The biggest threat to anyone enlisting the aid of others to bring upon their master plan is that the others won’t be good little soldiers and fall in line. And when those soldiers are actually selfish sociopaths, it really doesn’t matter how much time you put in with them, coaxing them, coddling them, grooming them for said plan. They are still loose cannons, out for their own gain above yours. I thought the downfall for Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) in The Following would be Paul (Adan Canto)—poor, emotionally confused Paul—but as it turned out, it was actually one of his seeming stars, Maggie (Virginia Kull). No matter who it was, though, it ended up distracting from what I could have been a completely unique thread. “Mad Love” didn’t continue down the path of teaching Joey (Kyle Catlett) to be a killer, making the emotional impact of last week’s final act fall flat without consequence. It was so narrowly focused on Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) in that way that only fictional accounts can be: no real life serial killer only toys with one singular person or the fear he creates would be barely existent. There is no need for widespread panic or paranoia if one guy and his loved ones are the only real targets.
Carroll was working so hard to show the beauty and the art in death, but when Hardy killed Maggie’s husband, all she saw was anger and pain and decided to enact her own, immediate kind of revenge—the kind that doesn’t fit into Carroll’s plan. It was poetic in its own right, really: Carroll stabbed Hardy in the chest years earlier, forcing him to rely on a pacemaker today, and she was planning to stop his pacemaker, allowing him to succumb to his faulty heart from those injuries long ago. She was going to aid in Hardy’s death, but ultimately the cause could be traced back to Carroll. Hardy may have shot her husband, but it was all because he was killing for Carroll. She couldn’t see the bigger picture there, too stuck in her grief, but had she never dragged her husband into Carroll’s life, he’d still be alive and kicking today.
But Carroll doesn’t want Hardy dead—not yet, not until he has his fun with him and gets that second book. So Maggie was just another loose end, a two-episode bad girl of the week, rather than just one, that had to be taken out. At this rate, the body count on this show is going to be quite high by the end of the season, but for every one that Hardy or the FBI in general takes down, it makes it that much more implausible that Emma (Valorie Curry), Paul, and Jacob (Nico Tortorella) are still out there. After all, two out of the three are just as emotional, and their faces are all over the news, so it’s not like they can make supply runs to the supermarket or anything. Sooner or later that kid’s going to want to leave the grounds, and someone is bound to turn on the others.
But not just yet. Instead “Mad Love” delivered an unlikely alliance between Emma and Paul, when out of his own anger, he let the secret out that Jacob had never actually killed anyone as he claimed to. The pity in her eyes for her boyfriend! I was sure she was going to stab him on the spot and then coldly whisper into his dying face that she was also dumping him. Instead, she handed him the knife, handle out, and told him to pop his murder cherry. But he still couldn’t do it, and we learned for the first time that all of the prior moments of emotion on his face were not faked for cover. He really is a guy who lives with his heart on his sleeve, and he was so frustrated and disgusted with himself for being unable to live up to his girlfriend’s expectations.
There was something equally poetic in Jacob’s struggles; he really wanted to be able to take a life but he couldn’t even cause a flesh wound. He lacked the gene—or he had all of the right chromosomes—or his life was just too charmed. Carroll didn’t judge him for it; he kept his secret and was convinced Jacob would be able to do it when the time was right for him. Maybe Carroll saw an innocence in Jacob that reminded him of his own son; maybe that’s the connection between why he selected Jacob as one of the ones to take his son and start the teachings. Regardless, though, it set up just how desperate Jacob must be to be a part of something—anything—that he would give his life over to a cause in which he obviously doesn’t fully believe. There is a deep sadness in that but also a chance for a really interesting character study.
“Mad Love” got a little meta in the beginning when Hardy stormed into the prison and outright accused Carroll of slacking for the fact that his little minions are so emotionally and sloppy and just plain not living up to the expectations of greatness one has for Carroll. It’s something I pointed out in previous reviews, and it’s something that only seems to get more confusing as the episodes, this one included, go on. The show calling it out inspired the confidence that it is intentional, even it’s hard to see how or why right now.
But maybe that’s the thing: sometimes you just create monsters. Cults are effective for keeping their people in line because the people have access to their leader daily, and they receive affirmations and rules and other guidelines just as often. Sent off into the world on their own, they are tempted by their own selfish wants and desires, and there is room for uprising within. Maggie certainly made a power move, though it didn’t end well for her in the end, but it wasn’t a threat to Carroll because she was expendable to him once she did the job of planning his son’s kidnapping. Emma is still the real wildcard.
Emma, who is supposed to be watching over Carroll’s son but who brought that girl back to the basement so Jacob would have to confront his virgin status over and over, what Joey hears be damned. Emma, who bonded with Paul over cleaning up Jacob’s mess and suddenly decided she wanted him for the moment, so she just took what she wanted. Emma, who might just be on par with Carroll, but who is still doing his dirty work, and for what? Most cults come with some kind of spiritual salvation or promise for the afterlife. Even if you end up dying for the cause, you’re supposed to get something out of it, even if it’s just your leader’s undying devotion and love. But Carroll didn’t want Emma for himself; he hooked her up with Jacob, who has now proven to be inferior in so many ways in her eyes. So how long before Emma decides she just wants what she wants, Carroll be damned, and makes a power play of her own for Hardy?
It doesn’t seem to matter who goes after Hardy in Carroll’s name, though; he is his own worst enemy. He broke up with Claire (Natalie Zea) years earlier out of some kind of pious penance because he would be forever tied to Carroll. He cut off ties with his sister for seemingly the same reasons—not because if he was around, she was in danger (though that very much proved to be the case when Maggie got wind of his lone remaining family member), but because she wanted him to be a part of normal society, have a relationship, heal, and move on. Whether he was stuck in some kind of PTSD or general self-loathing or some combination of the two, he felt he was no good to anybody, so he shut them all out and away. He’d still be doing it if Carroll’s escape hadn’t thrust him back into Claire’s life—actually, back into life in general.
He and Carroll may be two sides of the same coin, but right now it certainly looks like even though his methods are sick, Carroll is good for Hardy.