Ryan Hardy is tempted to make a friend while trying to save his sister from a killer widow out for revenge in 'Mad Love'

By Jeff Jensen
February 12, 2013 at 03:01 AM EST
David Griesbrecht/Fox
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Sometimes, a crisis can bring people closer together. Sometimes, it can push them further apart. Ryan Hardy, a man who aspires to live unconnected to anyone or anything except maybe a bartender or a liquor store, tried to avoid either scenario last night after vengeful Maggie Kester made a move against his sister. Alas, Hardy could not escape the ordeal without becoming just slightly more re-humanized. But it did yield one change that I think Hardy enjoyed as much as the audience: New wardrobe! Bye-bye, somber black skinny tie, which never got to show us what it could really do. If only Hardy would have buttoned that top button! If only!

“Mad Love” was light on some of the things that have helped keep me interested in The Following, including James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll. We got just two quick scenes with the imprisoned puppet master, beginning with a meeting with Ryan Hardy to discuss Rick and Maggie Kester. You thought firebug Rick with his silly Poe mask was a piece of work? Turned out Maggie was the one who wore to real psycho pants in the relationship. Her real name was Margaret Schuller, and between 2002 and 2005, she had murdered six people in Arkansas. Yep, she was a bona fide serial killer before she ever met and formed a strategic alliance with Joe. “I find Margaret to be extremely resourceful, tenacious and impressive,” said Carroll, sounding like something of a fan himself.

Just as the team discovered that Margaret had knifed a man in the parking lot of a hardware store after buying some brick-sized industrial magnets, Ryan’s phone rang. It was his divorced chef/restaurant owner sister, Jenny Orson, calling for the second time in the episode. He let it pass into voicemail the first time, but decided to pick up the second. It wasn’t a friendly call, but then, the caller wasn’t a friendly person. “I just have one question: How do you want me to kill your sister?” asked Maggie, who had abducted Jenny and was holding her captive at her Williamsburg, New York eatery. She wanted vengeance for her husband. And she was willing to trade Jenny’s life for Ryan’s. She told Ryan to tell no one and to come alone.

Before Ryan could get out of the building, Agent Weston – who pieced together what was going down — was nipping at his heels and demanding to come along to provide back-up. He promised to keep their mission a secret. Hardy warned Weston he’d get fired if caught going off book with him. “Actually, I think I am traumatized from the loss of a fellow agent,” replied Weston, referring to the death of Agent Troy Reilly last week. “I’m not thinking clearly I’ll probably get off with a warning.”

Hardy appreciated the gesture. But he resisted to Weston’s continued efforts to get personal and forge a bond during the car ride to New York. “My name is Mike, sir. You keep calling me ‘Weston’ by my name is Mike,” he said, as if trying to shame Hardy into being more of a human being. Weston asked Hardy about his relationship with his sister. A few quick flashbacks had already given us some insight that Weston lacked: That Hardy and Jenny had once been close; that Jenny nudged Hardy to get some help for his drinking problem; and that Hardy pushed her away for good after crapping on what sounded like self-help/12-step jargon. (Did you get the sense Jenny might have been a recovery addict herself?)  Instead of telling Weston any of this, Hardy merely said things between him and his sister were “complicated.” Weston said he could sympathize, said he had three brothers who… oh, but Hardy didn’t want to hear it, and he rolled up his coat and tried to sleep the rest of he way to Brooklyn. Weston felt rejected.

NEXT: The Downer

It turned out that Claire Matthews once had similar bridge-building/intimacy issues with Hardy. In flashbacks to a couple pivotal moments in their relationship, we watched them enjoy a date at Jenny’s restaurant, then later watched Claire prod Ryan into revealing even more about himself and his family following some lovemaking back at his Brooklyn pad. “It’s kind of a downer,” said Ryan of his family history. “My mom got sick as a kid. Leukemia. She fought it for years but it got her. She died when I was 14. My dad was a street cop. Albany PD. His entire life until he retired. One night he walked into the wrong corner store at the wrong time and tried to be a hero.” Claire felt awful for asking, felt more awful Ryan. “So it’s just you and Jenny?” Not always. “We had an older brother. Ray. New York fireman.”

He let it hang. Claire hoped the implication wasn’t true: If you say 9-11… “Okay, I won’t say it,” said Hardy. “Told you it was a downer.”

“You and death go way back,” said Claire. “A lot further than you and Joe.”

The showdown with Maggie got off to a strong, chilling start. The plan was for Hardy to unlock a side door so Weston could sneak into the restaurant at a certain point after Maggie showed herself and then take down Maggie with a gunshot if need be. Hardy found a chair with a blindfold and a note ordering him to put it on and take a seat. That struck me as truly terrifying: Being made to wait in the dark for a pissed off serial killer to show up. When she did, Maggie secured Hardy to a table, and instead of stabbing him to death immediately, she strapped those aforementioned magnets to his chest. She wanted to disable Hardy’s pacemaker so his heart would give out. In this way, she reasoned, it would be as if Joe Carroll had killed him, as Carroll had been responsible for the near fatal injury that required the pacemaker. Maggie would have preferred if Claire was on hand to watch Hardy die… but Sister Jenny would do. As Hardy began to expire, Maggie ripped into him for taking away her dear husband. “Do you understand love, Ryan? Real love?”

Through it all, I kept waiting for Weston to make his move per the plan with Hardy. It felt to me he could have entered much sooner than he did, which was right after Hardy passed out from his failing pacemaker. As Maggie wheeled Jenny into position to watch Hardy take his last breath, Weston clocked Maggie upside the head with his gun. She quickly rose with knife drawn, and Weston put her down with a single shot to the chest. He then removed the magnets, and Hardy quickly revived.

In the aftermath, Hardy encouraged his sister to disappear to stay safe. Jenny said she had some job opportunities in Miami she could follow up on. She wondered if she and her brother were cursed. “I know you’re afraid to let anyone get close to you. That’s who we are” she told Hardy. “But we can’t go through life alone. It’s no life.” We saw one indication that Hardy might be letting his guard down just a bit for one person: He addressed Weston as “Mike.” It clearly meant a lot to Weston. There is part of me that still believes that Agent Weston is a Friend of Carroll. If so, is forging a personal bond with Hardy a key part of his clandestine mission? In the big picture story Carroll is weaving with his acolytes, did this allegedly “off book” adventure serve the purpose of developing a friendship between the two?

Of course, Hardy’s heart truly belongs to Claire, and the episode provided him with an opportunity to draw closer to her, too. He showed up at her house sporting a new look – dark shirt, black jacket, casual cool – and with news that Maggie’s phone held a possible clue to Jordy’s location: Duchess County, New York. He said cyber forensics was just hours away from nailing down a more precise location. Claire asked him to hang out until then, and offered to make him breakfast. Old alarm bells activated inside Hardy. He flashed to the moment he told his sister that he was breaking up with Claire. He believed he wasn’t ready. He believed Clare wasn’t ready. He believed he was a reminder of the past Claire really needed to forget. He believed that if he loved her, and he did, the most loving thing he could do was remove himself from her life. Hardy believed all these things and more, because it was easier to run away from life and love than make either work well.  Now, Claire was offering a second chance… and he turned that down, too. “I really need to get back,” said Hardy, and he walked away, alone and lonely as ever, as Mazzy Star sang of that which he could not let himself do, “Fade Into You.”

Do you understand love, Ryan? Real love? For now, the answer seems to be no.

NEXT: Getting dirty with Emma and Paul

Meanwhile, in “Mad Love’s” other major storyline, we saw a more successful form of bonding and community, albeit one that was also infinitely more perverse. We left the trio of Emma, Jacob and Paul where we left them, with Jacob and Paul securing the hot mess that Paul had brought back to the house in the last episode following his latest “jealous little bitch” tantrum – Megan the Supermarket Girl. Emma wanted the girl dead. Jacob believed she was Paul’s responsibility. Instead, Paul made it Jacob’s. He wanted to hurt Jacob for denying and now discarding the real relationship they had developed while “pretending” to be “The Gay Neighbors.” Paul intended to inflict this hurt by exposing Jacob’s biggest lie of all: Jacob was a virgin psycho. He had never killed anyone before, despite his claim otherwise. Emma felt sucker-punched when Paul dropped this bit of knowledge on her head. She gave Jacob a chance to redeem and prove himself: He had to be the one to kill Megan.

Alone with the hostage down in the basement, Jacob tried to bring himself to gut her. Megan pitched a counter-proposal: What if he made it just look like he killed her by cutting her enough to make her shed a lot of blood, then let her go, and told the others that he buried her or something? As Jacob considered, he flashed on a jailhouse encounter with Joe from years ago, in which he confessed that he was no murderer. Not yet. Surprisingly, Joe did not shun Jacob or turn him away. He saw something useful for the epic story he was cooking up for Hardy. He told Jacob to keep the secret to himself, and that he would eventually prove himself worthy as a killer, when he was ready.

But that time was not now. Jacob cut Megan’s bonds and let her go. In a taut sequence, Megan tried to escape the farm, but Emma and Paul subdued her and brought her back to the house. The work of corralling Megan got the two rivals all muddy. It also brought them closer. They buried the hatched by taking a kinda-sorta chaste shower together. She recognized his love for Jacob – and seemed to suggest she could share him. This was confirmed when Jacob –after seeing that Megan had been recaptured – sought out Emma and Paul in the bathroom to beg forgiveness. He was shocked to see Emma and Paul in the tub together — and touched beyond words when they asked him to join them. “We’re not giving up on you,” said Emma, and we left them to enjoy the creepiest group hug in recent TV history.

And with that, “Mad Love” seemed to set up a showdown that would bring the first major storyline of The Following’s first season to a head. Or at least, I hope so. While I have enjoyed Emma, Jacob and Paul more than most viewers, I think it’s time we get little Joey saved and expand the saga to introduce new and even more interesting Followers. We also need more Joe Carroll. When are we going to get the inevitable episode in which they have to take him out of jail to investigate a crime scene, or perhaps… help negotiate Joey’s release from his own Friends?  Regardless: Time to bring this chapter to a close. What did you think of “Mad Love,” readers? The message board is yours.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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