I had no idea what The Following was about the first time I watched the pilot online, so imagine my surprise when I fell head over heels for a TV show about a cult of serial killers acting under the command of main serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy) and the FBI team that tracks them down. It was dark, brutal, and bloody, but the suspense kept me hooked each week and for once, I looked forward to Mondays.
One character that I gravitated towards was Jacob Wells, played by Nico Tortorella. Jacob turned out to be a surprise in terms of personality and back-story. Despite being a member of the cult, Jacob has never killed anyone, nor does he have the desire to do so. As the show gets a lot of storytelling done via flashbacks, we slowly learn that Jacob came from a privileged family and was attending med school to become a doctor prior to joining Joe’s cult.
It’s unclear how often Jacob was in touch with his immediate family after joining the cult, but during the ninth episode of the season we finally see some present-day interaction between Jacob and his mother. From their conversation, there were some interesting hints about the difficult relationship Jacob has with his unnamed father, which apparently dated back to before Jacob’s involvement with the cult. Apparently, not everything was glossy perfection in the Wells household.
Much went unsaid about Jacob’s paternal issues after that moment, but it was clear that there was a lot more beneath the surface. Maybe Mr. Wells pressured Jacob into going to med school and joining the cult was Jacob’s big act of rebellion. (We learn via newscast that Mr. Wells is a prominent surgeon, thus there’s some connection between Jacob’s career choice and his father.)
What does become clear, though, is that Mrs. Wells knows how bad the relationship between father and son has become, especially with Jacob’s face plastered all over the news as a member of the FBI’s wanted list; she keeps insisting that Jacob either leave (he and another cult member were taking refuge at his parents’ lake house at the moment) before his father gets home, or turn himself in. Either way, she clearly tries to avoid allowing father and son to come together under the same roof for whatever reason.
Another important father-son moment occurs towards the tail-end of the season, when Jacob’s watching a newscast that features his own backstory and regales the audience with details of how he grew up and mentioning that he is, in fact, one of the cult’s most loyal followers.
During the newscast, Jacob calls his father and asks, “Dad?” after which Mr. Wells can be heard asking (not angrily, but worriedly), “Jacob? Jacob, is that you?” before Jacob hangs up on him, crying quietly.
Why? Maybe Jacob was ashamed of going to his dad for help after all this time, or maybe his current situation was too overwhelming for him to process into words. Maybe he was afraid that his father would reject him after everything he’s done. And what about on Dr. Wells’ end? The fact that he didn’t sound angry with his son spoke volumes: after everything Jacob’s done, and even after their difficult relationship, could it be that all he wants in the end is for Jacob to come home so the two of them can mend their relationship? We can only guess at the answers to these questions.
Difficult father-son relationships run rampant in many TV shows today of different genres – everything from Supernatural to Glee to NCIS – but the setup of Jacob’s relationship with his father in The Following was very well done. Viewers are only given snippets of his home life from the newscast, as if we are people in the show’s canon watching a live news broadcast about Jacob Wells, prominent member of a serial killing cult. In that way, the show draws us in even further, a tactic that I much appreciated as I found myself anticipating more snippets of Jacob’s paternal problems throughout the show. (Unfortunately, I was let down, but that’s another story for another time.)
Overall, the small window through which we see Jacob’s relationship with his father was executed well, as it did a good job titillating the audience with scraps of information that we had to piece together for ourselves. It was an interesting twist on the usual dysfunctional father-son relationships depicted on TV, and as a sucker for complicated family relationship, I fell in love with the subplot almost the moment it was introduced.
Gabby Taub, the Fantasy Reviewer at Girls in Capes, is a rising senior at New York University studying creative writing. She enjoys reading, writing, watching TV, and spending time getting lost among the bookshelves at Strand Bookstore.