The FBI has been down a man for the past few episodes of Fox's The Following, but Monday's episode (9/8c, Fox) marks the return of Agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore). And, after the nasty beating he suffered at the hands of the Followers, Weston is more intent than ever on finding convicted serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his cult. But is that a good thing or a bad thing?
"When Weston comes back, he's definitely a different agent," Ashmore tells TVGuide.com. "He's a little more impulsive, and he deals differently with the Followers when he comes into contact with them. ... The way that he reacts, the way that things go down when he comes back, it's certainly not necessarily in Weston's character. He's definitely changed and affected by what has happened to him."
Though viewers haven't seen Weston in weeks, with the show's pacing (each episode equals roughly a day), it's only been a few days since he was nearly beaten to death. Which, needless to say, is not enough time for him to completely heal before returning to work.
"I don't think it's a stretch to say that he isn't quite ready to be back," Ashmore notes. "He's still in pain. And emotionally, it's only been four days since he went through that. So he's affected physically and emotionally and psychologically coming back into the case."
So why the quick bounce back? "Mike is as frustrated as everybody else in the FBI that Joe Carroll is a step ahead," Ashmore admits. "So he doesn't want to wait. He doesn't want to recuperate. He doesn't want to fully rest up. He needs to get back onto the case. He needs to help solve this, even if he's not quite ready."
With many viewers suspecting from the show's first episode that Weston was a Follower who had infiltrated the FBI — based in part on his near-obsessive admiration of FBI consultant Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) — it's safe to say after that tough-to-watch torture scene that Weston is firmly in the good guys' camp. Or is it?
"I don't think it will stop people from thinking that somehow Weston is still in on this," Ashmore says with a laugh. "I was always really amused and kind of confused that so many people thought that Weston might be a plant. But again, that's this show. That's the seed of paranoia that has been planted from the pilot and those weeds, you can't stop them. Even if you want to or you think that it's obvious that maybe a character is or maybe a character isn't [a Follower], I think that people will still theorize. And I think that's great."
For the time being, at least, evidence seems to point to Weston being trustworthy. After all, it was his refusal to divulge Claire's (Natalie Zea) location to Joe's Followers that landed him in the hospital in the first place (though it merely delayed rather than prevented Joe from reuniting with Claire). But it also earned him the professional respect and personal gratitude of his idol, Hardy, who initially wasn't sure what to make of his young, enthusiastic protégé.
"Ryan is like, 'Kid, who the hell are you? I'm only here because I have to be. You're excited to be on this case, and it's my worst nightmare,'" Ashmore says. "It's like when you're talking to a teenager who thinks that they know everything and you're like, 'You don't know sh--. '... As we move through, it's like they become partners."
Ashmore continues, "Weston has helped Ryan several times, but I think that the real sacrifice that Weston made was not saving Ryan's life, but was saving Claire's, the one thing that is still good in Ryan's life. As complicated as it is, as potentially never-going-to-be-able-to-happen as it is, I think we're all rooting for that love story. That's the one nugget of hope for Ryan and I think when Weston made that sacrifice, it wasn't for Ryan. It wasn't for another agent. It was for somebody that Ryan cared about. It was for an innocent, someone that's not involved in the case. I think Ryan really starts to be thankful for Mike and be like, 'Thank God this kid was here.'"
But there's also a deeper connection, Ashmore notes. Hardy, for one, certainly knows a thing or two about being used as Joe Carroll's emotional and physical punching bag.
"What's happening with Weston right now sort of parallels and mirrors a bit of Ryan Hardy," Ashmore says. "Mike goes from this eager beaver, very talented, capable agent to this guy that starts to get a little more defensive, get a little more closed off, because the violence and the life and death stuff is so real and so close. ... And I think it's an interesting mirror to what has happened to Ryan Hardy in the past."
So, might there be a Following bromance between Weston and Hardy in the works? Not so fast, cautions Ashmore. "I don't think that wall will ever come down with Ryan. I think that that's something that he needs to protect himself," he says. "But I think that these guys start to bond a little bit, and I think it's because Ryan sees in Mike maybe a little bit of him. ... It's not like they're best buddies and hanging out, but the walls start to come down a little bit for both of them."
What do you think of Westen? Is he a loyal FBI agent or is he a Follower?
The Following airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox.