This week’s episode “Siege” goes in a lot of directions. A few of those angles stick. Others don’t have the emotional impact that you might expect from so much blood and gore. By far the most powerful moment is at the very end, and the story is a little muddled getting all the way there.
The main action centers around finding the kidnappers and little Joey, sequestered in a farm somewhere in rural Virginia. As the agents scramble to find them, the followers themselves amuse themselves with an escalating level of drama, as even they realize that they are just part of Joe’s bigger plan.
But by the far the tone of the episode is one of moving parts shifting into place, in preparation for a bigger climax. The episode ends in a cliffhanger—where Ryan finally gets into the farmhouse and spots Joey, only to find cold steel at the back of his head as Paul holds a gun to him.
What “Siege” explicates with clarity is how Joey himself is a liability. That thread began last week, in “Mad Love,” when Joey watched with curiosity as Emma made a phone call with a cell phone hidden on a bookshelf. This week he gets the phone and calls his mother, as he’s been trying to do from the start. The FBI uses the call to try to narrow down the kidnappers’ location, and start an on-the-ground manhunt to get Joey back. I liked this because too often, in serial-killer stories, the victims are denied any agency whatsoever, and either are too fooled or too scared to fight back. Joey’s figured out that something’s up, and starts rebelling without remorse in “Siege”—first making the call, then running away, then breaking down his door when the kidnappers lock him inside. I’m curious how Joe is justifying the imprisonment and trauma he’s inflicting on his kid—but then again, I’m curious how Joe is justifying anything.
Something that comes back to this episode from “Poet’s Fire” is this idea of total moral subversion on the part of the cult followers. They’re a set of characters for whom up is down, black is white, right is wrong, good is bad. It’s over-the-top, sure, but it’s definitely interesting. In this episode the three, Paul, Emma, and Jacob, wake up in bed together, post-threesome. Threesomes are great, obviously, but Jacob is freaked out—and trying to hide that fact from his co-kidnappers, who are spooning with delight. There’s something deliciously unhinged about Paul and Emma, in particular, but I’m a little suspicious the “bad” guys engaging in a polyamorous relationship as further proof of their moral depravity.
Needless to say, though, they have a… unique idea of what love, loyalty, and ethics mean. Emma sits down and continues giving Joey that terrifying education he started to receive in “Poet’s Fire”—How To Become A Serial Killer 101. The first is that cops are bad, and his father is good. The perversion of it struck me much more than any sort of sexual “deviance” the kidnappers have been messing around with. Is this how Joe converted them?
And it raises bigger questions, like—what motivates any of these people? Is there any good there? I mean, I tend to like Paul, except when he gets creepy and tells the poor girl tied up in the basement that she only has to stay alive for a little longer, or goes into the house where Joey briefly takes refuge and murders an innocent old couple with a hoe. The thing is, if their motivations were any clearer, the show would lose the ability to make their kidnappers empathetic, because it would be so repellent. And if they were hazier, they would lose out on the shock value. That delicate balance suggests that the kidnappers are not long for this world. The episode ends with Ryan inside the house and more officers on the way. There will be a standoff in the farmhouse, and it’s likely someone will die. Considering we’ve begun to see that Joe wasn’t investing all of his resources in the kidnapping trio—that there are a few other minions in the works, lurking at the edges—it’s possible these three could end up mostly or entirely dead.
Meanwhile Joe is still the most terrifying cast member. If anything we don’t see enough of him—I’m noticing that considering James Purefoy is the second-most important actor on the show, he’s rarely present. Maybe he’ll have a bigger role later in the season. But even in the most limited way, his actions are the most terrifying. He bullies and threatens his former lawyer Olivia into representing him—and enacting some of his plans—and throughout the episode it’s hard to understand why she’s acquiescing to him, except that he’s scared. Then in the last moments, we realize that Joe had Hank tear off two of her fingers with pliers, when she gave up his case as it went through the appeals process. Olivia is terrified for her life, and with good reason.
Next week we have loaded guns, loose cannons, a kid upstairs, a girl in the basement, and a few dead bodies to mess around with in just one house. It promises to be loads of drama.
Odds and ends:
***When Olivia starts reading poetry in front of the jail, is there doubt in anyone’s mind that she’s reading Poe? And yet, Ryan and Mike both need to explain it. Kind of funny, how much they push the Poe, like that makes it smarter.
***What did you all think? What was scarier, the plier-mutilation or the hoe-murders?