I don't think it's a coincidence that Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) came face to face in the last episode of FOX's The Following and it gave Hardy a new pep in his step. As I have theorized in past "psychology of The Following reviews," those two bring out the best in each other, and in "Welcome Home," Hardy was not only on the top of his game professionally, but personally he had his sense of humor back. Long gone were the days of scouring at Mike (Shawn Ashmore) like a gnat buzzing around his ear; here he actually, willingly, engaged. And he willingly worked with the new FBI agent in charge of the investigation (Mike Colter), even though it was clear he thought the guy was an idiot for sticking to protocol and keeping him locked away in a consulting, need-to-know-only position. Carroll, on the other hand, didn't seem as on point from his encounter with Hardy-- because Carroll put his trust in some people who didn't get the job done exactly according to plan, and now he had no choice but to rewrite as he went along. But looking out over the sea of faces waiting to serve him at his compound, it was just as clear his own energy was returning, slipping over him like a wave.
But here's the thing: with the emergence of Roderick (Warren Kole) and the backstory that he, in fact, killed two of Carroll's previous victims, I had reason to want to look back over the whole first half of the season with this information in the back of my mind. Because if Roderick was wandering around campus trying to copy the killings, it would have been one thing, but if he was actually working with Carroll way back then-- the true first acolyte and apprentice-- it was quite another story. Could I have profiled Carroll wrong in the beginning? The M.O. of team killers is always very different from a solo, and it makes me want to read Hardy's book even more now to see if he had any inclination of the way things would turn out.
Personally, I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the reveal. In a way, it takes some of the power away from Carroll, and let's face it, the power is what makes him so seductive and sexy as a character (yeah, yeah, and Purefoy himself doesn't hurt!). But in others, it makes him that much more brilliant, because he was planning even further ahead than we could have realized. I hardly think Roderick was just a new kind of student; he was a contingency plan all along. A lesser man would have thrown him under the bus and made him take the fall for all crimes, but Carroll is a man of honor-- even if it's a bit twisted. It certainly gave me a lot more to think about, and really, the fact that it can continuously keep me on my toes is why I love this show so much.
The timing in "Welcome Home" to bring in a guy like Nick Donovan, the new FBI head in charge of the investigation, couldn't have been more perfect. Carroll had not only escaped twice (under two different watches), but the rest of the FBI was scrambling, taking too many liberties, clearly not getting the job done. The audience was squawking about it, so thankfully the show was one step ahead and had planned to address it. But the weight of Donovan's presence and the inner workings of the FBI was severely overpowered by Carroll's side of the story.
Is it because it's just more fun to track (and be) the bad guy? Is it because the FBI side of things came dangerously close to procedural style case work this week? Maybe that's part of it, but really an episode I assumed was going to be all about Emma (Valorie Curry) adjusting to life with a bunch of strangers, all vying for attention from the man she thought she was meant to be with, ended up delivering so much more, on so many different levels, for Emma, Carroll, Charlie (Tom Lipinski), and of course, Roderick.
Unfortunately, even poor Mike's (Shawn Ashmore) terrible encounter took a bit of a backseat to these things. As much as I loved him, I'm kind of happy this moment came now, because there was so much chatter online about him being a potential follower, and that really bummed me out. I thought it was (and wrote about it being) pretty clear from the pilot he was Hardy's acolyte. And what's yet another great way to get under Hardy's skin than by taking out someone so close to Hardy-- right when Hardy had actually started to like the kid. Even at the end, all Mike wanted was Hardy's approval, using what could have been his last breaths to tell him he didn't give up Claire's location.
What struck me as fascinating was that Carroll told his son Joey (Kyle Catlett) that the plan was to have his mother come to the compound, but he did it in secret from everyone-- including Emma. It was a small moment that could easily be missed because of its early placement in the episode, as well as its quiet nature, compared to what followed, but I feel it was extremely important because it not only set up what is sure to come (Claire actually being kidnapped and brought to the compound, causing everyone to have to readjust to dynamics when she re-enters Carroll and Emma's lives), but it also was a way for Carroll to earn his son's trust. A kid as young as Joey might not think along those lines, but for those of us who are older, wiser, and a little more detached from the situation, it's clear. Unfortunately, Carroll didn't think of everything along the lines of instilling trust or he would have created yet another replica of Joey's room for him at the compound. The easiest way to comfort a kid in strange surroundings is to give him things he knows, things he likes. Here he was among strangers and strange things. Even Emma is someone of whom he has come to be (rightfully) wary.
Speaking of Emma, the way she waited outside of rooms for Carroll spoke volumes about how she feels about him: still like that young school girl who first met him at a book signing. The light in her eyes every time he touches her face or tells her that he's proud of her seems to fill her completely-- all of the rest of the time, she's just waiting for another moment like that. I guess it's similar to how Charlie was hiding from him because he couldn't face his failure. Even if Carroll isn't a typical cult leader who punishes bad mistakes or betrayals, Charlie himself couldn't face the disappointment. And maybe a little part of him didn't want to face Roderick either. That guy seemed like he would punish those who wronged Carroll-- even if Carroll didn't want him to. Clearly he's already going off on his own-- recruiting new people that Carroll doesn't know, didn't approve, who might not really fit the mission or the "brand," so to speak. Roderick owes Carroll, and he's paying him back in ways that are way more self-serving than they should be. Almost a decade to run things, while Carroll sat in prison, seems to have given him a big ego. He is clearly a different kind of sociopath (don't believe me? Rewatch the scene after Charlie dies. He didn't do the killing, yet he got turned on anyway and needed a different kind of rush. It's a fascinating study). I can't wait to see how these two go at each other because a dozen psychos in a house is one thing, but two Alphas is another, and Carroll is clearly so much more emotionally invested in his people that it would hurt him greatly to have to hurt Roderick. But I just know he's going to have to hurt Roderick.
The look of confusion that crossed Carroll's face-- even briefly-- when Charlie approached him by the fire, coming to the conclusion his life couldn't mean anything because he wasn't a successful part of this mission, and holding out the knife was priceless. I never questioned that Caroll cared about his followers and would never inflict serious harm on them personally. If they died in battle, so to speak, that was a price they knew they may have to pay. But it would be quite different to die by the hand of the leader-- the man you looked up to, trusted, and loved. Carroll earned the love and trust of his followers; he gave them something meaningful, and they shouldn't live in fear he would take it away, as he had taken random girls' lives years ago. But in this instance, it was Charlie who was silently asking Carroll to do that. He wasn't quite a martyr for the cause but simply a soldier who was no longer fit for battle. They shoot horses when they can no longer race, and in this case, Charlie wanted to be an offering-- and to die with, I guess, whatever little dignity he had left. He didn't have faith that the third time would be the charm for him. And Carroll obliged because it was what the kid wanted, and Carroll doesn't want his people to suffer. He's a merciful leader.
But getting back to Emma for a second, when the Sheriff car pulled up, and she didn't know what was happening, she darted behind Carroll, proving that she still has a bit of selfishness in her. A true follower should be willing to die for him, no? And this was all before he told her he loved his wife in a way that clearly broke her heart and reminded me of my theory that he looks at Emma like a daughter. Such rejection for Emma-- with the still unknown fate of Paul (Adan Canto) and Jacob (Nico Tortorella) hanging over her head-- was heart-wrenching. I really feel like this was a catalyst for her journey to veer off soon (or maybe I'm projecting a lot of myself onto her character). She deeply loves Carroll; she has done everything for him; but at the end of the day, he wants to be with his family. Where does that leave Emma, really? She may have gotten what she wanted temporarily (uh, was Joey just in his room the whole day!?), but she'll have to really start thinking about the long-term, and frankly, I'm just as fascinated to see how she responds in any given situation as I am to see what Carroll has up his sleeve next.