The Following debuted at a rough time for Fox, in January of 2013, the same month as the cancellation of Ben and Kate and The Mob Doctor and series conclusion of Fringe. Created by Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) with suspenseful and endless plot twists, The Following struck a chord with viewers, becoming the number one drama on network primetime for the 2012-2013 TV season in the 18-49 demographic.
Oh, and it’s widely considered to be one of the most violent shows to ever grace primetime television.
As Season One began, Kevin Bacon starred as Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent placed on disability after being stabbed by a serial killer he was pursuing (Bacon’s Hardy survived via the implementation of a pacemaker). That serial killer was Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed Joe Carroll, played with creepy brilliance by James Purefoy, with a severe hat tip to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, a literature professor and novelist who killed fourteen of his students before being caught and sentenced to a hefty term in a Virginia prison.
However, things come tumbling down eight years later when Carroll escapes custody with the help of a prison guard gone rogue. Hardy is called back in to help the FBI catch Carroll as a consultant. Carroll’s wife Claire Matthews (played by Natalie Zea) – who had an affair, and has an ongoing romance, with Ryan – Carroll’s son Joey, as well as the lone survivor of Carroll’s torturing, are all provided with security. When a woman commits suicide in front of Hardy, he begins to feel that Carroll has likely set up a cult following from prison. Two of Carroll’s followers, Paul (portrayed by Adan Canto) and Jacob (played by Nico Tortorella, both executing their roles with pained and heartfelt confusion) pretend to be a gay couple and capture the lone survivor, who is then tortured and killed by Carroll. Hardy catches Carroll and takes him back into custody, which turns out to have been his plan all along. Soon thereafter, Joey’s nanny Denise (Valorie Curry) kidnaps him—she turns out to be Carroll’s most devoted follower, the psychopathic Emma—taking him to a hideout with Paul and Jacob.
Yeah…intense…and that’s just the pilot episode.
The rest of the season can only be described as very literally a roller coaster ride, with intriguing turns from Shawn Ashmore (playing Hardy’s partner Mike) best known for his role as Bobby in the X-Men franchise. Bacon’s turn as the alcohol-dependent and grief-stricken Hardy is worth watching alone, but Purefoy’s turn as the calmly deranged Carroll is the icing on the cake.
Season One isn’t without fault, though. There are plenty of plot holes. For example, the FBI has never been as bad at routine police work. Seriously. Not only are high-security prison inmates constantly escaping police custody but they also evade the FBI. FBI agents always arrive a second after the victim has been murdered, squads of ten-plus officers create Swiss cheese perimeters, not to mention their unbelievably bad marksmanship … the list goes on interminably. The most overwhelming criticism of the show so far has been that none of the police officers or FBI agents on the show should have jobs in law enforcement. Not to mention, Carroll establishes a devoted and nationwide cult from prison over the internet, which is ludicrous when you think about it — someone not in his following working at the prison had to know. Also, it feels a bit like a cop-out (no pun intended) when seemingly every character turns out to be a follower of Carroll’s at the most crucial plot moment. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.
Some of the hijinks of the first season are laughable, but that’s neither here nor there; at its core, the show is extremely watchable and immensely entertaining.
That being said, after a thrilling first season that ended with a stomach-turning cliffhanger, The Following returns with a special premiere episode entitled “Resurrection” premiering after the NFC Championship tonight. The official season will kick off January 27th. As always, I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but be forewarned from here on out.
If you’re doing your best to catch up on Season One, hold off on the Season Two premiere; “Resurrection” begins with a gloss-over of Season One’s main events, highlighting the cliffhanger. That being said, Season Two begins by answering that cliffhanger, in a realistic and believable fashion.
Ryan survives and we flash forward to a year later, to the day, the scar from the stab wound visible as he rises from sleep. Ryan is no longer leaning on liquor to get him by, but instead is living clean, going on morning runs. He’s even installed a high-tech looking security system, a self-reflexive ribbing of Season One’s police ineptitude.
Ryan is no longer an FBI consultant, but instead a forensics teacher at a criminal justice school in Manhattan. The tone of this season is different from the get-go, focusing more on character relations and character development instead of Season One’s episodic, will-they-won’t-they, manhunt.
Ryan’s niece Max, a newly minted NYPD detective (played by the lovely Jessica Stroup, breaking away from The CW’s now off-air 90210 for more challenging work), is a fresh and welcomed presence in Ryan’s new approach to living.
However, all joviality fades when — as Ryan sleeps — a group of Carroll’s followers donning nightmare-inducing Carroll masks stage a grisly murder, proclaiming that Carroll still lives. It is a truly frightening scene, even on the gory scale of The Following. The next day, the media frenzy begins, when anchors question if Carroll is really dead as believed, or if he himself has kept the pulse of his Poe-inspired cult thumping.
A special mention must be made for Sam Underwood (Dexter) as a new addition to the cast, who plays absolutely terrifying as a seemingly mild-mannered pretty boy that is revealed to be so much more—yes, there’s a twist. His scenes in “Resurrection” had me shivering.
Joey, Carroll’s son, will not be in this season due to his entrance into witness protection. When coupled with Hardy leaving his FBI consultant gig (as well as a few other plot points that I’ve held back on revealing) this is a brilliant of Williamson and Co. The parts of the show that were causing viewer frustration — law enforcement ineptitude, Joey’s naivety, Claire’s unwillingness to comply with law enforcement, etc. — are not going to be focused on this season. By flash-forwarding a year ahead, and incrementally revealing what transpired in those twelve months, while also moving the current plot forward, this gives the show endless possibilities and true suspense. Did Carroll survive the lighthouse explosion? Is he still alive and thriving, or has someone else taken over? How will Emma react?
At least one of those questions is answered in the premiere, which starts Season Two off with an absolute bang.
One thing is for sure: whatever lies ahead appears to be bumpy ride, but Williamson and Co. definitely know what they’re doing.