I’ve been pretty harsh on The Following during its run, and especially on that second season finale. The show’s early promise was being squandered by the second season’s end with unnecessarily convoluted plotlines and illogical sequences of events—and I won’t go deeper into The Following’s overt Windows Phone advertisements worked into the plot, the most egregious and exploitative plug I’ve ever been witness to.
After season one, The Following was the eighth-best network primetime series in the coveted 18-49 demographic in terms of rating share (4.3/11) and twentieth overall in terms of viewership with 11.87 million viewers. By the end of the second season, they dropped to forty-fifth in viewership with 8.02 million viewers averaged, and lost 6.37 million viewers from the premiere episode (11.18 million viewers) to finale (4.81 million).
I was so disappointed that by the end of last season, I said I was considering giving up watching. But with tonight’s season three premiere, aptly titled “New Blood,” I find myself—slightly—rooting for The Following again. A semi-new storyline, with some intriguing twists, makes for the show’s best episode since early on in season two. But don’t think they reinvented the wheel; the nuts and bolts of The Following are still the same.
We begin a year after the end of season two, with Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) on death row. Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) claims to have moved on from Joe, but we’ve heard that before. At first, it seems Ryan’s unofficial investigation that led to Joe’s capture has put Ryan, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), and Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) in trouble. However, at the Congressional Hearing where they face punishment, they’re essentially told they should be punished for their actions, but there was no “substantive evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” so they’re off the hook.
No evidence?! In episode two of season two, “For Joe,” Ryan is a forensics professor who is chasing people down and pulling out his gun. Everything he did, every person he killed, injured, almost killed, or accosted was done so with him—technically, and very loosely—as a professor. Albeit, a no-show professor at that. How are his actions without reprimand? Because it would be inconvenient if he were to face real discipline. If you’re looking to go into law enforcement, for the love of God, avoid The Following like The Plague. If you turn your brain off and just take it at face value? I imagine the procedural/police work is much more enjoyable. In The Following, whatever police work will be, will be.
Ryan has now returned full-time to the FBI, alongside Mike and Max Max Hardy, with a new main squeeze this year, a woman named Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson, Homeland, Rome), his girlfriend of six months. She seems to be someone who won’t get Ryan killed, but who am I kidding? She’s the most likely to be the mastermind come season’s end, going on past experiences. I’d like to think she’s just a normal, lovely woman with no history of mental illness or serial killer ties. Ah, the hopeless romantic in me.
We cut to the wedding of Agent Mendez (Valerie Cruz). Max is dating someone new, an agent named Tom Reyes (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and, when Mike shows up, the tension is palpable. Last we saw, their relationship seemed to be taking shape, but we later discover (thanks to a well-managed flashback) that Mike left Max eleven months prior to search out Mark (Sam Underwood), the surviving half of the deranged Wonder Twins from last season. The scene is overshadowed by an ominous waiter looking on intently.
A few minutes later, the waiter accosts Gwen on the veranda, not letting her inside when she tries to go. After she finally gets by, we hear Ryan’s speech about true love as the tearful, menacing waiter makes his way through the crowd. Surprisingly, the waiter throws blood at Ryan as retribution for his daughter, who Ryan killed last season. The waiter shouts that Ryan and Joe should be sharing a cell together on death row.
It’s this moment that shows season three of The Following is a different chapter, maybe not necessarily a new one. The era of Joe Carroll finally (a season late, honestly) is coming to a close: he’s due to be executed within the month. However, Ryan is so shocked by the blood splattering at the wedding that he spirals into existential guilt, going back over the file of the waiter’s daughter.
A married couple on their second wedding anniversary hires a prostitute, whose real name, we eventually learn, is Daisy (an electric Ruth Kearney, BBC’s Primeval). The scene where they start to, ahem, go at it—at first—seems aimed at the Fifty Shades of Grey crowd. But when a knocking comes from inside the room’s closet, it’s quite a reversal from the expected outcome. Don’t want to spoil it, but it’s fantastic.
When Ryan goes to apologize to the victim’s mother in the wake of the blood splattering incident, he discovers that the victim’s daughter isn’t the waiter from the wedding. Subsequently, the scene cuts to the waiter—who we later learn is named Andrew (an outstanding Michael Irby, of Law Abiding Citizen and the upcoming season two of True Detective)—walking into the hotel room where the couple was killed, upset with the crime scene they’re setting up. The victims have been turned into puppets, suspended by wire, with blood smeared on the wall, reading “Ryan Hardy Lies.”
Joe Carroll’s presence, which loomed ridiculously large in season two, is now but a whisper above the action. And rightly so.
Ryan, Mike, and Max search for the waiter, who they’ve identified. Of course, they break into the house where they think he’s hiding. Rules are meant to be broken for these FBI agents. They walk into another puppeteer scene and realize who’s behind it. Worse, they glean that the next kill scene will indicate a controversial murder they’ve successfully covered up. Have you guessed who yet? The wonderful Sam Underwood returns as Mark, having suffered a serious psychotic break when his twin was killed, almost absorbing his fallen brother’s personality. Underwood plays Mark’s split personality to perfection—both the timid Mark and the menacing Luke, simultaneously. It should be hokey, but the magnetic Underwood manages it well.
In the interrogation room after being caught, Andrew admits he helped Mark because he’s “a sucker for a good revenge tale.” It still doesn’t explain how he met Mark in the first place. The “who, what, when, where, and why?” of The Following is, as always, disjointed. That’s what you sign up for with this show; admittedly, it’s one of the more illogically plotted shows I’ve been a regular viewer of. The show held onto Carroll for far too long while introducing new and less intriguing villains, thus reducing Carroll’s ominous presence. This season, Carroll is barely acknowledged, and a new chapter of The Following has begun in delicious fashion.
This show may always have its glaring, illogical holes that make me squirm, but what The Following does, at its best, is make it one enjoyable ride. And for what it’s worth, I do still care about (some of) the characters. The formula hasn’t changed, just some faces—with a few twists and kicks along the way. But the show seems to be back on track, reclaiming the promise it had at its beginning.
Here’s to hoping they keep it.