Let's start at the end of the episode, where Joe Carroll offered some truthful affirmations to his pursuer/literary masterwork in human form, Ryan Hardy. "This is your story, Ryan. Your rebirth. Everyday you come just a little bit more back to life. You can't quit now. You're not yet quite the man you need to be." I've gotta say, the guy makes some pretty decent points! Before the series kicked off, after all, Hardy was a lousy drunk. Or drunker, anyway — eking out a miserable existence in his (well-appointed) Brooklyn loft, utterly defined and crippled, literally and figuratively, by his history with Joe. For a show about a pack of "terrorist-level" serial killers hyper-adept with all forms of technology and thrilled at the prospect of murder-sex, it's probably Hardy who's the most damaged character in the mix. Earlier in the episode Claire pointed out much the same thing when she asked why, in the eight years since putting Joe away, he'd never called her. (Or texted. Poked.) Even Tyson, the Hardy BFF whose witness protection cabin provided shelter but more importantly a NARRATIVE PAUSE this week insinuated as much. "You gotta stop with this death curse, bro!"
Everybody, on my cue: RYAN, WE VALUE YOU. YOU DESERVE LOVE. YOU DON'T NEED TO DIE ALONE.
Not that every moment of "Guilt" was overburdened with 12-step emotion. The FBI, for one, spent the duration of the episode troubleshooting computer stuff! That's how all of the scenes at FBI HQ play out, anyway — some brief overview of our Follower(s) of the Week peppered with fun commentary (last night: "they found their way to a foster home that was busted for militia activity"), followed by an array of "encrypting" or "decrypting" activity that leads to some shocking revelation about Joe's group. Not that any of us watching want a beat-by-beat, methodical demonstration of the information technology the FBI employs to capture these bad guys. God forbid this become The Killing. But maybe a little more verisimilitude might help scenes like last night's, in which Parker stumbled onto a Follower recruitment website, achieve more resonance? (Without changing anything about the website's login screen: "Hello friend, you've been allowed entry. Please enter your name and email and someone from The Following will get back to you." Hahahahahahahahahahahaha)
Emma and Jacob, too, got to play out their own little domestic drama away from the Hardy plot. So Emma's boyfriend whom she sort of left for dead? Kind of peeved to have been left for dead! Threat of jail or not, that is simply not the behavior you find in a healthy relationship. And now, with Jacob seeing his deceased friend and lover Paul everywhere — and telling him to kill Emma — well, "trouble in paradise" would be underselling it. When they break up, it will probably be because one killed the other.
But the primary plot thrust last night: Joe enlisted two of his people (self-styled "constitutional extremists," not that that matters) to help finally track down his wife. Roderick tried to use "work" as an excuse to get out of the operation, which didn't thrill Joe. You want to prove yourself as a Follower, man? Then at least call in sickto your sheriff job or something. Show a little cause commitment.
Hardy managed to protect Claire for about three and a half minutes before Joe's team found her — effectively neutralizing an entire hotel wing to do so — and very nearly made off with her. "Very nearly" because Hardy managed to shoot the guy holding Claire, and drove her to safety. Or more accurately Timblin, Pennsylvania (such a tour of the mid-Atlantic region we're getting!), where his best friend and former partner Tyson has been holed up in witness protection. Could he be a Follower? Turns out no, at least not based on this episode, but good thinking — it's important to be prepared for any and all deus ex machinas.
Some flashbacks fleshed out a little more of Hardy's pre-Claire existence. He'd had a few girlfriends. One in particular, Molly, got close but Hardy never opened up enough to truly let her in. "What's the dirt on this guy?" she coyly asked Tyson. "I guess he's sort of an emotionally damaged alcoholic" is what he should have said, to save time, but he gave more of an "LOL you should be with me" response. BROS. Flashforward to Claire, just a girl standing in front of Hardy asking to be loved. "When is there ever a good time for us to talk about anything?" she asked, five minutes before their safe house was attacked by Joe's Followers. She continued. "What if I told you I love you?" Hardy, always turning the other cheek to happiness: "I'd say that's a bad idea." But wait! "…And I love you too." Kiiiiiiiiissssssssssss.
Then Roderick and the guys shot up Tyson's place and Tyson killed one of them before getting shot himself (he's okay!) and then Claire said ENOUGH and took off with Roderick, because she may love Hardy and recognize a trap when she smells one but this is her son we're talking about, goddammit — and this was before Hardy found his tires slashed and yelled "aww, crackers" to anyone in Timblin, PA who could hear him, mind you. That all happened. But it's not the important part.
You know what is? That ex from two paragraphs up, Molly…who in a twist I didn't see coming (but I'm not that bright) turns out to be one of Joe's Followers. You hear that, Hardy? Joe can (probably) sleep with one of your exes, too! And it all slowly begins to make sense, this "bros before hos" logic that governs every beat of the show. That was a lesser-known Poe work, right? Has to be.
Next week on The Following: sexy cocktail dresses. See you then!
Follow Henning on Twitter @HenningFog
[Photo Credit: Barbara Nitke/FOX]