The Following season 3 episodes 12 & 13 review: The Edge & A Simple Trade

The Following's violent spectacle wasn't enough to bring in the crowds for season 3, as its recent cancellation proves...

This review contains spoilers.

3.12 The Edge & 3.13 A Simple Trade

There’s not a serial killer alive that can stop Ryan Hardy, no matter how skilled or how well-trained or how well-armed that person might be. There’s only one thing that can kill Ryan Hardy, and that’s the killing machine known as the Fox Network. The word came down this week that The Following has lost its following and will now be getting the death penalty, much as Joe Carroll did a few weeks ago. And like Joe, The Following will now live on only in our fond memories of Classic Poe and creepy masks and families of serial killers gone wild.

It’s kind of amazing really. Consider just how far the show fell between its debut and its most recent episodes. The pilot bowed to 10.42 million live viewers and 15.1 million viewers when accounting for DVR. The DVR ratings stayed consistently strong, 10 million or more throughout the first season. The second season hit even harder, with 11.18 million live viewers for the premiere. Even though ratings sagged, they still held fairly strong in the 7 and 8 million range. Then, the third season happened. What started with 4.86 million live viewers is now down to 3 and 4 million live, and a meagre 5 and 6 million once DVR viewers are factored in. That’s not great considering the cost of the show, and given the fact Fox has been running double episodes (and will be doing so for the last two weeks of the show). Any time you get multiple episodes in the same night, you’re heading for a burn-off, and The Following just didn’t keep its heat enough to survive in a tough TV environment.

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However, with the promise of an end, and our lead completely free of all vestiges of humanity thanks to falling off the wagon and alienating his girlfriend, niece, and only real friend, well… it’s time for Ryan Hardy to turn into the blood-thirsty maniac we all know and love, and the very first steps in that are to capture Theo’s sister Penny and waterboard her. That’s right, our show’s hero is waterboarding a woman in his plush apartment bathroom (and our show’s villains burn a co-conspirator’s face off with acid). Meanwhile, a previously good FBI agent in Tom has now become the pawn of evil, thanks to a little visit from Mark and Daisy and the discovery of the dead FBI computer girl in his bathtub. Oops.

With Penny in Ryan’s hands and Tom turning Max over to Mark and Daisy, well, it’s pretty clear just what’s going to happen, as if the episode title A Simple Trade didn’t give it away. Of course, when Joe’s being Ryan’s worst instincts, well, it’s not going to be that easy or that simple.

I have to admit, Joe as Ryan’s bad side is great. It works really well, and it takes Ryan Hardy’s crazy fits just up another notch, as we see with his visible freak-out while holding Penny in the bathroom between waterboarding sessions. He wants to do much worse than get her feet wet, and it’s clear that he’s capable of that. It’s also not completely certain that he won’t do that, even after Mike is captured as trade bait.

It’s hard not to use these episodes as a chance to look back, and when viewed on a three season scope, Mike is definitely inching towards Woobie territory (he’s definitely a Determinator in TV Tropes language). First he’s partnered with a guy who doesn’t like him. Since then, he’s been beaten, shot, harassed, had his father killed, lost his girlfriend, and been captured multiple times by multiple crazy people who were simply looking to get at Ryan or get revenge on Ryan or something else like that. He doesn’t even get to get laid (again) before something terrible happens to him.

It’s kind of disappointing to see the show getting its last rites when it’s hitting such interesting moments. The chase through the old house in 13 was phenomenal (kudos to Marcos Siega), and the scenes in which Ryan brutalizes Penny in both episodes are also really bold. Not many shows would let their flawed hero go that far, even considering his status as an amoral alcoholic and her status as a murderer.

The third season hasn’t been as good as the second. The second wasn’t as good as the first. But, it’s still been really entertaining, most of the time. Some of the Tom-related subplots haven’t been my cup of tea, but it ends in appropriately bloody fashion and it helps set up a lot of the action of the end of the season, as brutal and amusingly splattery as it is. As long as the payoff is good, I’ll be happy with the show ending here. There were a lot of things it could have been, but I’m kind of happy with the dumb, violent spectacle it wants to be beneath the surface.

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Demons, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan won’t be getting his Ryan Hardy: Serial Killer season after all. Still, at least the body count is up and the brutality-meter is regularly clicking. Everything ends, so end with a bang. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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