As if the show-within-the show elements of Cult weren’t confusing enough, in Season 1, Episode 2, “In the Blood,” we’re introduced to the actors who play the roles of LAPD detectives and cult leaders on the TV show.
We’re not the only ones trying to tease out reality from fiction. Jeff (Matt Davis) starts to get a serious case of the shifty eyes from looking everyone he comes in contact with up and down. He’s not sure who to trust, and even research assistant Skye (Jessica Lucas) isn’t above suspicion.
That guy is toe-up
Show-within-the-show Cult: LAPD detectives Kelly Collins (Alona Tal) and Paz (Kadeem Hardison) are staring at the sole of a shoe and a bare foot, sticking out of the dirt. The man still attached to one of his shoes is dead, buried upside down. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Paz.
Kelly has. The show flashes back to her, hanging upside down from an elaborate structure. After she’s slowly raised up from a hole in the ground, Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper) hugs her. “Welcome to my family. Welcome to the blood,” he says. Despite the mud and rain, she seems happy.
Once her reverie is over, Kelly bends down to pick up an oversized gold coin near the victim’s feet.
Outside the show: Jeff pauses the episode of Cult and flips through Nate’s (James Pizzinato) notebook. He rummages around Nate’s desk until he finds a gold coin identical to the one Kelly found on TV. (That guy leaves everything on his desk!) When Skye wakes up — don’t get any ideas, she slept on Jeff’s couch — she tells him, “Nobody knows for sure if there are messages in the show or not.” Jeff is certain Nate was a believer.
There’s nothing on the news about Merriam — the woman who shot herself in front of Jeff and Skye the night before. The two amateur sleuths agree there was something shady about the woman’s husband.
At fan_dom_ain, the cafe where Cult fans flock, the waitress Kirstie (Marie Avgeropoulos) overhears Jeff asking the barista about Nate. Suddenly Jeff’s phone beeps with a message: A video of Billy Grimm appears on his screen. “So glad you're one of mine now,” says the cult leader.
Jeff is more than a little started when EJ (Stacey Farber), a woman he works with, playfully grabs him from behind. She’s tech-y, and he’s asked her to the cafe to help with his laptop. It hasn’t been the same since he inserted that mysterious disc his brother had hidden away in his notebook. Telling her it was Identity theft software, he asks her to trace the call he got from Nate the night before. Before leaving, EJ gives Jeff one more piece of intel: The suicide victim Merriam’s last name is Livingston.
Back at The CW offices, associate producer Peter (Ben Hollingsworth) has some news for Skye. The new network exec Marc, who was going to set some ground rules for Cult creator Steven Rae, is MIA.
Actually, he’s just tied up and half naked with the fan_dom_ain waitress Kirstie — but not in a good way. She tells someone on the phone that she’ll do whatever he asks before sitting on Marc’s lap. Then she kisses him. “Do a good job on him,” she says to a someone lurking in the shadows.
Jeff and Skye meet up at Merriam’s house to question her husband. As they walk to the front door, he shows her the video message from Billy. It has nothing to do with the disc that threatened to take over his life. It’s simply a promotion sent out by Cult’s official social campaign.
Merriam’s husband is moving a box to his car when Jeff and Skye approach him. He denies knowing anything about Cult or Nate. When Jeff presses him about why Merriam was so scared, the husband pulls a shotgun on him. “What are you so afraid of? Tell me what you know,” Jeff pleads before Skye convinces him that a shotgun is their cue to leave.
After that adventure, Skye and Jeff head to the police station to report how suspicious Merriam’s husband is acting. Detective Sakelik (Aisha Hinds), who’s in charge of Nate’s case, accuses them harassing a man who just lost his wife. “Don’t second guess my investigation,” she chides Jeff.
Inside show: Billy arrives at the crime scene to see Kelly. “You used this upside-down burial as an initiation into your cult,” she accuses her former leader. “Into my family,” he corrects. Grimm also punished people who betrayed him by burying them upside down — only he used surrogates to commit all his crimes. Billy reminds Kelly that she used to be one of his surrogates, even though she never murdered anyone. They’re both alike, they both have deep secrets, Billy tells his ex-follower. Then he says that he hopes she solves the case, adding, “It’ll be quite the feather in your cap.”
Outside show: Online, Skye discovers how “normal” Merriam and her husband were. She also learns that the woman’s funeral is scheduled for later that day. Jeff decides to crash it to see if any of her friends or family will talk to him.
EJ arrives, a little miffed to see Skye sitting with Jeff. The tech-savvy girl hads Jeff his “new paperweight,” aka, his laptop. Nate’s CD destroyed it. All that’s left are microimages that, when enlarged, prove to be some kind of a symbol: Three arms, joined at the center, holding swords.
This leads to a discussion about Steven Rae. Skye doesn’t think he’s used the image on Cult, and she admits she hasn’t met him. The show’s creator does most things remotely, sending his scripts in from an unknown location.
Funeral for the friendless
At Merriam’s funeral, only her husband is present, plus the man performing the service. “Where is everybody?” asks Skye as she watches from a distance. Jeff responds, “Where is anybody?” The husband gets call and walks away from the casket.
Skye and Jeff hide behind a hearse as Merriam’s spouse greets Detective Sakelik. He tells her he did what she asked. “Your wife’s suicide put us in a very difficult position,” the detective tells him before kissing him on the mouth. Then she takes a bundle of paper from him and drives off.
Jeff is not pleased that the woman who’s supposed to be finding his brother clearly has a conflict of interest. When Skye looks up Detective Sakelik, she discovers the woman is well regarded and a decorated officer.
Then Skye mentions Steven Rae again — to say, “I told you, you’ll never get to Steven” — and Jeff starts to get really paranoid. Skye’s been a little too helpful. “Your primary message always seems to be, ‘you’ll never get to Steven Rae.’ Why are you so anxious to help me?” he asks. After all, she was the one who approached him at The CW studio, after she overheard him asking about Steven.
“I’m here because I think you can help me,” says Skye. Two months ago, when her father’s attorney died, Skye got notes from something her father was starting to work on. It was an investigation of an obscure TV writer — Steven Rae. Skye tells Jeff, “There was one word prominent in his notes: Cult.”
Skye’s father has been missing for 10 years, while Cult was created only one year ago. In order to get closer to Steven Rae, Skye took the job on the show. The reason she shared this with Jeff? She trusts him.
Later, EJ calls Jeff to give him the approximate location from where Nate called his brother. Skye recognizes the vicinity, because Cult once filmed there. They head to KidPlay, an indoor recreation center for children.
They score access to the surveillance cameras and see Nate being yelled at by Merriam’s husband. Then the tape goes blank, as the recording resets.
At a table reading for the show-within-the show Cult, Roger Reeves — who plays Billy Grimm — is griping about the script. He says he’ll put himself “into Billy’s skin,” but he and Marc, the network executive, agreed Steven Rae should be more malleable. The woman there in Marc’s place says it’s not his job to change the script. Roger stares her down. “I of course can and will work with the material given,” he whispers.
Writing on the walls
That night, Skye and Jeff return to talk to Merriam’s husband again. The house is dark, so they break in. The woman and her husband had strange decorating tastes — the wallpaper is missing, but some of the words they scribbled on it bled through to the wall. Skye realizes that’s the paper Mr. Livingstone gave to the detective.
The writing reminds Jeff of Nate’s notebook, and he spots the three-armed symbol from the disc. A noise from the kitchen alerts them to the fact that Merriam’s husband is in the cupboard, with tape over his mouth. “They don’t think they can trust me,” he whispers. Then he says he never should have let his wife watch the show. Someone runs by outside.
“I knew they would come back. … True believers,” says the husband. Jeff smells propane and tries to pull the man out of the cupboard. He refuses to leave, but says, “Well, hey. These things just snap right off.” When something breaks the window, Skye and Jeff run out just before an explosion rocks the house.
Inside the show: At the indoor rec center, Billy Grimm puts gold coins on his eyes, delighting some children. A bald man sits with him, unwrapping a small package. It’s a finger. It’s also a gift for Kelly, on the anniversary of her “initiation into the blood.” Billy tells the man it will allow her to solve the murder without involving them. “Knowing Kelly as well as I do, I can’t think of a gift that she will appreciate more,” says the cult leader.
Outside the show: Yet again, the LAPD has covered up a death. Merriam’s husband was killed in the propane blast, but it was ruled an accident. Skye and Jeff realize they’re on they’re on their own, since the husband was somehow involved with the detective.
As for the true believers, Skye says she can’t find anything linking them to Cult. “Are people really that crazy, they’d kill because of television show?” wonders Jeff. He tells Skye, who’s still at work, to be careful.
The phone next to her desk rings, and an announcement comes through that it’s Steven Rae. Just as Skye is about to pick it up and listen in on the conversation, Peter appears at her desk. He notices two things: the soot smudge on her cheek and the call from Steven Rae she was reaching to pick up.
Roger — the actor who plays Billy — exits the gym. “You’re him, aren't you? You're Billy Grimm,” says the waitress Kirstie, who’s accidentally-on-purpose bumped into him. “I’m your very biggest fan.”