Despite Michael Ealy’s Theo injecting new life into a storyline gone stale, The Following is coming off posting two weeks straight of series-low live and same day viewing numbers: 2.88 million with last week’s “The Hunt” and 3.25 million with the previous week’s “Reunion,” according to TVByTheNumbers. Granted, last week, the majority of the viewing audience was watching a nail-biter of an NCAA Division One Men’s Basketball Championship game, but The Following would’ve posted series-low numbers regardless.
Unfortunately, these numbers come at a time where The Following’s plot is actually on the upswing. There has been far worse writing earlier in the series that was rewarded with solid numbers. I went into viewing “Flesh & Blood” with hope that the plot would thicken.
And it did, but it was hardly satisfying. I might just be tired of the other characters, but for me, the best moments of “Flesh & Blood” are when Michael Ealy is onscreen.
Early on, Theo has a conversation with his wife Cindy, saying that a meeting ran late. He plays the role of doting spouse quite well, better than other previous Following killers who’ve used the “loving husband” front. Theo cheerfully puts his boss into a meat grinder, bones and all.
Ryan tries to tell Agent Donovan (Mike Colter) that they’re chasing the wrong person. It seems incredibly obvious that the hack was planted by someone else, yet an FBI higher-up (who we’d assume, because it’s the FBI, is superbly intelligent) can’t seem to grasp it. Also, plot-wise…was he a necessary character to reintroduce?
Agent Mendez is taking an early retirement. She seems unable to cope with the stress and guilt of the job, and rightfully so. The tone of Ryan’s early-on goodbye with Mendez seems misplaced. Her wanting to leave is, essentially, his fault, yet he almost dares her to stay on to find Theo. By episode’s end, Mendez gives Ryan her badge and leaves anyway. Was the point of Mendez in “Flesh & Blood” to give the character a proper send-off? If so, it was fumbled. Mendez’ involvement in the episode’s action felt forced, off-kilter.
The Following pulls off a major gotcha with Joe’s daydream while talking to the psychiatrist. I’ll admit that watching Joe escape a maximum security prison after murdering three people before meeting Ryan in his get-away car had me irate. When Joe awakens from his vision, it finally hit me: even Carroll can’t escape death, now.
When Max finds Theo’s work profile—he’s called “Sam Lewis” at work—she notices that his car GPS has been tampered with, his photo doesn’t print, and his absence/tardy record is spotless. Soon enough, Mike and Ryan show up at the house of Sam Lewis, while Theo watches via security cameras. Mike trips a wire and the house explodes, but not before Ryan tackles him into a bathtub to avoid the flames. It’s utterly implausible that they’d survive this explosion, let alone only have a few scratches to show for it. The house is laid to waste.
Joe loses it when he learns that Ryan has declined his invitation for him to attend the execution. It seems that the writers have written Joe into a few actual scenes, and some imagined scenes where he appears as part of a dream or delusion. When Ryan walks into a dinner party with Gwen and her work colleagues, late—and he rightfully gets upset when Gwen’s boss lectures him on the death penalty—Ryan accidentally substitutes Joe’s name for Mike’s. Despite how wonderful an actor Purefoy is, it’s a weak way to include Carroll in episodes.
Theo ushers Cindy into a surprise birthday party in their living room he organized for her. Nancy, Cindy’s friend and neighbor who thinks Theo is cheating, organizes a get-together for Theo and Cindy, Nancy and her husband Bob, and an employee of the company Theo lies about working for. As is to be expected, Theo kills Bob and Nancy in delicious fashion, first asking Bob for his shovel back because he and Cindy want to start gardening again. Ealy is just fantastic as the stone-faced Theo.
The following day, the police tell Theo and Cindy that Bob and Nancy have been killed in a murder-suicide.
Max, Mike, Ryan, and Mendez arrive at a lead’s house and Ryan wants to break in. Mendez, the voice of reason, admits she filed for a warrant. Well, there’s a first time for everything isn’t there? Ryan and Mike uncover a trap door, smell a dead body, and head downstairs. It seems they get in trouble on purpose, for the convenience of the plot. They see dozens of human ears hanging from string in the basement before uncovering a gruesome, scalped corpse.
Mendez is attacked by someone in the house, and Ryan disarms him. The suspect is “excited” that Ryan caught him. Ryan promises the suspect fame for information on Sam. The suspect hands over information Theo helped him create on Sam Lewis. The FBI soon realizes that “Sam Lewis” is in Maryland, linking him to Bob and Nancy’s deaths.
Max finds a photo of Theo on Nancy’s Facebook page. Theo gets an alert that his wife’s information has been accessed by the FBI. I can’t help but remember Season One when the FBI tracked killers with the swiftness of a three-toed sloth; it’s legitimately unbelievable that they’ve already found Theo.
Theo seems to go into a serene “killer mode” as he forces his wife and kids to stay home when they’re about to leave. He gives Cindy a drug injection. Theo admits he’s “played house” before, and ends it when he has to flee. The FBI walks in on Cindy with her wrists cut, looking like a suicide. The kids have been drugged, as well, but not killed. Brilliant by Theo. The kids being alive keeps the FBI from chasing Theo. Theo calls Ryan to talk. “Be careful, Agent Hardy. You don’t know me. You only know what I have shown you. That fact should keep you up at night,” before admitting to killing “hundreds” of people. That line, uttered by an emotionless Theo, is frightening…only for its effect to be shattered by the FBI not having enough time to trace the call. Of course not, that would be too convenient.
It was an uneven episode for The Following, a sacrifice fly when they needed a homerun. Right now, the tone of the show falls flat now when Ealy is off screen. Jessica Stroup is great, but it seems like she’s not being challenged. Kevin Bacon and Shawn Ashmore are wonderful, but I seem to need to be reminded. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown so tired of the majority of the characters, that they’ve begun to feel like college classmates who repeatedly discuss parties from the night before, within earshot, at our 8 am class. I really wish they’d find a new topic to discuss. Ealy has given The Following—seriously—it’s most gruesome, lethal serial killer to date, but it might be too late. I’m hoping audiences tune back in, even if it’s just for Ealy. But maybe some viewers out there still have hope for a satisfying ending. Against all odds, I still do.