To call The Following "a show about cults" would be a welcome relief, but unfortunately, it's just not that simple.
This week, we open Claire. Mike was a part of the cover-up when she survived the stabbing. In order to keep her safe (witness protection, y'all) they needed to keep her out of sight and out of Ryan's mind, which means poor Mike had to lie right to his buddy's face and break his heart. Cut to present day, where Claire is insisting that she get out of hiding and find Ryan. Also, she really wants to kill Joe, so letting her out sounds like a terrible, unsafe idea.
It's also terrible timing because Ryan has finally found himself a new romantic target, Carrie. After they hooked up at the end of last week's episode, Carrie is all trust and sunshine, telling Ryan that her goal is helping him over helping herself and her career. What a difference one night and some Chinese take-out makes. Ryan cashes in on that when he tips her off to the FBI detaining Dr. Strauss so that Carrie will announce it on the nightly news and Joe will see it – because there is apparently only one channel on any given television on this show. Later, Carrie praises Ryan for trusting her and for saving a restaurant full of people (we'll get there in a minute) and they do the horizontal mambo while Claire demands to go see her long lost lover. This isn't going to end well.
And it certainly isn't going to end well for Joe's little minion Mandy, who's starting to get uncharacteristically wise. As Joe and Emma plot their destructive empire and send murder troops off to Manhattan, Mandy is growing increasingly uneasy with her faux-Papa's empire. Joe thinks it's just a teenage phase, so he spares her from the punishments other dissenters are forced to endure, but by the time Joe is having a coming home party for his murder posse, Mandy looks like she's about two steps from the door.
Who could blame the girl, though? This week, Joe tries to convince his flock that death is some gift and some form of salvation – his rhetoric is really rather winding and flimsy – and sends out a group of kids, including Lance's girlfriend Mallory (yeah, that's Beth from The Walking Dead) to murder up a storm in his name. The problem is that Mallory is half-hearted about this whole thing; she's only in it for Lance. When it's her turn to kill, she picks a personal target, which means Ryan finds her. Unfortunately, her cult cohort takes her out before Ryan can get any information from her and after failing to triangulate a phone call from Joe earlier, Mr. Hardy is feeling like a failure.
At least there's one bright spot in all of this: Mike was pretty adorable when Max admitted that she called his mother when he said he was leaving suddenly. Sure, he could have heard "you betrayed my trust," but all he got was "she likes me, she really likes me." It's about time that kid got some happiness. Especially since the ever-obnoxious Lily plot is determined to return next week. Oh brother.
This confounding episode of The Following opens with a flashback to Claire's last moments in the hospital. In Ryan's memory, she was a goner, but in reality, as we know, she survived. And as it turns out, Mike was by her side when she woke up.
In this totally unbelievable look back, Claire learns that her son is with her mother and that in order for "this to work" she has to let Ryan think she's dead. "This" is "witness protection," though the writers don't seem to be willing to insert that phrase in there. She begs Mike and his witness protection cohort to let her see Ryan because she knows what her supposed death will do to him. Mike makes the decent point that Joe's followers are still out there and that they will likely come back to finish the job and that Ryan's main priority would be for her to be safe.
Minutes later, Mike visits Ryan and lies to him about Claire dying. Just like that, Ryan's incredible guilt bender begins. There wasn't a better way to do this, Mike?
In present day, Ryan wakes up next to that overzealous reporter Carrie. She wakes up a bit later and finds him just as he leaves his conspiracy secret room. She prepares to leave but says that he can trust her, if he says he wants to talk off the record, they can talk off the record. Suddenly, she's all about being a human over getting the story: she says she wants a scoop, but she also wants to help him. It's amazing what the pent up release of sexual frustration can do to a person, eh?
At Corbin, Joe and Emma are in bed together sharing pillow talk when Mandy comes in and Emma gets upset like a jealous stepmother. Emma is fed up with Mandy's doe-eyed act, but Joe seems to think she's worth keeping around. That's enough talk of another woman -- even a tiny one -- for Emma, so she asks Joe to promise that she won't shut her out. Joe laughs as if he's never abandoned her completely for an entire year, and says that of course he won't because she's his high priestess. Sure. Now she is thanks to Claire being "dead." Mandy overhears all of this and seems to be getting fed up, which is a reaction I didn't know she was capable of.
Back at Claire's crappy hotel hideaway, Mike is explaining the last nine episodes to Claire -- you know all the useless stuff with Lily (which next week's preview tells is coming back against everyone's wishes) and the bumbling Joe Carroll resurrection story. Claire reveals that she has the same goal as Ryan when it comes to Joe: she says that Joey won't be safe until Joe is dead, so naturally she wants to kill him. Get in line, sister.