Well, I’d like to start off this discussion of “Havenport” by discussing what I think has been haunting me since the very first episode of “The Following” — What was James Purefoy thinking, signing up for this show?
I don’t have any particular affection for Purefoy, but he has a powerful screen presence, a charisma and charm that radiate off the screen. So why would he dilute his brand by choosing to play a very badly written serial killer who can’t decide if he has feelings or not? He’s got a British accent and he’s handsome — surely he could have found any other role in the universe? My only assumption is that they must have paid him a great deal of money, because it will be very hard for me to pair his name with something serious ever again.
Joe Carroll is officially the worst character on “The Following” — a character that can’t decide if he’s a sociopath, a romantic, a serial killer, or an abusive boyfriend. He is at this point exhibiting such erratic personality traits that I would not be terribly surprised to discover in the final act that he has some kind of mental disorder that makes him exhibit wild contradictions, or that there are in fact four different clones of Joe Carroll playing the exact same person. He’s not just poorly written, he’s also bad at his job. He’s not a very good serial-killing cult leader, is he? In terms of pure narrative logic, “The Following” has failed to explain why anyone would want to be a member of the murder cult.
In “Havenport” Joe is having a rather bad day — which he helpfully tells the assembled cult members around him a few times, just in case they’re confused about what all the yelling means. Roderick, the increasingly unhinged bad guy we don’t care much about, makes a critical error in the very beginning — he runs into Agent Weston, the man who he nearly killed a few episodes ago. He returns to the house admitting to his mistake, and he and Joe get into a pretty heated argument about Joe’s goals for the cult. Roderick points out that Joe’s choices for the cult make literally zero sense, and Joe doesn’t take to that too well, half-choking him and throwing him across the room. Joe used to have a kind of fatherly affection for his followers, but it’s turned into petulant indignation, a frustration with their petty concerns when he’s got his magnum opus to work on. It’s not terribly interesting or believable, but it does finally start to create some problems for the until now all-powerful Cult of Poe.
Roderick’s now a made man, as Weston brings his intelligence back to the FBI. So he panics after Joe won’t leave — going rogue in a boring and predictable way. He knocks over Claire, grabs Joey, and runs to the police, where he plans to ransom Joey’s whereabouts and information about the cult for his own immunity. Along the way he kills a couple of guys, which would be more shocking if it were not very badly paced. Roderick’s story is so recent that it’s hard to get too invested in his character, and the random terror he unleashes on the town is so over-the-top it lacks emotional impact (a common refrain in my reviews for this show).
Roderick’s capture is the first real win for the FBI against the cult in weeks, and Ryan and his team play around with him, trying to not botch this lead, for once. They sort of manage. There’s an extended cat-and-mouse standoff in the middle of the Maryland woods that is extremely uninteresting. It ends with Roderick dead and Joey finally in police custody. It is not terrible, but it’s narrative dead weight — another chunk of plot that feels thrown in to take up more time along the way to what we know is going to happen. Toying with the life of a character who doesn’t much matter and a child who cannot possibly be killed is not something I care about. But there is some hot FBI-beating-up-Roderick action, which might be your thing. It certainly did make me feel a bit better about Roderick’s smarmy, smirking grin.
The episode ends with an extended, soapy love quadrangle thing that might be shoehorned in to appease those of us in the fandom community that might be ‘shippers — but like, who would ship anyone on this show? Joe and Emma have the most hack lovers’ quarrel in human history, which includes the lines “It’s called sex, Joe!” Joe inelegantly breaks things off with Emma and blames her for Joey’s kidnapping (which, yeah, you begin to see how he reasons out killing women. He’s nuts). When she defends herself, he literally slaps her across the face and then has the ridiculous nerve to look like he feels bad about it. I have no idea what I am supposed to feel about Joe or Emma, because they’re both pretty terrible and totally unrecognizable human beings, and this scene doesn’t help in the slightest, except to encourage me to swear at the television set.
Jilted Emma slinks off to return to her ex Jacob — maybe she can’t be alone? — and once Claire realizes Joey’s safe, she makes a deal with Joe. She’ll return to him, if he leaves off Joey. He kisses her, apparently pleased with this (to a chorus of “ew” and “gross” from audiences across America), and as his guard his down, Claire stabs him in the stomach. It’s pretty great to see him get stabbed, I have to tell you. (Of course, he’s not dead. He will never die, because James Purefoy must have a multi-season contract to have agreed to star in this thing. Purefoy pours every ounce of schmaltz and ham into every line he reads. I’m beginning to watch this as a very strange comedy, and it’s kind of working.)
And just in case you forgot about how “The Following” throws things at the screen in order to get your attention, the very last scene of “Havenport” features a cult member stabbing a guy from the FBI in the eye!
The eye! Sometimes, I just can’t with this show.
Odds and ends:
*** Ryan holds a press conference, which is helpfully captioned “Ryan Hardy Press Conference” by the “mainstream media.” So there’s that.
*** Oh wow, Roderick, a cap and glasses! How very incognito.
*** Agest Weston, hiding in the trunk of a police car, is somehow the most compelling person in this episode. I like Shawn Ashmore.
Who do you want to kill Joe? Ryan, Claire, or Emma? (I’m rooting for Emma.)