** This review contains spoilers. If you don’t want spoilers, why are you reading a season review?**
Season one ended on a great note. They actually killed Debra, Joe was apparently killed, and Ryan and Claire were attacked and we were left wondering their fate. And it didn’t look good. Especially for Claire. Fast forward to season two. Ryan has survived and has apparently gotten his life together which was cool to see. As much as this show is about serial killers, its also the redemption story for Ryan Hardy. We quickly find out he is only halfway there. While he has quit the FBI and alcohol, he is still secretly obsessed with finding the remaining members of Joe’s cult and he believes Joe is still alive. Now, I think we all believed that somehow Joe was still alive. We never saw him physically die or saw the body. Quicker than I ever thought we would, we find out Joe is still alive at the end of episode one.
The direction of Joe was really where my biggest problem with this season lies. I really believed Joe was alive, but I thought they might string us along for up to half the season. It would have been really cool to have someone orchestrating attacks from the shadows and giving us little clues that it might just be Joe. Despite that, I didn’t really mind that they revealed him so quickly. He has been hiding in backwoods Louisiana with a woman that used to write to him in prison. My first problem with this was how long it took for Joe to get back into the swing of things. We were over a quarter of the way through the season before Joe was back to being himself. I realize that gave them time to establish Lily and her faction, which I will talk about in a bit, but Joe should have been a major player much sooner.
My second, and biggest problem, with this season was that Joe never really felt like Joe this season. I get evolution of character and all, but this show was about serial killers uniting under one leader, not just about that former leader. Before the show ever started, the description told us that the FBI estimates that there are over 300 serial killers living in the US right now. It then posed the question: What if they all had a way to communicate and organize and united under one leader? That’s an awesome premise and I was hooked before the show started. And season one executed that plot so well. They just seemed to lose that this season. This wasn’t about Joe attracting other serial killers anymore. It was about Joe and his obsession and his charisma and leadership abilities and how he could influence others. What happened to all the Edgar Allen Poe stuff?? That was such an important thing to Joe and such a cool part for us as viewers to see. With one line, “I’ve evolved”, they just moved past it. I wasn’t a fan.
Halfway through the season, we find out that Claire is alive. At that point I was expecting it, but I was hoping I was wrong. With Claire and Joe both not being dead, plus the drastic change in Joe’s philosophies, and the omission of the Poe obsession, it cheapened what was an amazing first season. Claire being alive was needless. Joe joining Korbin was needless and dumb. The end of last season was truly epic. The post office scene and the supposedly final showdown with Joe was expertly done. This season’s end just felt a little weak. The whole showdown in the church? It had cool moments but that wasn’t a big enough grand plan for the Joe I know. Even the confrontation with the twins seemed a bit anti-climatic. And all of that boils down to the writers not really knowing what to do with Joe. They had a lot of options, I just think they didn’t choose the best path.
Now I say all of that and you may think that I didn’t like this season. I actually really did. It just didn’t live up to the super high expectations that season one set. There were a ton of things I loved about season 2. First and foremost, the story is still expertly told. While I may not agree with the story they told, they always make it thrilling to watch. Every single episode has a moment that has you on the edge of your seat. And as I talked about earlier, at times this show is just brutally violent. And if we thought season one was bad, season two kicked it up a notch. And, like in the first season, the violence always added to the story by making moments bigger or really driving home a point. Its really well done.
The addition of Lily Grey and the twins and the rest of their “family” was a masterstroke. The writers knew that with the direction they had chosen for Joe, there was going to be some downtime. There had to be a second villain, and they chose a great one. Lily’s “reveal” as being evil was painfully obvious to see coming, but it didn’t lessen how great it was. She was never very hands on, more of a leader and manipulate, and she did it well. It could be argued that her adopted sons, the twins Luke and Mark, were the stars of this season. They carried the first few episodes and it seemed like every big moment in the show that stuck with you involved them somehow. I’m struggling to think of two more characters on TV that pulled off creepy better than Luke and Mark. And while I was disappointed with how Lily met a far to abrupt end and that Luke died while Mark lived, I could not have been happier with their addition to the show.
I think the thing that drives The Following the most is the characters. We can all relate to Ryan in one way or another, which in turn means we can all relate to Joe in one way or another. That is a scary thing and that is great writing. Whether I liked Joe’s direction or not in the end didn’t matter Joe Carroll is a wonderful character and its always fun to see into his psyche. I mentioned how great Lily and the twins were, but I haven’t mentioned the surprise of the show for me. Mike went from a weak character to an amazing one. Once his dad died, and he was full of anger, the sub-story of how Ryan has to look at himself as Mike’s friend and role model, to become a better person to help bring back Mike from the edge is amazing. The addition of Max was also just fantastic. Having someone there to constantly humanize Ryan and keeping him grounded but still willing to help him on his search was essential and really well done.
The acting on The Following is surprisingly good for a network show. Kevin Bacon, as always, was terrific. I love the character of Ryan Hardy is great, but very complex and Bacon does an amazing job with it. I have always been a big James Purefoy fan and his portrayal of Joe Carroll might just be his best work. Joe is a charismatic leader that can bend others to his will, so you have to have an actor that can do that with the audience and Purefoy does it wonderfully. Valerie Curry and Natalie Zea aren’t anything to write home about but their roles as Emma and Claire are done pretty well. Shawn Ashmore as Mike Weston was easily the biggest improvement this season. His character was given much more depth and he in turn gave a much better performance. I really enjoyed Jessica Stroup as Ryan’s niece Max. Connie Nielson was fantastic a Lily Grey. She did a wonderful job of making us like her in the beginning and hate her by the end. By the stars of the show were Mark and Luke and no surprisingly the star actor of this season was Sam Underwood who played both of the twins. It blew me away when I found out early on that the twins were played by one actor. Not only was that great directing, it was damn good acting. Playing twins, Underwood had to play them as similar, yet very distinct. The amount of subtle differences that he is able to convey between the two is amazing. Also, that guy does creepy really damn well.
Overall, I still find myself a very big fan of The Following. Whether I agree with the direction of the story or not, it’s not mine to tell and I can argue with the fact the it’s told well. It’s not easy to get a show that gets picked up these days and The Following has been renewed for a third season. My guess is that we will see a four season run when all things are said and done. So what happens next? It will be interesting to see. What kind of threat will Mark pose with his more aggressive twin and his manipulative mother dead? Who in the world came and picked him up?!? For the life of me I can’t thing of who is left that could have come and gotten him. That was a tremendous last scene. What becomes of Joe now that he is behind bars? My hope is that they get back to the premise of serial killers organizing. It doesn’t have to be Joe. I would like to see Joe in a Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs type role. Where Ryan visits him in prison and is forced to talk to him to get help with the case. There are a million different ways they could go with the story and in the end, that’s the great thing about The Following. You never know what is coming next. I can’t wait for season three so I can find out.