This review contains spoilers.
The Following wasn’t the most interesting drama on television last year, or the best executed. It could be a little sloppy, a little dumb, a little strange… there were any number of adjectives you could use to talk about writer/creator Kevin Williamson’s show, but consistent wasn’t one of them. However, The Following also had one of the best first epsiodes of 2013, and it ended on a really high note with a pretty stellar run of episodes for the final three of the season. It was a ratings hit, and mostly critically successful thanks to Kevin Bacon’s brilliant performance, so Fox has brought it back for more of the serial killer action we all love.
The second season kicks off pretty much where we left off at the end of the first season, with a little catch-up montage, then a jump right back into the action. Ryan Hardy is bleeding on his apartment floor. Claire walks in, looks confusedly at him, and then she gets stabbed too. Cue repeated stabbings for both Ryan and Claire courtesy of Ryan’s neighbor the cultist. It’s stunningly violent, as is Ryan’s response to the stabbing, and it serves as a reminder for The Following‘s fans that could have easily been forgotten in the gap year: it’s is one of the most surprisingly violent shows on television.
Perhaps it’s all the work Kevin Williamson has done alongside Wes Craven. Perhaps it’s the way of the Fox Network to push boundaries. Perhaps it’s just the natural evolution of the police procedural to really revel in the amount of chaos, gore, and downright uncomfortable moments tha a real-life cult of serial killers would produce. Either way, The Following is as disturbing—and disturbingly funny at some points—as you remember, if not moreso.
The opening is unsettling enough, what with the whole ‘Natalie Zea getting butchered like a calf and an ER episode breaking out in the middle of The Following‘ thing, but it only compounds in the very next scene. On a New York City subway car, on the one year anniversary of Joe Carroll’s death and the shattering of the original murder cult, a group of guys board a train car wearing masks. Rather than the familiar and infamous Poe mask, this latex face is a different one. It’s Joe Carroll’s face. Shouting about the resurrection, Joe Carroll lives, and that Ryan Hardy can’t stop them this time.
Not that Ryan actually wants to stop them, at least on the surface. He’s been sober for five months, he’s attending AA meetings, he’s hanging out with his niece Max (Jessica Stroud) and her boyfriend and his new AA friends. Even when the FBI interrupts Ryan’s criminology class to bring him in to look at the details of the case, alongside his old partner Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Ryan seems not to care too much about that sort of thing. All he wants is to be left alone to teach his classes and not drink, on the surface at least. Behind closed doors, and multiple layers of security, Ryan is just as obsessed as he’s ever been, and while the FBI remains as clueless and dumb as ever, Ryan’s secretly engaging in guerilla investigation of the surviving cult members to try and solve the biggest mystery of his life: is Joe Carroll still alive?
One of The Following‘s redeeming traits, Bacon aside, is the fact that it’s never afraid to get really, really disturbing and dark. In particular, there’s a whole American Psycho-meets-Psycho subplot this week featuring a really creepy set of twins that have latched onto Carroll’s followers that involves multiple disturbing scenes of a guy hanging out with an attractive, naked corpse (who eventually gets left on a park bench along with a copy of Joe’s book). It’s well-executed stuff by Marcos Siega, who doesn’t shy away from weirdness even if he doesn’t do a lot of flashy camera tricks and leans too much on shaky cam for action sequences; the opening subway series is pretty awesome, and the Carroll masks are nothing if not spectacularly creepy—much creepier even than Poe.
It’s actually a pretty compelling set of ideas from Kevin Williamson, who wrote this episode. Ryan’s refusing to work with the FBI and is on his own, while Weston is becoming the FBI’s new Ryan. Ryan’s niece is his mole in the NYPD, much like Joe had all those moles in every police department everywhere. Several of Ryan’s old cult members are alive and well and recruiting others, including Emma (Valorie Curry), who is now sporting a new Lisbeth Salander look with the pink hair and piercings. Other cultists are apparently trying to draw Joe out of hiding.
That’s a fun idea. Everyone working at cross-purposes, with everyone having the same goal in mind. It’s not a game of cat and mouse so much as it is a game of several cats, all chasing the same mouse. A mouse that just happens to be a dangerous murderer and a terrible writer who has somehow developed a cult of personality around himself stronger than the Manson Family.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan has to admit to really enjoying the return of The Following. Perhaps the fondness will continue, or perhaps the show will stumble in mid-season like it did last year. Either way, we’ll always have Bacon. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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