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“The Poet’s Fire” introduces another two cult members while delving deeper into Ryan’s character and backstory with Carroll. It is becoming clear that The Following will continue to hit all the typical notes and cues of that from the serial killer/horror genre. This puts extra emphasis on the characters and the plot variations, which are still rather hit or miss.
“The Poet’s Fire” picks up a bit before the ending of last week’s “Chapter Two” - the masked Poe, later revealed as Rick, is giving a dramatic reading of Poe’s “The Raven” to a crowd right before he burns a literary critic for a Richmond paper who wrote a particularly scathing review of Carroll’s book. Rick is also one of nine sets of finger prints found at Emma’s old house adding his fingerprints to the four people they have already been able to identify in Jordy, Jacob, Paul, and Emma.
Once Rick has been identified the FBI goes to investigate his house and finds his wife, Maggie, hiding in the pantry with a knife. She is taken in for questioning and tells the FBI that she and Rick had been separated for six months, which was why she was hiding in the pantry. When Ryan asks her about her hospitalization two years prior she informs them that Rick had stabbed her when she asked for a divorce but took him back because he was “really sorry.” Debra believes Maggie completely.
While this is happening Rick kills another one of Carroll’s biggest detractors in the college’s Dean of Literature. Rick relishes his first kill with a knife, stabbing him in the stomach. This is an example of one of the typical horror items in the script. Even though it is clear Rick is a little off (he is a part of a cult after all) his excitement of the kill is more cliché than interesting. Ryan figures that Carroll’s revenge plot will target him next as there is a Poe tale in which the character takes revenge on three people with Ryan believing he is Carroll’s third main target.
On the idyllic country estate tensions between Emma and Paul as Emma slices Paul’s arm to warn him of stealing Jacob from her. Paul gets fed up and takes a drive to the local convenience store to, apparently, pick up a girl. He picks up one of the store’s clerks, Megan, only to beat her head into the door and kidnap her. Upon his return it is revealed through a flashback that, even though Paul and Jacob aren’t homosexuals, they did hook up one night after a few glasses of wine and a tickle fight. Jacob reminds Paul that Emma can’t find out.
Paul’s plot line for this episode is rather confusing. Paul knows his face is emblazoned all over the news but still leaves anyway. He picks up Megan and while it seems that he’s just looking for a hook up ends up being violent with her – he semi-chokes her before bashing her head. This suggests that the cult followers have sought out Joe because they all have a need to exact violence on other but that only requires more explanation into the characters’ psyches that, so far, does not seem to be a strength of the show. For The Following to become truly terrifying it needs to reach a level of depth with all the characters that it doesn’t seem to want to enter.
Ryan’s character does get a little more fleshed out this episode through flashbacks. It seems Ryan was taken in by Carroll’s charms when discussing the original case with him. Carroll’s charms are a big sticking point for Ryan and, even though Carroll does not seem to be particularly magnetic (whether this is due to Purefoy’s performance or the faults of the writing remain unclear) but it is a tad hard to believe Ryan was sucked in by Carroll. A flashback scene with Ryan and Carroll shows Carroll offering him a drink and subsequently flattering him about his job; but the chemistry is lacking between the two and thus the magnetism of Carroll’s character is not fully realized.
Maggie gets a call from Rick while still with the FBI which is meant to terrorize Ryan, in fact most of this episode is about terrorizing Ryan. They take Maggie back to her house, with only Agent Reilly ordered to protect her throughout the night (another example of an unrealistic scenario for the FBI, especially after the fracas with Claire in last week’s episode). Luckily Ryan, ordered by Debra to go sleep his drunk off, and Mike, ordered by Debra to watch Ryan, take it upon themselves to also stake out the house. Ryan clearly is not trying to make friends as the doting Mike tries to make some small chat. Debra returns to Jordy’s cell and promises Jordy that he may talk to Carroll if Jordy gives up the whereabouts of Joey and Emma. Jordy reveals that Maggie knows where Emma et al. are.
Unfortunately everyone at Maggie’s house gets the information too late as she stabs Agent Reilly through the neck. Rick meets up with Maggie at the house but, with Ryan in pursuit of Maggie, decides to sacrifice (perhaps) himself so Maggie can get away, which she does. At the end of the episode Ryan reveals to Debra that his misplaced trust in Carroll allowed five more murders to happen, much like her misplaced trust in Maggie led to Agent Reilly’s demise. Jordy commits suicide by choking on his bandage (for some reason no one is there guarding his room or checking up on him regularly).
It seems that Carroll’s master plan is revealed to Claire and Ryan at the end of the episode. Emma sends a video of Jacob telling Joey to suffocate a mouse in a glass jar, hinting at this being just the beginning for Joey. This has potential to become a nice wrinkle in the plot as it does give the FBI more incentive to find Joey quicker before he is too far-gone.