“Sillage”—a noun—is “the scent that lingers in air, the trail left in water, the impression made in space after something or someone has been and gone; the trace of someone’s perfume.” Essentially, in film and television, it’s the presence that a character or actor has on the plot after he or she has left the screen. At his best, Joe Carroll had—and still has—“sillage.” For me, Gregg Henry’s Dr. Arthur Strauss doesn’t, and never did. At best, Strauss is a character that allows for exposition, connection between two unrelated characters or story arcs.
However, in last night’s episode of The Following, Strauss is used to outstanding effect.
James Purefoy is a welcomed re-addition, but bringing a death-row Joe Carroll back into The Following’s plot to aid in capturing Dr. Strauss, a la Silence of the Lambs, feels exploitative. Either way, Bacon and Purefoy have great chemistry, so even if the writers are holding onto Carroll like an aging baseball great who’s unwilling to retire, their interactions are just as fiery as the first season.
Joe tells Ryan that Strauss will probably seek out an ally to lean on. When Ryan exits, Carroll says, “Tell me something, Ryan. Your dreams…am I in them?” I genuinely got chills for the first time since…well, seasons ago. I guess when it comes to Carroll, absence—and a return to Carroll’s original menace—makes the heart grow fonder.
When Ryan visits Max in the hospital, all she has to show from Daisy’s beatdown is a few minor scrapes. A scene or two later, she’s out of the hospital and on the couch with Tom. A serial killer viciously, and repeatedly, delivered blunt object blows to her head while she was on the ground. Could the writers at least have slowed her recovery?
Gwen still seems shady; she seems overly pushy that Ryan is holding things back from her. Would be such a letdown if she were truly involved, again. It’s a cliché, such an easy go-to reveal, that if the writers utilize it again, it would be truly elementary.
Hacker genius/impressive serial killer Theo (Michael Ealy, Almost Human), the “friend of Dr. Strauss” Joe warned Ryan of, kills Strauss’ lawyer with a blowtorch.
In The Following fashion, Ryan finds a lead on Strauss’ “friend” in thirty seconds. Sure, these things are shortened for television’s sake but it doesn’t have to be instantaneous.
Allison Mack (Smallville) makes an appearance as Hilary, a police officer in Beacon. As a former Smallville obsessive, it was really nice to see Mack thrive.
Mike, Ryan and Hilary check for bodies in Beacon, and chase a guy in the woods. Remember that Ryan is supposed to have a pacemaker? It’s almost as if the writers have completely abandoned that once all-important detail. I digress. Mike and Ryan find skeletons buried in the woods, all of which have their teeth and fingers removed.
Michael Ealy as Theo is electric onscreen. The flashbacks between the present day, when Theo drives to Strauss in a cabin in Beacon, and thirteen years ago, when Dr. Strauss teaches Theo how to kill, are outstanding. Theo kills a dozen people in an insurance office and Strauss not only heals him after he’s stabbed, but helps him finish the job. We finally see why Strauss is the genesis for The Following’s evil. Theo, who Strauss calls his “best student” (a title that Joe seems to acknowledge is accurate at the end of the episode), might be scarier than Carroll was even at his best. Carroll is brooding and calculating, while Theo is (by Strauss’s description) a shark, swift and lethal, reveling in both the slow and quick styles of killing.
Earlier in the episode, Beacon’s sheriff—Sheriff Windsor—seemed like Strauss’ Beacon contact. Instead, it’s Hilary’s uncle, local diner owner, Duncan. It’s the first big surprise of the episode, and a cool reminder that The Following’s writers are still capable of pulling stuff like this off.
Find out that Duncan is the killer of the bodies Ryan and Mike had found in the woods. The first victim was Duncan’s wife, decades ago, who was never reported missing. It’s also revealed that Hilary’s parents—who, we were told, died when she was young—were early-on victims of Duncan’s. Surprisingly, it’s actually a really intriguing subplot to “Reunion.” Duncan is, obviously, arrested—possible liaison for Ryan to exploit in the future, as Carroll’s execution is only a week or so away.
When Theo gets to Beacon, it’s a creepily happy reunion. In seconds, Theo strangles Strauss with such force that, Ryan later reveals, Strauss was nearly decapitated. Theo is downright frightening, the perfect mix of brawn and even-keeled temperament to set viewers’ skin crawling. Despite my seeing Strauss as a solely a character-to-character bridge, a means to an end, his death is shocking. Even more eerie? Theo killing Strauss because Strauss made him come out of hiding: “A shark is supposed to stay beneath the water.” Theo says. Woof. Chills. It’s the rare occasion for The Following‘s writers where a character is as terrifying as he/she is intended to be. Glenn Fleshler’s Neil was killed off too soon, but he had potential; however, with Theo’s inclusion, and Ealy’s acting prowess, almost every Following baddy who preceded Theo seems elementary in comparison. Bravo.
And to top it off? Theo is a family man who comes home to a wife and kids at the end of the day. Daisy, who Theo spares, also seems to be making her life anew.
To round out the episode, Max admits to Mike—in her apartment—that she doesn’t want to “cover up another one of [Mike’s] executions.” Tom, who’s still spying on Max via the computer that he stole from Mark, hears this line. He not only knows Max cheated on him, but has dirt on Mike as well. This really could go anywhere.
“Reunion” is The Following’s best episode in a while, certainly of this season. Theo is as frightening, if not more so, than Carroll ever was. If you choose to ignore the whiplash induced by the we-don’t-know-where-we’re-going, Wonka-esque plot-tugging the writers inflicted on viewers for the past dozen or so episodes—this new direction is a truly enticing storyline. Watch The Following with brand new eyes, folks. If they keep things as good as they were in “Reunion,” we might have a new show on our hands.