Well, that was quite a surprise, wasn’t it? After The Following’s first two mediocre episodes, last night’s installment (“The Poet’s Fire”) finally cranked up the suspense and delivered on the promise Fox had been making with its endless promos and marketing. I’ll be the first to admit that I was crazy excited about The Following leading up to its premiere and that I was seriously underwhelmed with the pilot episode which was little more than an amalgam of every other serial killer TV show or movie in recent memory. The second episode wasn’t much better, though it did drop the horrific dialogue and actually attempted to make the characters sound human. 

With that being said, last night was quite an enjoyable hour of television. Whereas the first two episodes employed a non-linear structure to maximize an hour’s worth of storytelling, “The Poet’s Fire” took it one step further to toy with the audience’s expectations and assumptions. Instead of just jumping back and forth in time for the sake of exposition, “The Poet’s Fire” takes it a step further and throws the viewer off kilter more than once which is exactly how the FBI agents feel as they try to decipher Joe Carroll’s plans. Now that is damn good TV! 

At the end of last week’s episode, we saw a man in an Edgar Allan Poe mask walk up to a stranger and set him on fire. This week, we back up a little bit and see the same Poe character reciting “The Raven” on the steps of building before catching sight of his intended target across the street. The man in the Poe mask is Rick and (surprise!) he is another loyal follower of Joe Carroll who is exacting revenge on Carroll’s behalf against the critics who panned the first and only novel he wrote. The man he sets on fire is a well-known critic who tore the book apart. Rick feels he should be punished for his “crime.” 

What’s interesting about Rick, as we learn in flashbacks, is that he is uncomfortable stabbing people. He’s not grossed out by blood, but he definitely prefers fire and has since he was a child. With Joe’s blessing, Rick decides to employ fire as his instrument of death which makes his “chapter” of the story much more dramatic, in his mind anyway. 

When Ryan and the FBI discover who Rick is, they swarm his house and find his wife, Maggie, hiding in a closet. She lunges at Ryan, trying to stab him. As it turns out, Maggie and Rick have been separated for six months and she was afraid he had come back to hurt her. He’s abused her in the past and she fears he may try something again. The agents bring Maggie back to their headquarters and try to get more information about where Rick might be or, more importantly, where they can find Joey. She doesn’t know anything, she says, because Rick led a different life when he wasn’t around her. 

We see Joey, still in the care of Emma, Paul and Jacob at their secret hideout. The tension between Emma and Paul over Jacob is reaching a dangerous point and we get the sense that Paul doesn’t just feel like a third wheel as he’s claimed up to this point. It becomes obvious that Paul is jealous of Emma because she and Jacob are together. Through flashbacks, we watch as Paul and Jacob decide on the characters they will play to dupe Sarah Fuller into trusting them. Emma convinces the two men that the only way she will trust them is if they pretend to be a gay couple, which we already know is the life they led for years trying to gain Sarah’s confidence. It appears, though, in that time that not only did Paul develop genuine feelings for Jacob, but Jacob and Paul may have acted on a mutual attraction. 

After they decide Maggie can’t give them any useful information, they allow her to return to her house with Agent Reilly as an escort. Ryan and Mike tag along and wait outside, not entirely convinced Rick won’t return. (Since setting the book critic on fire, Rick has also killed the professor who denied Joe tenure years ago.) While interrogating Jordy, who is recovering from a gunshot wound under minimal supervision, Agent Parker discovers that Maggie is a part of Joe’s cult and has been lying the whole time. She calls Ryan and Mike, but they are too late. Maggie has killed Reilly and is getting ready to escape with Rick when Ryan shoots him. Maggie manages to get away, but Rick is dead. 

As the episode comes to a close, we watch perhaps the most disturbing scene of the series yet. Claire shows Ryan a video she was emailed. It shows Joey being coaxed by Jacob and Emma to kill a roach and then a mouse. Joey is being taught how to kill and she is watching it happen. Creepy. 

I sincerely hope The Following keeps up this level of gripping storytelling. Maybe the first two episodes were flukes and it’s going to be great from now on. Fingers crossed.