This review of The Following contains spoilers…
“Boxed In” begins with Mark being shown a torture chamber. A man named Spider (John Keating, The Lone Ranger) has offered his space to Mark to kill an FBI agent in his 1950s-era electric chair.
Gwen walks in on Ryan boxing and admits her high school boyfriend was a boxer, but it could easily be a lie. It feels as if we’re being led to believe she’s behind this season’s evil. If she’s a criminal mastermind, we saw it coming. If she’s simply Ryan’s first no-complications love in this series, and she’s really this graceful and sweet, she’s not interesting enough yet. It’s a lose-lose situation. Maybe as her character develops, her intrigue will too, but right now, she’s a blasé character. With all Ryan has survived during the two-plus seasons—regardless of how ridiculous the things he’s survived have been—does a humdrum gallop into the sunset seem fitting?
Andrew’s fingerprints were found by the FBI; he’s actually named Andrew Sharp who has a wife (of ten years) and kids. A year prior, he walked out on his family—to pick up Mark and Luke’s body—and has been listed as a missing person since. When Ryan and Mike interrogate him, he admits that the wife and kids were camouflage. Andrew says that, until they confess to their cover-up, innocent people will keep dying.
Andrew also admits Lily Gray trusted Andrew as a father figure to Mark. But isn’t it kind of ridiculous, for Andrew to have just been waiting for something like this to happen, for a decade, on the off chance that Lily might die and Mark and Luke might need someone to guide them? In the same way that Leslie Bibb’s Jana Murphy in the second season had been in a relationship with Agent Mendez and living a double life as a Joe Carroll follower—who helped Joe fake his death at the end of the first season—it’s too convenient a plot move and far too manipulative an explanation for the characters’ motivations.
Special Agent Jeffrey Clarke (Felix Solis) expresses frustration to Ryan over the never-ending crap he has to deal with (basically). In the first of many Agent Clarke flashbacks, it’s revealed that Jeff was rushed to the ER with a high heart rate when prepping for the FBI hearing a while back. The doctor who treated him was Gwen, which was how her and Ryan met.
Kyle and Daisy track down a woman from the grocery store and restrain her. It turns out to be Anna, Clarke’s wife, who’s forced into calling him home; he’s subsequently kidnapped. Hunter Parrish and Ruth Kearney are so devious, and even likeable, as Kyle and Daisy, until you remember that they’re reprehensible murderers. It’s lovely that Kearney and Parrish pull this off.
When the FBI finds and raids the torture chamber, Mark escapes through a sewer drain (of course). Spider killed after he unwittingly stands over an unarmed Mike and doesn’t shoot his gun. Why doesn’t he shoot? Because it would be inconvenient if a no-name character like Spider killed Mike. With the torture chamber idea kaput, Daisy hesitantly calls Neil (Glenn Fleshler, Boardwalk Empire), who gets to work welding a metal box together. (The payoff on the metal box’s use takes most of the episode, but it’s worth the wait.)
Mark gives Mike an ultimatum: confess to murdering Lily Gray or Agent Clarke dies. The FBI gets to work finding where Mark is keeping Clarke. As always, it still feels unrealistic how inconsistent The Following’s FBI agents are; in one scene, they seemingly forget how to shoot guns, and in the next, they’ve tracked down a killer in two minutes on no clues. What’s even more unrealistic is that, when Mark asks Mike to confess, Agent Mendez becomes suspicious of Mark’s accusations and seems to side with Mark. What an ideal boss, suspicious of a serious FBI cover-up on a whim after a schizophrenic murderer says so in a Skype message. What evidence does she have here to suspect Mike has lied? Why does this suspicion feel like it’s entirely for the viewer’s benefit, without regard to the plot?
(Oh, look, another Windows plug!) Coincidence of all coincidences, Andrew is a former classmate of Joe Carroll’s, and they were both taught by Dr. Strauss (Gregg Henry, Payback)! Help me pull my jaw off the ground, would you? Agent Mendez suggests Ryan talk to Joe about it. At first, Ryan rebuffs: “No, I’m done with him.” Yeah, we are too. Have been for a while.
In a warehouse, Agent Clarke gets free of his restraints and runs through the warehouse where he’s being held, evading Kyle, Daisy, and Neil. Agent Clarke finds a new phone in the warehouse and calls the FBI/Ryan. A brand new phone from the box dialed out without being activated? From firsthand experience, I can promise you it doesn’t work. But, of course, the writers needed some way for the FBI to find Clarke.
In the creepiest, most hair-raising way, Glenn Fleshler is a tremendous talent. His bone-chilling, emotionless delivery as Neil is the type of evil this show has long been craving and—honestly—needing. He’s more frightening, in my opinion, than Carroll ever was. Here’s to hoping he stays around.
I’ve dialed back on some details for fear of ruining plot points, but truthfully, “Boxed In” is a step back from the season premiere. “Boxed In” falls victim to the issues that have plagued the show since the second season: obvious/ridiculous plot points, overly coincidental character threads, and laughably unrealistic police work. The motivations of the villains this season are weaker than ever, but they’re still intriguing. With the introduction of Fleshler, Michael Irby, Hunter Parrish, and Ruth Kearney, there is potential. I just hope it can be cultivated into a compelling and logical plot.