Imagine school that day. The loudspeaker crackles to life. "Uhh, attention kids — I mean students. Would Claire Matthews, I repeat would CLAIRE MATTHEWS please come down to the principal's office? There's an urgent matter we need to discuss. No one is going to stab you. Uhh, that's all. CLICK." The math class where this particular Claire Matthews currently sits all turn to her. "Oh my god, Claire, that was so weird! Did you hear those muffled noises?" "Yeah, Claire, I'd think twice about listening to that." Claire is just so confused. Her teacher chimes in. "I think you'd better go, Ms. Matthews." He motions to the door with one of those "I don't make the rules!" expressions on his face, which gives way to one of those "LOL I'm totally a Follower" faces the moment she leaves the room. Should've been paying attention to the news on your iPhone, Claire!
Hot off (what I think was) a semi-decent episode last week, the latest The Following continued in that direction with an outing that was at once bonkers, glib, and oddly focused. Just like its colorful cast of characters! Network show that it is — and hot off a nice write-up in the latest Entertainment Weekly — the show offered a tidy catch-up opening that juxtaposed Hardy and Parker's CIA/NSA/Homeland Security briefing with a scene of Follower HQ in full swing. Or should we say Follower U, for how much this whole operation feels like serial killer state college? Practicing stabbing techniques, tracing phone calls, deprogramming kidnapped little boys. Top it off with chill Professor Carroll always down for a quick Poe discussion section, and you've got the best years of your life. I know I missed fall admission, but maybe I can still get my application in for spring?
At office hours, Prof. Carroll listens intently to one of his newer Followers, Amanda, as she outlines plans for her "chapter" in the "book." (Maybe they should bring in a guest lecturer for a class about the limits of metaphor?) The idea: test the power of love, as well as Ryan Hardy's sanity. The method: killing a bunch of women named Claire Matthews, in the hopes of flushing out Joe's Claire Matthews. The weapons: spear and nail-guns. Writes Joe on the margins of her essay, "Amanda, I think your work shows a lot of creative potential! B+."
Moments later Amanda just gets right to it when she sidles up to a random woman at a local diner, asking her to "tell Ryan Hardy that sometimes love hurts." "You've got crazy eyes and I really need to go!" is what the random woman should say, but before she can get to this her other friend has sat back down. "What's up?!" this friend, Claire nee Matthews, asks with genuine curiosity. Amanda answers honestly, telling Claire she currently has a speargun pointed at her from under the table. Then she shoots her. Writes Joe, "I really like this part. Very weird but good weird. One question: speargun? Feel like a silenced pistol would do the trick but stylization can be fun, too. Keep writing!"
Hardy and Parker show up soon after to study the scene and ID the body, whose name obviously gives Hardy cause for concern. "DON'T LET CLAIRE FIND OUT ABOUT THIS!" he screams. And we can assume, somewhere far offscreen, Claire's Internet and cable have just been turned off. She can't even read this recap! At best she's able to re-read her husband's book about the lighthouse, which suuuuuuuuuucks.
Remember Paul and Jacob? They're BACK, turning up at Jacob's mom's place to get some much-needed medical assistance for Paul. But before we get to that, Jacob's mom has some stuff she needs to air out. "Help me understand this, Jacob!" she asks, a perfectly reasonable request from the mom of an alleged murderer. "I don't think I could explain…" "You're a murderer!" "STOP SAYING THAT, MOM!" In Jacob's defense, he is not technically a murderer (not until later in the episode, anyway). But try telling that to mom! She lays out the truth of Paul's situation — he's got sepsis, and will likely die if he doesn't get a blood transfusion soon. From, you know, a hospital. Suffice it to say Jacob is not thrilled by this option. He hates hospital! Plus he's wanted for murder everywhere.
Emma, meanwhile, continues her seduction of Professor Carroll. But where post-Charlie stabbing he was so turned on, such a psycho-sexual dynamo, operating in a less-frenzied atmosphere Joe seems… cold. Distant. GUYS, RIGHT?! Roderick watches the whole bedroom drama play out from just outside the bedroom and thinks to himself "I can use this!" Which he does, later, at the freshman orientation mocktail party. Spying Emma spying Joe, Roderick approaches her to talk. She's having none of it. He presses, trying to get under her skin. "Joe LOVES his wife, Emma. And yet he slept with you. You? You've got a boyfriend. I think you understand gray areas." Then, to really mess with her, he recites some of the many messages Jacob had left for her. Emma is so over this catty b*llshit and storms off. I'm sure it'll blow over.
What she doesn't know is that however many miles away, one of her former lovers is preparing to leave this world he loved (to stab) so much. We flash back to the first night Paul and Jacob Followed together. It was Jacob's mission, but when he couldn't kill? Paul wound up covering for him. "You owe me!" Paul playfully offered. Tussled his hair. Now, in the present, Jacob is asked to pay that debt…with ASSISTED SUICIDE. Jacob grabs a nearby pillow. Caresses Paul's face with a tenderness I assume he never felt with Emma. Hovers over his friend…and then smothers him to death, Cuckoo's Nest-style. So one-third of the original Follower tripod is now dead. On the plus side? Jacob notches his first kill. Way to go, buddy!
Hardy and the FBI team learn there is one last Claire Matthews out there for Amanda to kill, and track her to what looks like a college steampunk Mardi Gras rave, because everyone was tired with "Golf Pros; Tennis Hos." All too quickly they identify Amanda and Roderick's sex pal, Louise, who in turn have identified their Claire Matthews. Everyone's running. Followers are stabbing. Cops are helping. Followers are killing. Hardy chases down Louise outside the party. "What are you going to do, Ryan, shoot me?" And in a victory over that sort of lame thriller setup, he DOES. We all cheered!
Finally Hardy catches up to Amanda and Claire, who has a nail-gun pointed at her face. Hardy pleads with Amanda to put the gun down and walk away. "It doesn't work that way! She has to die!" When Ryan points out that the Claire she's holding hostage isn't Joe's Claire, the English major in Amanda just SNAPS. "IT'S A FREAKIN' METAPHOR, RYAN!" Even near-killing or -death, the characters on The Following have a grave respect for literary technique. Hardy presses forward, confessing his love for (Joe's) Claire. As a trade, he suggests, he'll offer himself in her place. Dude's got crazy eyes. He keeps walking. Amanda balks — which is just the moment he needs to grab her gun and apprehend her.
Joe and Roderick quickly learn of Amanda's apprehension and Louise's demise. Neither of which seem to faze Roderick, who it turns out was pretty "meh" on the whole Louise thing. Good thing Follower U is just overflowing with serial killer strange, bro! And anyway, there's some good news mixed in with the bad — somehow, through efforts conducted entirely off-screen, they've managed to track down the original Claire Matthews. Joe flashes that devilish(ly annoying) sexy-professor smile.
Later Emma is prompted by Roderick to see what's at the front door. And just like you guessed, it's Jacob — angry, newly murderous, hated-by-his-mother Jacob. "Hello, Emma" is his cold greeting. But things are about to get WHITE HOT.
On that note: solid ep! Are you guys with me in seeing some subtle improvements these past two weeks, or should I consider this revised assessment of mine the first sign in a full-on psychological collapse? I have been playing an unhealthy amount of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" lately. But who knows!
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Lavine/FOX]