Plot: Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) has become a new man. With the cult of Korban at his disposal and the new moniker of Prophet, Joe feels stronger than ever. Not everyone is convinced he’s doing the right thing though. When a café is attacked by masked assailants, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) are called to the scene, convinced that it is another Joe attack.
Well, it was bound to happen eventually. After three episodes focusing on the same rivalry that was enough to carry this show in its first season, the proverbial third wheel has returned. Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen) is back with a vengeance. Her first course of action? Getting her son Luke (Sam Underwood) back from the authorities. If there’s one thing that the past three episodes have shown me, it’s that the show doesn’t explicitly need Lily anymore. She filled the void left by Joe in the earlier episodes but is now not necessary because Joe is already back in full force. Yet she just couldn’t go away entirely unnoticed so her return was inevitable. Now we have Joe leading a religious cult and a person just like Joe running her own family of murderers. Is it too much? If “Freedom” is any indication, I’m inclined to say yes.
Despite Lily’s return being teased last week (thanks for the spoiler alert Fox), I was legitimately surprised by the events that lead up to her return. The episode was basically typical fare for The Following with a group of masked men going on a stabbing spree in a café and Ryan getting highly involved. It’s not until the men are already in the hospital that Ryan realizes the whole thing was a set up. The two café assaulters, along with some woman who murders a doctor for her car and identification, intend to break Luke out and return him to Lily. They’re mercenaries, but are clearly well paid since they had AK-47s and smoke grenades at their disposal. Naturally Ryan and his “crack” team of armed guards lose Luke is the chaos.
What makes the Lily reveal work in spite of the character proliferation is that we’re lead to believe it’s another Joe attack until about halfway through the episode. It has the typical look and feel of another killing spree by this new religious leader. This meant the episode was able to keep whatever sense of focus it had previously. But now that Lily has been unveiled already and is entirely back in play, how does the show hope to maintain this? Lily has enough authority and power to carry her own episode. Joe obviously does too since he’s the main villain. It’s not like the two are working together now either. With two killers vying for attention, it’s getting very cramped in this show where we only have 44 minutes to really care. Surely someone has to get the short straw.
Joe evidently drew the short straw in “Freedom.” Since we now know that everything done throughout the episode was under Lily’s leadership, it’s obvious that Joe didn’t do much of anything. His only real moment of note was when the episode opened up on him convincing this woman Angela (Liza de Weerd) to ritually murder this girl named Carla (Kristina Klebe) and “free her soul.” Sure, it’s not like this show doesn’t already kill too many women as it is. Why not force one woman to kill another and turn it into a grotesque sacrificing? After that though, Joe’s story sort of fell apart. Robert (Shane McRae) is questioning his beliefs in Joe, but Emma (Valerie Curry) pulls him back through sex (of course), Joe wants to become the newest religious superstar because apparently Edgar Allan Poe is too small now, and Mandy (Tiffany Boone) wants to leave Joe behind and side with Lily. Why would she want that? I have no idea. Surely you would think that hanging around one serial killer is a bad idea but now she wants two. Makes sense!
Ryan’s story unfolded in classic fashion too. Murders happen, Ryan is called in, Ryan realizes what really happened, Ryan does/does not bring authorities in, Ryan finds the answer on his own/with Mike, Ryan fails to capture the bad person. Can you tell that some aspects about this show have become predictable? It’s honestly not until the end when Ryan’s story really enters new territory. After Luke gets away and Carrie Cooke (Sprague Grayden) tries to convince Ryan that he didn’t actually fail, there’s a moment of introspection for our two protagonists: having to deal with two overpower serial killers is tough shit. Mike is the first to show signs of cracking and it’s the first moment where I actually felt emotionally connected to these characters. The world they live in absolutely sucks! Anyone could be a murderer and they have to defeat two brilliant psychopaths, one that has money and another that has religious fervor. How can anyone stay afloat during this? Ryan tries to keep Mike’s confidence up but I can’t imagine that working very long.
Last but not least, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) made her grand return to Ryan’s life last night. Surely that won’t complicate things one bit, especially Ryan’s budding relationship with Carrie (I swear there better not be some half-assed love triangle). Claire’s return though means that the show is basically bursting at the seams with content and story. Ryan is hunting Joe, who wants to become the newest Prophet and save the world from itself, and Claire wants to help him. Claire also has to worry about her son who is now in even more danger since she came out of protection. Emma naturally wants to maintain the group but Mandy isn’t cool with it all so she’s going to Lily. Lily is busy doing her own murder club that Mike himself wants to destroy, but Ryan and Max (Jessica Stroup, not appearing one bit last night) also have personal vendettas. Wrapped up in this all is Carrie who wants to become the number one journalist against serial killers and basically anyone else the show wants to introduce for the week. Yeah…it’s too much.