy. “This my chapter, and I can't write it any way I want to!” Hardy got the better of Mr. What Would Joe Carroll Do by suggesting that they double-check the Will of JC by giving him a call. After all, Hardy had a direct line to Joe’s heavenly cellblock. When Jordy looked toward the phone, Claire punched to create some separation and Hardy drew his weapon and fired. Jordy went down in a heap, but he did not die.
Which meant that everything went according to Joe Carroll’s plan. Well, almost. In the aftermath, the villain – once again ending the episode with a Campbellian deconstruction of the tale just watched -- told Hardy that Jordy’s role in the narrative was to reactivate Hardy’s heroic agency and romantic fire by functioning as the first threshold guardian to be overcome in the epic journey now unfolding. “I was hoping you would save her. A heroic victory by the leading man cements the love story,” said Carroll. “You have to toughen up, Ryan. You're dealing with depraved minds, sick and twisted. Jordy was a mere puppy. Compared to some of the games I have in store for you.” The one beat that didn’t go as scripted? Hardy was supposed to kill Jordy. Carroll tried to not look troubled, and Hardy clearly took some satisfaction that he had subverted the puppet master’s manipulations, and he resolved to interrogate Jordy to figure out what he knew that Carroll didn’t want him to know. My theory about Carroll’s endgame? This week, it's this: Carroll is driven by regret. What if Joe doesn’t have as much control over his minions as we think? What if he saw that his legacy had taken on an awful life of its own and now he’s trying to do the socially/culturally responsible thing, albeit in the most anti-social, culturally toxic way. He's trying manipulate, manage and ultimately extinguish his abominable fan following, but not before directing it toward accomplishing another redemptive goal: Rehabbing Private Ryan. I think Carroll’s biggest regret is leaving his true love so heartbroken that she can’t love another man again, and about leaving his boy without a father to raise him. But Ryan Hardy could be that man, and be that father. He just needs a little work – an adventure designed to turn this wandering ranger to the mighty King Aragorn he believes his family deserves.
Or maybe I'm completely wrong, and Poe's" The Conqueror Worm" explains it all.
“Chapter Two” rang out on a long montage set to a song from another dark metal band, Sepultura’s “Angel.” We saw Ryan agreeing to stay with Claire and watch over her. We saw Agent Parker slip Joe Carroll that big book o’ Poe. Again: Acolyte? Or is the alt-religion/cult nut just simply fascinated with/drawn to Carroll like a moth to the flame? And we watched Faux Poe (real name Rick, we were told) douse a man with gasoline and set him on fire. It was the first act of violence in The Following so far that really troubled me, and a truly chilling note for the episode to end on…
And yet: Subtext? Here was a Faux Poe, producing a public spectacle of seemingly random, meaningless violence – literally a spectacle, as we watched dozens of looky-loos watching the man burn to the death as the author of this madness walked away, scott free. I watched this episode with Stephen King’s recently released Kindle essay on gun violence in mind. He explained how he decided to recall the first novel he ever wrote – Rage, about a school shooting, published under the Richard Bachman pseudonym – after learning that it had been read by some real-life school shooters. King’s rationale echoes some of Agent Parker’s diagnosis of Joe Carroll’s psychically/emotionally busted followers, and his choice of words toward the end evokes the episode’s climactic image. “My book did not break [the school shooters it appears to have influenced] or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken,” King writes. “Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”
Does The Following aspire to say something about the hot button issue of pop culture’s relationship to violence? Is it exploiting the current conversation to make more sensationalistic thrills? Both?
To be continued next week. Hopefully. The message board is yours.