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

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.

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