There are a few problems that I’ve noticed most detective shows encounter. One of them is the red herring dilemma. That happens on the shows where the protagonists are in pursuit of a single goal. In order to keep the season going, there’s no way that the first, second, or even third guy they talk to can be the one who did it, and so most of the initial episodes feel anti-climactic, just a bunch of obvious dead ends. (Even quality shows, like Top of the Lake, run into this predicament.) Or maybe it’s clear who the bad guy is but it’s just a matter of finding them, which means the show has to keep coming up with more and more outrageous explanations for why it’s proving so impossible to do so. I have to hand it to the The Following for managing to consistently skirt these obstacles. Week after week, the bad guys, who we very much know to be guilty, are found almost immediately and are then allowed to slip away right in front of the people chasing them.
This week, it’s Joe Carroll himself who is again allowed to go free. Joe is in fact so free that ridiculous people should be retroactively naming French fries after him. Which would actually be nice because, let’s face it, a cafeteria menu is probably the only way he’s going to get his name in print again considering the expressions he was making while trying to write his latest book. If you could convince me it’d be possible for a tattoo artist to truly capture each turtleneck fiber, I’d consider getting a full arm sleeve done of that scene just so I’d never forget. “Death plagued Ryan,” he types before deleting it in frustration. "No," he thinks, "I can’t use the word death again. It’s already appeared in this paragraph alone a dozen times. Why doesn’t this Dell have a proper thesaurus? Did Poe have to write under such barbaric conditions? Random good-natured follower, fetch me my Marimekko slippers! No, damnit, not those! The exclusively-for–Crate and Barrel ones!"
He’s having a hard time because, even though he is the one who came up the convoluted plan of becoming the leader of a serial-killing cult in order to write a book, he doesn’t understand what’s motivating his main character, Hardy, who, again, is only in that position because Joe put him there. So Joe calls Hardy up to ask him what makes him tick. “We know that your mom dying when you were so young royally screwed you up, but I want to hear about your dad’s death. I mean his, er, demise. No wait, his shuffling off this mortal coil. Which way do you like better? Which way seems like it would flow better on the page?” Hardy isn’t willing to play along today, though. He’s feeling cocky after finding Joe’s armory last week and only allowing four out of six people to die and one killer to escape. “I’m getting closer, aren’t I, Joe?” he says while I dig my fingernails into my kitchen floor and scratch out, “Not any closer than the actual house, prison, and motel room where Joey, Joe, and Claire once were.”
Elsewhere in Ravenclaw, Claire is feeling restless now that she has all this time on her hands that she had planned to spend escaping with her son. After Jacob caught her trying to escape through the front gate, she tried to lie and say they were just going for a walk. She should have told him she was going on an eyeliner run — that would’ve been more plausible. She must be going through crates of that stuff. You almost can’t blame Joe for feeling like he’s got a chance.
Roderick and Claire have a heart-to-heart while the other followers, you know, play their games of pool and conduct their reading groups. She tells him he seems normal enough, why the hell is he here, and he says something about wanting a safe place where he belongs. Uh, dude, you could’ve just gone to Coachella if that was really what you were after. Now might be a good time to bust out your scary, erratic deadened-emotions face so she’ll understand what the hell you’re talking about.
Emma wants to hang out with new girl Claire, too. I forgot for a minute about the whole “two years as Joey’s nanny” backstory until these two were in the same room together. Emma gets all Pacific Heights on Claire and tells her how she always considered her a friend. The end result is Claire’s hand around Emma’s throat until Roderick comes and breaks it up. Joey is bummed because he wanted to play UNO and everyone knows that’s more fun with three people than with two.
Weston’s out of the hospital and acting uppity because that other tech woman is still working the case, too. She’s preloaded, or something, three photos of a militia leader onto her computer. She hits a button and they fan out impressively across the screen, her gaze never leaving Weston once. Then she calls Weston Brad Pitt in Fight Club, which might as well be her saying, “As in, you are invisible.” Hardy tells Weston that he needs to take it easy, he should take time to wipe those smudgey bruises off his face, but Weston isn’t having it. “You sound just like my dad,” he tells Hardy, “Because this episode is about father figures. Get off my back, surrogate paternal unit!”
The tech lady pulls up a cache of Mapquest and gets an address of a house. Agent Parker, Weston, and Hardy drive over. The FBI offers to send backup, and the three of them are all, “No way, jocks, this is our time! We don’t need Troy’s bucket to catch this extremely dangerous killer who we keep failing to catch on our own. That’s a Goonies reference, by the way. That’s our club’s official movie. We’re going to go watch it really quick before chasing this newest lead that we will definitely make a mess of.” At the house, Weston breaks open the front door while looking at Hardy and saying the words, “Hardy approved.” Agent Parker looks at Hardy and says, “I blame you for that.” I can see how this woman got as far as she did.
In the kitchen, Agent Parker puts her hand on a tea kettle. “It’s warm,” she says, and the three of them proceed cautiously into the next room, which is filled with empty beer bottles. I’m expecting some sort of deranged tea-beer addict hybrid, but instead it’s just some dude who looks a lot like the militia brother who we already know. They tell him to put his hands up, but Weston goes all New Jacob on him and bashes him in the head with his gun. They see a security system and wonder why this empty house with its lone laundry basket needs that type of (turned-off) surveillance. They wonder if there’s someone else in the house, so they handcuff the guy to, like, a portable, unsecured radiator and leave Agent Parker to watch him while Weston and Hardy go exploring downstairs. “I hope the lights don’t really work and that there’s a lot of unfinished construction and/or pipes,” says an eager Weston as they make their way down to the basement.
What they find is the militia leader guy that the tech lady pulled up on her computer. They quickly locate and disarm him even though he has a bulletproof shelter that I’m assuming was built for just this scenario.
They hear a noise and Hardy leaves Weston to go check it out. It’s Joe, Jacob, and the militia brother coming to kill the militia leader. Jacob takes Parker hostage in the kitchen. She tries every psychological trick she learned from Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but she could never get into that series as much as the other ones and so it doesn’t work that well. She asks Jacob why he left medical school, maybe it had something to do with his dad? Jacob stares at her like, “Duh, of course it had everything to do with him. Did you not read the cable guide’s episode summary about this week’s theme?” Then he pulls two knives out of the drawer, which the militia must have used to stir their tea and open their beer bottles and tells her she has to stop talking.
In the basement, the militia leader gets killed off-camera and suddenly Joe is in the bulletproof room with a tied-up Weston. Joe’s flaunting his freedom at Hardy by showing he’s even free when he’s in a tiny locked room. He searches for a Poe quote to apply, but he didn’t get a chance to see the mural his followers painted on the wall of the armory and so he’s at a loss. He tells Hardy that he’s going to kill Weston unless Joe tells him about the time his dad died. Hardy sighs and is all, “Fine. Is a flashback okay, because I forgot my vodka water at the office and that always makes language easier for me?” Joe says a flashback will suffice.
We see a young Hardy in a car outside a convenience store. I always get thrown off by young versions of older actors whose careers started when they were actually younger. Like, we know what Kevin Bacon looked when he was a teenager and so how are we supposed to believe this kid who doesn’t look like that is Hardy at 15? Are you following my logic here? (And by following I mean in the old-fashioned way — like on Twitter — not in the new, serial-killer one.)
Anyway, “young” Hardy is sitting in the car while his retired cop dad goes into the store. He hears a shot and jumps out of the car. He sees a guy with a gun running out of the store. The guy points the gun at him but doesn’t shoot. Young Hardy goes inside and sees a bunch of jovial people (future followers probably) standing around his dad whose been shot in the gut. No one does anything while his dad dies.
Joe loves this story. He thinks it’s really great and tries to draw comparisons between him and Hardy. They’re both fueled by death! He doesn’t point out the most important thing learned from this story, though, which is that Hardy’s been getting to crime scenes a little too late and not stopping bad guys from getting away since he was a boy! Joe asked whatever happened to his dad’s killer, and Hardy says he overdosed a few days later. “A sort of poetic justice,” says Joe, accidentally using that phrase correctly even though he doesn’t really understand what it means. Hardy disagrees. Later he will have another flashback, while Weston patiently waits for him to be finished, of his teenaged self pointing a gun at his dad’s killer and forcing him to keep doing heroin (or whatever) until he is dead.
Even though Jacob is a huge fan of killing now, he lets Parker go. Joe gets away, too, through that same magic door that the repressed military dude who was in love with Claire escaped through a handful of episodes ago. Parker says she wants Hardy to meet someone. Hardy closes the ambulance doors so that Weston can’t see out onto the street and then walks over to Roderick, who’s introduced as the local sheriff. Hardy doesn’t connect him with the perfect sketch Weston made earlier, probably because Weston had described him as “just a generic white guy” when what he should have added was “with blue eyes as clear as Joe’s college syllabus is muddled and dimples twice as deep.”