Recurring Cast: Kevin Bacon, Shawn Ashmore, Valorie Curry, Sam Underwood, Jessica Stroup with Connie Nielson and James Purefoy
Out of all of the seasons I was watching this Fall, the Following was the one I was least interested in. I loved the first season, but I never saw it as something that could be carried on into another year of episodes. That, coupled with the masses of unsatisfied reviews online, made me feel like skipping this one. However, enough entertaining factors, (mainly the two leads), made me throw myself back into the world of cult serial killers.
It got off to a slow start, backing up the thoughts I had read online. Empire magazine pointed out to me that, despite the interesting window-dressing, each episode is either a filler or is the same ‘race against time and quick shoot-out’ formula. For example, while I sometimes got so swept up in the plot, when you step back, you realise that each episodes involves the serial killers doing something gut-wrenchingly creepy and then Kevin Bacon dodging FBI agents and saving the day in a drastic chase scene. It helps that the show is still killing off its villains at any particular moment, so it is rarely the same faces taking on Ryan Hardy each week, but the show does feel stagnant in the first half of the season. Some of the early twists don’t hit the mark either. The first season was mildly unpredictable, always finding a new way of dragging a traitor into the story, without the audience either clocking on early, or losing belief in the story, as many shows like this end up doing. However, the first episodes don’t offer up anything new. It is mildly clever, especially with some of the smaller villains showing their hands, but the bigger reveals were easy to see a mile off. I struggled to tune in each week. Had the Following used up all of its best tricks last season?
Then things heated up. The first few episodes act as moving chess pieces into place, so the real action can really get us. Some of the later twists are really well done and there was one reveal, midway through, that I never saw coming. The turning point for the season for me was where Ryan’s niece, Max Hardy, is tracking one of the deadlier villains through the subway and no one is entirely sure if she is going to make it out of that scene alive. Also, deaths are done better this time around. In Season One, villains were killed off whenever, to keep things unpredictable. I appreciated it, but it felt forced, as if the Following was trying to be edgy on purpose. Here, characters only die, when they have been fully developed. We still get the sudden deaths (there were a few characters killed off that I never saw coming), but it feels, for want of a better word, right. It shows a certain level of control from the writers rather than in season one, where I believe that the momentum of the show overpowered the arc.
The biggest problem with, not just Season Two, but both seasons of the Following, is that some of the villains aren’t that interesting. I like that the writers try to make the bad guys fairly ordinary, so we can relate to their stories, but sometimes they take the idea too far. I am not going to be afraid of the whimpering survivors of Season One, trying to hide from the FBI. I know they were always just supporting villains, until we got to the big event, but in my eyes, a cold-hearted killer wouldn’t be a nervous wreck, easily being manipulated by bigger, more important villains. I have no interest in the love stories between the bad guys: does anyone else remember when Emma was actually creepy? Luke and Mark, the twins, were so close to being great. I loved the eerie introduction to them and their little quirk, where they date the corpses of the bodies they kill for days after the murder. It made the Following seem a little smarter, holding it up against the big rival on the air, Hannibal. But then the twins kept turning irritating, falling in love with other characters and having little to no backbone.
On the other hand, though, some of the villains were the saving grace of Season Two. The way Following survives another season is throwing more bad guys into the pot. Alongside the main villain, we have a new face. She is nowhere near as threatening as Joe Carroll, but when both of their cults come for Ryan Hardy, the pressure is dialled right up and the episodes are much more entertaining. The twins also become a threat in their own sense, once their romantic subplot peters out. But, the star of the show, will always be James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll. Yes, he is alive: did we ever truly doubt that? James Purefoy embraces the cheesy nature of his character and hams it up to the maximum. He has some amazing monologues and becomes something like a super-villain in an Avengers movie. He is also so hard to hate. The Following improves twofold, when he is onscreen, and when him and Hardy face each other, a part of you, deep down, wants him to win.
Final Verdict: Slightly shaky, but the Following waves away claims that it is out of tricks. Serial killers have never been so cool.