Image credit: David Griesbrecht/Fox
THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE Despite his best efforts, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) was seduced and fooled by Poe-wannabe Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) during the early days of his investigation into the killer.
The other major storyline in "The Poet's Fire" also explored what it means to be a good follower, but from another angle: What it looks like to be a bad follower. Such was the story of Paul, who tried to make peace with his waning relevancy in the life of the man he had grown to love as Jacob and Emma continued to re-bond after years apart, and more, play house with a son surrogate, Joey, Carroll’s son. In flashbacks, we saw that “The Gay Neighbors” had been prodded to perfect the act of smooching by Emma herself during a night of talent-honing/truth-or-dare at the old clubhouse. “It’s what Joe wants,” said Emma. And no one wanted to disappoint Joe. Initially, they seemed to recoil from "playing gay" the away Rick recoiled playing with knives. But in making them kiss, Emma set in motion a chain of events that changed (our perhaps clarified) Paul, and perhaps Jacob, too. For while they were pretending to “The Gay Neighbors,” they really did go all the way with their act -- at least once, during a drunken night of touchy-feely joshing. For Jacob, it might have been pure experimentation or an expression of bisexuality or "love the one you're with" loneliness. For Paul, it was something more. He had either locked into his authentic self, his own moral code; or at the very least, he felt he had found true love.
He tried to bury the hatchet with large and in-charge Emma. He may have lost Jacob, but he couldn’t lose his other identity, his elevated standing within Carroll's Dead Poets Society. “Can we sorta pretend that we like each other and see where that goes?” Paul offered his hand. Instead of shaking it, Emma slashed it with a butcher knife. “Don’t try to turn Jacob against me,” she hissed. “It won’t work.”
It came to pass that while watching Jacob and Emma play happy family with Joey, Paul snapped. He stormed out of the house, jumped in a car, tore away. Echoing the Parker/Jordy bit, Paul called Jacob out on crap character – his hypocrisy. “You’re a liar,” he said. Jacob looked stung. Emma freaked. They were wanted fugitives. Their faces were everywhere on the news, and while they relished their newfound celebrity (such shallow artists, this American Idol/youtube-weaned generation!), they also realized it made them vulnerable. Paul was going to get them caught. They just knew it. “Why doesn't anybody do what they’re supposed to!” cried Emma. Welcome to leadership, bossypants.
Paul had other reckless plans. He went to a supermarket and flirted with a stock girl popping some price tags. He might have liked boys (or just Jacob), but he was a handsome lad who knew how to seduce a girl. Her name was Megan, and like her sound-alike, Maggie, she was vulnerable to wanting to be wanted by a man. Unlike Maggie (and more like Emma), she had a steely sense of self-respect. One thing led to another, and later that night, Paul and Megan were pounding brews and wrestling tongues. “We’re not having sex,” she said. “Let’s just take that off the table.” It’s possible that Paul wasn’t in the market for that kind of hook-up, or if he would have even enjoyed it with a lady. But he certainly didn't like yet another strong woman telling him what to do, drawing boundaries on his sexuality, impeding his fulfillment. As they continued macking, Paul turned barbaric, perhaps subconsciously so, self-loathing rising and taking over. He began chewing her lips, and then lightly choking her. Megan pulled away. She didn’t like it rough. And she was spooked. She wanted to go home. Paul pretended to oblige, then slammed her head against the vehicle four times, knocking her out.
Paul brought his trophy woman back to the Friends’ safehouse. He bound her to a chair and gagged her mouth with tape. He was proud of his awful artistic accomplishment, and he tried to rub his proof of monstrous talent in Emma and Jacob’s faces. Of course, Paul wasn’t just trying to shore up his worth. He was trying to subvert Emma’s control by gumming up the works with a complication. He was also trying make Jacob jealous, and seemed to want to use Megan in such a way to further confront Jacob on the lie of his straightness, and to expose the love they shared that Jacob dared not speak of. Especially to Emma. The specifics of said plan: TBD. We left them as Jacob tried to defuse the ticking bomb that was Paul, and Emma plotting a more permanent solution.
Joe Carroll set one of the most compelling and subversive examples of good following. In a flashback, we saw Hardy seek out Carroll’s counsel on the Poe murders. Maybe Hardy already suspected Carroll as the culprit, and he was trying to trap the killer into exposing himself. Regardless, Carroll did everything right. He modeled good citizenship by helping Hardy with everything he had, but humbly, and with greatly sensitivity. And as Hardy made the error of offering Carroll a glimpse into his soul, and the toll the case had already taken on him, Joe played the good sidekick by fluffing the superhero’s flagging spirit with empathy and encouragement. “I couldn’t turn it off if I were you,” said Carroll as they communed over Scotch. “It must be hard with friends and family, too, running around chasing the bad guy. I must imagine it gets quite lonely.” He paused. “But the payoff! Helping people. Saving lives. I think what you do is quite remarkable.” They drank some more. Hardy had been hooked.
“I know what how followers feel," said Hardy in the present, bonded with Agent Parker over being played by Carroll and his Friends. "They're better for being near him. It gives them a little piece of what they’re missing. I fell for it -- and five more girls were murdered.” But at least had a kindred sprit ally in Agent Parker.
In the coda, the themes of good following and bad influence came to a head when Claire Matthews received an email from Emma. It came with a video showing Jacob schooling Joey on how to be a chip off the old block – which is to say, to be a killer. Joey balked when he nixed making like firebug Rick by frying an insect with a magnifying glass. But Jacob worked on him. Why kill a beetle? “Because we can,” said Jacob. “If we kill the bug , it dies, and that means your life means a little more.” With that, Jacob asked Joey to put the lid on a jar containing a field mouse. Joey complied, and Emma and Jacob celebrated the boy’s triumph as they watched the rodent suffocate. One more thing? “We’re just getting started.”
“They’re teaching him!” said Claire.
But the last line reminded us – and Hardy – who this story is all about.
“Hi, Ryan!” said Joey, repeating the line fed to him by Emma, beginning his strange journey to being a good follower, and a unique artist his own right. Forget fire, knives, and strangulation.
I’m predicting light sabers.
Of course, I don’t believe the Friends of Carroll will successfully turn Joey into a psychopathic Sith lord. In fact, I think stopping them from corrupting Joey is part of the hero’s journey Carroll has scripted for Ryan. That’s my theory, What’s yours, faithful followers of The Following? The message board is yours.
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