The Following "The Poet's Fire" Review: A Song of Mice and Liars

By Nick Campbell

Feb 05, 2013

The Following S01E03: "The Poet's Fire"

So last week we ended the episode with a man in a goofy mask lighting another man on fire. My biggest problem is that nothing about it was "romantic" or even personal. After meditating on how Carroll personalizes his crimes, this joker kept his identity hidden and basically killed from a distance. Not that I'm defending one kind of killing over another. It's all bad. Kids, don't kill. But, within this storyworld I'm just looking for a little consistency.

"The Poet's Fire" revisited the coda murder by filling in some of the blanks for us: The killer was a kid named Rick, he liked fire, and he was singling out the trifecta Carroll blames for his downfall. The show itself pointed out a quote: "The generous Critic fann'd the Poet's fire. And taught the world with reason to admire." It was used as sort of an explanation for the fiery death of one of Carroll's most vocal critics and, yeah, it definitely mentions fire. The quote seems to be about how a critic can drive an artist to do something more fantastic, so that can also apply here. Ryan Hardy culled the quote from his memory and made the connection that generated the lead to get them off and running. "That's Poe." Except it's not. It's POPE. As in Alexander Pope, a poet and critic who died 65 years before Poe was born. You also know him as the guy who created the inspiration for the mightily titled Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

If we really wanted to, though, we could reason our way out of this pit (by the by, Kevin Williamson tweeted the quote earlier today just to make sure we'd remember it). Let's start with Parker asking a very solid question in the beginning of the episode: What is this cult about? She listed off the way other cults promoted the "family" over the individual and she realized, even without our omniscient vision of all situation, that this isn't the case for this Poe clan.

That theme ran throughout the episode. The nature of the cult itself is not to be proud of their collective, but to stride around in the shadows. They are boastful of their individual achievements for a greater cause, but the cause isn't being part of the organization.

The focus on indvidualism is what makes the non-Carroll storylines more intriguing. I'm not the first to make this comparison (nor will I be the last) but it operates like a fundementalist terror cell. And just like any group that's made of like-minded but independent individuals and not brainwashed drones, the Poe clan is subject to splintering through its own dynamic, and violently so, based on the nature of its members.

There it is! That adolescent drama you thought Williamson was going to leave behind!

The kids are the ones who are most susceptible to this (Lennie, I mean Jordy, seemingly has a dependent devotion only to Carroll and not so much to the clan). They gather at the Poe Killers HQ, writing on the walls and training themselves to do dastardly things to other people, even each other. As they grow, crushes and bonding develop and we have love triangles and renegades in the midst.

Most of that revolves around Paul. Emma is too crazy, too much of a Carroll protege to take her mind totally off the mission and think of herself. Paul is the third wheel, the one who's most likely to spin out of control—and who did, in trying to keep his sexuality closeted. And kidnapping a girl after beating her unconscious? That's what real men do.

Rick also fell out of line, but he's always been a loose cannon according to the 70 flashbacks we saw throughout the episode. The fervor he had for his wife, though he didn't really have a chance to explore it during his short run on the show, faintly suggested the juvenile love in Natural Born Killers. Just a couple of kids trying to make it together and maybe light some people on fire.

Some of that is attributable to their ages, so close to their college years. Obviously, that's how most of them got into this situation in the first place, by being in Carroll's class. One of this week's flashbacks had Carroll giving his students his advice for writing, which later translated to advice for killing. Basically, do what you want as long as you're willing to deal with the consequences. Create your own moral code and write your own stories that adhere to it. That's the basis of this cult: Everyone enrolled to be graded by Carroll.

There's this horrible pretense of Poe, but maybe its complete bastardization of the works can be blamed on the premise. This is Carroll's graduate-level program. These are grad students who have to find their individual "voices" in place of their theses. It makes much more sense that way. Emma is the best student and has the most romantic and gothic of the stories thus far, considering that she killed her mother with a knife mid-cutdown and buried her in the wall. Her situation is the most reminiscent of Poe's work. But not every grad student is very good, and Rick came up with fire. It was stupid; he just likes fire. It had nothing to do with the class and the teacher would totally see through it but was willing to let the students explore.

So, really, the fire and the misattributed quote could just further indicate that the group dynamic is immature and Hardy leapt incorrectly to that quote because— okay, I'm out of excuses. The show needs to drop the Poe thing pronto if it's not going to do it right.

While the episode overall was more exciting and intriguing than the first two, the show still has a ways to go before it becomes compelling. I'm still holding out hope, folks. I'm willing to be convinced.


– Hardy was less annoying in this episode than he has been previously. I'll attribute that to the many, many flashbacks that kept his sadsack persona off-screen.

– The idea that literally anyone could be part of the cult makes things a little more interesting but also primes us for some possible deus ex machina escapes. Hardy's got everyone cornered. Oh no! Every cop that's behind him is also part of the cult! Everyone gets away! They just have to be careful to not abuse their sleeper cell power.

– I get what Jordy was trying to do by eating the gauze but it doesn't make it less funny-looking. You big goofball!

– We're going to have a secret hostage in the basement storyline. Does that mean Eva Longoria and Teri Hatcher live next door?

– Throughout the episode, I noticed a lot of juxtaposition of Riley against everyone else on the case, particularly in the office situations where Riley was in the foreground and everyone else was crowded in the middleground. It put his complexion into focus. Then he became a pawn in the marriage that murder built and now, suddenly, we have the whitest cast on television.

– Gay chicken will never not remind me of Scrubs.

– The sneak peek featurette for this week's episode led me to believe that Carroll is consciously working to find a place in Hardy's lonely life as he works this case. I don't feel like they're getting to be best friends or anything. But maybe that's because I've never bonded with anyone over a good scotch.

– I really wanted Hardy and Parker to ask Jordy one more time where Joey was and for him to sing the theme to Carmen Sandiego to block out their noise. I would've accepted either the cartoon or the game show.

– They used that "We know you're watching, Ryan" bit a few too many times. We get it. You want everyone to know you know that Ryan's watching. Rub it in, why don't you.

– The show IS exploring new ways to get disturbing imagery onto broadcast TV at 9pm. Probably the most disturbing to me was teaching a kid to kill a mouse by asphyxiation. I'm not one who normally says media is responsible for what kids do in their non-TV-watching time but, just as much as it was an image that successfully evoked a response, it almost seemed like a lesson. Parental discretion, indeed.

  • Comments (52)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • shanecf Feb 12, 2013

    To each their own. I've read many people saying that the "Poe thing" needs to be dropped. If it is, however, I'm done watching. It's what they've established, and they should ride it out. Without the Poe aspect, it's just another run-of-the-mill cop-versus-killer show. There's a reason why some people, like me, don't watch most cable television. I'd rather endure through a show with occasional weak points than watch some boring carbon copy of the billion shows that have come before it.

  • damiancrescen Feb 08, 2013

    ok, its not the bes show in television, but is not so bad.
    I think that one of the best things about the web is that you can meet people of similar interest around the world like never before, and is interensting a show that use that to link psychopaths. To think that this is impossible is pretty stupid.
    Im going to give them some slack for the moment.

  • st-tches Feb 07, 2013

    "Except it's not. It's POPE. As in Alexander Pope, a poet and critic who died 65 years before Poe was born."
    I'm not saying Pope didn't say that, but if you weren't retarded you would have at least searched the quote. Upon searching the exact quote, I have not found one reference to Pope, but instead every result refers to POE. So Pope may have said it first (If that's even true), but everyone knows it as a quote from POE. You'd be really stupid to think any show could make a mistake like that you twat.

  • WindUpRobot Feb 11, 2013

    waitasec...if Pope did say it first, and Poe later used it, wouldn't we still have facing the issue of the show behaving like an undergrad in a lit 101 class who didn't properly attribute the quote to the correct author, or even if attributed to Poe, still failed to acknowledged the original source of Poe's own quotation?

    Also: ALL THE POINTS FOR INTERNET NAME CALLING. Always very refreshing. About as refreshing as my Internet sarcasm, I'm sure. But at least it's less offensive-sounding than the misogynistic and mentalistic tripe above.

  • WindUpRobot Feb 11, 2013

    This comment has been removed.

  • NicholasCampb Staff Feb 11, 2013

    Fair enough. I do a search and find the quote attributed to Poe, too. But I was never able to find the Poe work that the quote is taken from. I'm willing to learn. Find me the source material. I found the Pope quote in An Essay on Criticism (linked to in the review).

  • klotensen Feb 07, 2013

    Without the POE-angle this show could work, I agree.
    But it won't happen.

  • hbf716 Feb 07, 2013

    I'm enjoying the show. I do agree that having everyone secretly being a part of the cult is going to get old quick. Also, why didn't anyone stop the slow walking guy that set the man on fire? I mean ten big guys just parted way and let him meander by. I'm sorry but there is no way I'd let that guy get away unless he was keeping me at bay with machine gun fire.

  • Marburg66 Feb 07, 2013

    This is just a matter of personal curiosity, really, but I wonder out loud how many people on average profess to themselves that they 'hate watch' this show...I wonder only because I know 'hate watching' is a complete pop myth that doesn't really exist.
    Ultimately, I'm painfully underwhelmed by every episode so far & I could spend every week complaining about how unrealistic the cult is, how the psychos fail to be psycho enough, ect.
    But the bottom line is, none of that matters. For some reason, I like the show enough to keep tuning in week after week. I may bitch about the details every step along the way, but in spite of all my bitchings, the only reason I watch the show is ultimately because I like it...& I know better than to pretend otherwise.

    (btw...I told my best friend & his wife this week that this show is a great comedy & they got kinda offended by that (they love the show unreservedly as a drama) but that in itself is one of the things that ultimately makes the show funny to me.

  • Kerkesh Feb 07, 2013

    I may hate watching a show, but I will, like you, turn out and see it every week if I find at least one hook that enlists my interest. Just to see where it might lead.

  • WindUpRobot Feb 07, 2013

    I'm sort of hate-watching just to keep up with the comments of those who love it here, but I don't know if I can do it much longer. It's really really really dull.

  • shootingstar609 Feb 07, 2013

    Worst part of this episode (storyline wise): Jacob teaching Joey to kill mice by suffocating them in a glass jar and then sending the video in an email to Clare. *shutter*
    Weirdest part of this episode: Carroll and Hardy started out being friends or at least cordial acquaintances. Then one of them turned into a crazy serial killer and one of them turned into a washed-up alcoholic ex FBI agent.
    Theory: this whole series seems to be being told from Carroll's point of view. Obviously, Carroll is the main character and everyone else is supporting characters. This would explain why the law enforcement characters are portrayed as dumb and a step behind most of the time. Some of the members of Carroll's "cult" are portrayed as being as smart as Carroll or at least smarter than the law enforcement characters. Emma and Jacob are examples of this. They seem the most devoted to the literary cause. Jordy and Rick did not get into this group because of any devotion to Poe, literary or otherwise, they got into it to kill people and seem to have an undying devotion to Carroll more than anything. Paul is something of a mystery. He seems like that kid in college who joins a new age religious group because he "really believes in the cause" and then starts having doubts about his membership when they start asking for money or asking members to steal things from a subdivision in the desert, etc. He's questioning whether he really belongs with Emma and Jacob babysitting a kid at a random house in the middle of nowhere. And I get it, Paul had it pretty good before. Living in a nice house, pretending to be gay, with a guy he apparently found attractive for real, and living next door to one of Carroll's victims whom he was keeping an eye on. Now that some actual action is being required, he's not sure he's still up for it.

  • bridget_m Feb 06, 2013

    thought- is shawn ashmores character being primed for a reveal as hardy's son?

  • bleumystique Feb 06, 2013

    -There is a predictability to this show that's for sure. I felt like I seen a great deal of the stuff coming. Like the new-age love triangle involving the closeted gay guy, the histrionic chick, and the bi? guy. Also, to keep up with the horror movie trend...why not kill off the black guy? Boy...and as you said Nick, just like that this became the whitest cast on TV right now. And I also thought they were hinting at the FBI chica being in on the cult.
    -I thought the episode was pretty good. I think it was better than the previous episode, which to me felt off from the pilot. I still feel horrible that I'm into a show that is so violent and so unnecessarily gory at times...because it is gratuitous...but I'm into it. can't change that.
    - Yes, Pyro guy felt out of place with what and whom we've come to know about Carroll's following. But maybe that was the point...I mean we're supposed to not know who is who and be suspicious of everyone I suppose. I think the only people who I am not suspicious of is Ryan himself, Carroll's wife, and Aaron Ashmore's character because he's too transparent...though even that could be a ruse.

  • cuccijoffrey Feb 06, 2013

    Mice beware!! You're in for a rough couple of weeks

  • See More Comments (22)