This review contains spoilers.
Arthur Strauss (Clark Gregg) has gone to ground with Daisy, and he needs a little help to get out of the country. He turns to one student to hole up in an out-of-the-way town in an even-further-out-of-the-way hunting lodge, and he turns to another student, his best student, to help him find a new identity and escape. Meanwhile, Ryan and the FBI are mostly out of criticism again after it is discovered that a brilliant computer hacker got onto the FBI server and planted emails to spread doubt on Arthur Strauss’s guilt. Unsurprisingly, those two events—the fake identification documents and the hacked FBI servers—are connected. And the key to the mystery is none other than, you guessed it, Joe Carroll.
One of the things the show has been missing in the absence of Joe Carroll is a bad guy with some charisma. Not that Clark Gregg doesn’t have some impressive sleaziness in his mannerisms, but he’s not exactly a commanding presence by himself. That’s why casting Michael Ealy as Theo, Strauss’s star pupil, is a great idea. He’s a great-looking guy, and he’s very charismatic, particularly in a role that’s a little bit more dangerous than as a friendly robot cop. It’s also fun to hear he’s Strauss’s favorite student, rather than Joe, if only because it’s tough to buy that the show would put Joe on the back burner, even for a minute. However, from his very introduction, Ealy is a fascinating character, and the fact that he was already a successful killer before he fell into Strauss’s care—and how well he takes Strauss’s advice to heart—adds an interesting wrinkle to his actions in the episode.
Strauss, on his own, doesn’t work as an antagonist. I don’t buy that he’s able to manhandle people physically and kill them on his own at his assumed age. I do buy that he’s clever enough to make other people kill for him, and that he knows a lot about killing, but Strauss by himself just doesn’t hold my interest as much as Joe or Theo. I like him better with company, as a conductor rather than a player, and this episode just reinforces that.
It’s interesting to see someone come from outside of the standard group to direct, particularly when it’s someone with an interesting take on scares like Mary Harron (who directed the brilliant adaptation of American Psycho among other things). She acquits herself well without breaking from the show’s usual style—her dank boiler room scenes are pretty top-notch, as is her ability to show Michael Ealy menacing someone with a running blowtorch. She also has good handle on her actors, as shown by the episode’s opening moment with Joe and Ryan engaging in a battle of wits. At first, it looks like Joe is manipulating Ryan again, but there’s a little reaction shot with a hint of a smile from Ryan that suggests that he might be the one working Joe for once. It’s a great choice, and it injects a little confusion in a scene that should have a lot of layers after three seasons.
It’s also pretty well written, courtesy of Brett Mahoney. I like the idea that Strauss is the one with the really effective followers, and that Joe has been taking his style all the while. I also love the idea that by calling on his students, Strauss is putting them at risk of discovery, violating the first rule he teaches any of them, and it’s very clever to have that be a line too far to cross for his best student, if only because self-preservation. The kill scene was also very well executed, sufficiently meaningful and brutal, but it wasn’t as bloody as it would have been last season, and I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for the show.
They’re improving the mystery content, but reducing the bloodshed and brutality, so it’s kind of a wash. I have to admit, times like this I miss the blood, but at other times—like the blowtorch scene near the middle of the episode—I don’t feel the loss quite as much. I still feel more interested in the killers than I do the heroes still, which can be a problem considering so much of the episodes revolve around Mike and Max or the secrecy of the FBI around the death of Lily Gray. Still, by and large, the killer-of-the-week stories have been pretty good, and the killers themselves have been interesting, even if all of them have had some sort of murderer-softening family complications to their non-Follower lives.
Here in the third season of the show, sidelining Joe and Mark while trying to introduce new followers and flesh out Strauss has been something of a gamble. At times, it seems like it’s paying off, and at other times, it’s not paying off. I can’t help but compare Daisy to Emma when the blonde is the focus, and Daisy comes up wanting every time. I’m afraid that’s going to become a running issue I have with the show, unless they figure out a way to make Daisy interesting in a hurry or Joe somehow sneaks out of prison to resume his killing spree.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is concerned about how nosy Gwen is being. You have to let a man like Ryan have his deep, dark secrets to ensure he looks sufficiently haunted by his past. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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