The stakes are raised to a new level for the FBI on Monday's episode of The Following, now that escaped serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) has accomplished his first goal after getting out of prison: reuniting with his wife Claire (Natalie Zea) and son Joey (Kyle Catlett).
"The intensity of our need to find them is amped up," Annie Parisse, who plays Agent Debra Parker, tells TVGuide.com. "We know they have Claire. We know they have Joey. And we're honing in on their location, but it's still a needle in the haystack."
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The search will take Parker and Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) to Manhattan briefly as they try to track down a lead. Will this tip be the one that finally gives the FBI a big break in the case? Parisse acknowledges viewers' frustration that, despite being in prison for the past eight years, Carroll always seems to be 10 steps ahead of the authorities.
"You have a really tricky thing here," Parisse says. "We don't know the breadth of his network. So I feel like what's happened for us on the FBI team — initially we really thought it was the group at the farm house, and we had no reason to believe that it was more than them. Our first inkling that it was more than them was as we came in on the farm house.
"I think this goes for the audience, too," she adds. "Every time we think we have figured out what Joe's goal is, it's actually not that. And that continues to be true up to the very last episode of the show."
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On Monday's episode, Parker and Hardy land in hot water after discovering that there's an aspect to Joe's cult that they were previously unaware of — and it involves tactical training. "Their skill set is so much higher than we initially anticipated," Parisse teases. "It's very intense."
As viewers learned in a previous episode, Parker has a very personal tie to cults, having grown up in one of which her parents (presumably) are still members. "This is an area of specialty for her that's both an academic specialty and also, obviously, she has a really strong personal connection to," Parisse says. "I think Parker before coming to the FBI spent a lot of time recovering from being in a cult. I think that she did a lot of work on herself. ... She's the type of person who is going to walk into the fire as opposed to leave it behind. And in the end, the choice to be in the FBI and the choice to make cults or alternative religion her specialty has to do with a continuing of that healing process and of trying to help people like herself and her family members."
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Parisse said she did extensive research into cults and cult mentality — everything from the murderous/suicidal followers of Charles Manson and Jim Jones to more controversial takes on certain religions as cults — to prepare for the role of Parker. "You'd just be amazed what people will do. You really would," she says. "And not crazy people. Ostensibly normal people. When the right person touches the right button in someone, you can get them to do almost anything. To me, the scariest thing about it was thinking, this could be you. It could be anybody."
To that end, can any of the characters on The Following be trusted? Or, with only five episodes left in Season 1, will someone be revealed as one of Carroll's cohorts? Who should viewers be wary of?
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"Literally everyone," Parisse teases. "That's part of what makes the show so gripping. ... Kevin Williamson has really set up a world in which every single person on the show could be a follower. Your suspicions should stay alive."
Watch our full video with Annie Parisse below:
The Following airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox.