The Following: 103 “The Poet’s Fire” Review
Reviewed by James Wynne
Following on from last week’s disappointment, “The Poet’s Fire” (a title that resembles an alternate title, “Poe’s Fire” so much, I cannot help but think it was deliberate) sees the series strike back with an outing that is a fine return to form. It’s still littered with a handful of frustrating issues, but the damage these do is nowhere near as severe as the ones that blighted the series’ second instalment.
Once again, the episode picks up where the last one left off and, this time, it’s with an assailant dressed in full Edgar Allen Poe attire (these guys aren’t subtle at all), who sets about dousing what appears to be a random man in the middle of the street with a flammable liquid, and then setting him alight. It was horrific the first time it was shown and it’s no different here. Unlike last week’s rather frustrating cutaways from all the gruesome bits (it’s not like The Following is aiming for a PG rating, is it?), this episode revels in the horror it’s creating right from the start. It did seem a bit odd that the man responsible was not halted by a single person as he passed through the crowd of horrified onlookers. You’d assume at least one of them might attempt something chivalrous – but no. It’s not a massive gripe. I mean, he did just that minute burn someone alive, so perhaps it’s a tad implausible for me to suggest that anyone would be stupid enough to attempt a citizens’ arrest or anything, but something about the ease of his exit seemed a bit unnatural to me. Still, his casual, unhindered departure created quite a striking image as the man in the forefront of the shot continued to blaze and scream. It was a startling indication of how far Carroll’s reach extends and the chaos that’s just beginning at his behest.
It turns out that Rick Kester (Michael Drayer) was the man behind this attack (also being the same man that ambushed Ryan at Emma Hill’s residence last week), and that it was a far more purposeful execution than it might have seemed at first. During an interesting exchange between Debra (who is proving a brilliant addition to the cast) and Carroll, the latter admits to not being above ‘petty’ revenge tactics. It seems odd that Debra, or anyone else working on this case, would have reason to assume otherwise, considering his previous conversations with Ryan, which seem to suggest he is doing all of this as some act of revenge. Besides this niggle, his and Debra’s scene provides a fascinating insight in to how he utilises his numerous cultists. It transpires that his disciples all have equal and individual parts to contribute to his novel – with each one, or group, being assigned a task that will fulfil one aspect of what’s required in all great stories. In this case, it’s a good ol’ fashioned tale of revenge (as Carroll’s dialogue insinuates).
As we know from the first two episodes, Carroll’s sole literary outing was met with critical failure. His revenge is therefore targeted at those who lambasted his efforts and whose words were influential and detrimental enough to cause irreparable damage to his book’s reputation. Of the three men that are deemed responsible for this, Ryan is one – and so he becomes quite a surprising target at this premature stage of the game.
For the most part, the plot surrounding Rick’s exacting of Carroll’s revenge is done to brilliant effect. Ryan doesn’t seem on the ball here, though. In fact, he figures that Carroll could be after revenge upon his identification of the man burned on the street as being one of Carroll’s harshest critics, but it’s not until Carroll himself confirms it that he realises others who wrote damning critiques might also be in serious danger. It all seems a bit too convenient, as it permits Rick the time needed to deal with his latest victim that he wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s also not consistent with Ryan’s character for him to make such a drastic oversight, as his aptitude for noticing the patterns in Carroll’s exploits has been well-documented.
Although, it did allow for one the episode’s absolute best moments. Rick’s malevolent enthusiasm, as he revels in his first experience of killing with a knife, as opposed to fire, is quite disturbing in itself. It’s made even more so as Phillip Barnes (the Dean that refused Carroll tenure at his institution and contributed to Ryan’s Poetry of a Serial Killer) gargles through his last few breaths in the background. I liked the scene’s disconcerting focus on Rick, as he watched Phillip die in agonising pain – his eyes glinting with obvious malice – as it helped to establish what’s so fearsome about Carroll’s like-minded followers: their intimate relationship with death.
I said of last week’s episode that one of the best things about The Following’s premise is that it means all of the crucial players (barring Ryan, for obvious reasons) warrant a degree of suspicion, irrespective of their supposed allegiance. I was thrilled to see this utilised so well in regard to Rick’s wife, Maggie (Virginia Kull). Like most, I imagine, I bought in to her tormented pretences without question. The twist that she was in cahoots with the rest of Carroll’s followers was built up to with ample amounts of tension, as her façade began to drop. Delivering this revelation to the audience before the characters were even made aware, was a brilliant move as well – albeit at the gruesome expense of Agent Reilly’s (Billy Brown) life. It was head-slapping stuff as he unwittingly became the instrument of his own demise (“Do it now?”).
I also liked how Rick and Maggie’s portion of the plot wound up linking back to Emma and co. In a scene that was shown in partial detail earlier on in the episode, insinuating a different context than what was actually the case; Rick is shown to have stabbed Maggie in the abdomen for attempting to divorce him. In reality, this moment between the two of them is an extract from an occurrence that took place in Emma Hill’s house as the group were making their murderous preparations. It ties in with the episode’s earlier detailing of events between Emma, Will and Paul at around the same time, as well as the conflict that’s arisen since then. It was a nice little twist that suggests things might not be quite as disconnected and organised between Carroll’s followers as he has requested to be the case.
Meanwhile, Ryan and Carroll’s past is delved in to with a little more detail. It wasn’t too insightful or surprising, but Kevin and James bounce of each other’s characters so well that it’s still one of the episode’s best bits. I think, most of all, I enjoyed Carroll’s faltering attempts to restrain his pride and enthusiasm towards his own murders. His constant, expert flattering of Ryan to divert his attention away from these occasional slip-ups was also quite entertaining.
Best Scene: Joey’s first kill
Claire is delivered a message from her son’s captors that makes clear what Carroll’s plans for him are. He is being taught that he is able to kill things, and so he should – as it is his right to do so. His impressionable age is what makes this scene so intense, as well as his abrupt turnaround from outright refusing to kill the mouse, to doing it with a playful little smile plastered all over his face. It’s haunting stuff.
It’s a great outing, but there are still issues. It does manage to rise above them at times, though, and produces some excellent moments filled with ample amounts of horror and agonising tension. Not least, during Will’s confrontations with an increasingly violent and unstable Emma Hill, along with his subsequent seduction, attack and abduction of Meghan Leeds (Li Jun Li). Rick’s death was a tad antic-climactic, but Maggie’s resulting escape will be an interesting element of future episodes. It’s also a bit of a shame that Raines went out how he did, as I find the likelihood of him being unsupervised to that extent a bit illogical, given the Bureau’s awareness of Carroll’s powers of persuasion being strong enough to make someone commit suicide if he so desires.