This review contains spoilers.
This is what has been missing all along, and this is what I’ve been asking for since the beginning of the season. Joe and Ryan, the two most important characters on the show, trapped in a room together and forced to examine their codependent relationship in great depth and detail. Dreaming about one another, little conversations through glass windows or from behind bars, and finally, ten episodes into the show, we get something that actually matters between the two characters capable of holding our interest just through a conversation.
Joe, who we last saw making a shank out of a pair of sunglasses he pried off the dead body of Theo’s mouthpiece, is facing his execution. The guards take him into the preparation room, he has a brief meeting with his lawyer, a governmental aid, and the prison physician, all with the purpose of supervising Joe’s execution. A quick shank to the neck of one guard, a taser frying to the eyeball of another guard, and a locked door means that Joe Carroll is now in control of his own fate, thanks to three valuable hostages. And all Joe wants is one last good talk with his best friend and soul brother, Ryan Hardy.
James Purefoy has kind of taken a back seat to Kevin Bacon on this show, particularly this season, but that’s not really his fault. He’s a great actor, and this is a great character for him to perform because he inhabits Joe so well. You can see Joe drifting into character when someone approaches his cell, shifting from morose and moping at the lack of Ryan to the charming, smarmy Joe everyone knows and loathes. His attack is clever, and also very well executed by the show’s stunt players and action choreographer; the entirety of the jail scenes, particularly when Theo’s sister releases the other prisoners who have grudges against Ryan and Joe, are very well done and very entertaining. The violence is sudden and shocking, and there’s an extra punch of brutality because the rest of the season has been relatively toothless. In particular, the shots of Ryan after the violence end up being very effective, because Kevin Bacon has a great crazy face, and James Purefoy’s pleased satisfaction at Ryan’s transformation works very well.
Certainly, Joe as a villain works much better than Theo as a villain, but the introduction of Penny (Megalyn Echikunwoke) helps to bring a little life to Theo’s sociopath blankness. I don’t necessarily buy in when he starts blaming Ryan Hardy for all his troubles, but the exasperated dynamic Theo has with his sister is pretty amusing. After all, this is a woman who walks in, sees an Asian guy taped to a chair, and rolls her eyes. She does get a little upset that Theo stabbed her junkie boyfriend, but what siblings don’t have the occasional murder-based squabble? She’s also the only person Theo can turn to for help in cracking Strauss’s code; fittingly, where Joe likes Poe, Strauss was a fan of Lovecraft. I guess Theo would hide his secrets in one of the hundreds of books written by Dean Koontz?
The fact that The Following closes out Joe Carroll’s life in a pretty definitive way—though I won’t believe Joe’s dead until someone cuts off his head and spikes the skull on a pike—is a pretty bold choice. Joe already got one chance to escape, and he basically passed on it, using his platform to teach Ryan one last important lesson before (presumably) getting executed in a pretty stark death scene. Of course, we’ve seen Joe die before, and yet this time it feels a little more official, a little more final. After all, this time Joe died in front of witnesses; why do I have a nagging feeling if the show comes back for a fourth season, we’ll get Joe back in some form or another?
Ryan’s continued fantasy of having Joe as his best friend, combined with Kevin Bacon’s crazy face as spectacularly highlighted earlier by director David McWhirter, has me wondering: would Ryan become the killer next year? It’s been teased multiple times, and I think it’s a development I think I’d be okay with. Ryan is brutal and efficient, and he knows the law enforcement system inside and out. It might be a bit too Dexter, but it’d probably be really entertaining in the hands of The Following‘s creative team, if only for a year.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan would be very interested in a version of this show in which Ryan Hardy is the villain and Mike and Max have to stop him before he kills again (and again and again). Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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