So how many of you thought Carroll was going to climb out of the rubble like the Shredder at the end of Secret of the Ooze?
It's because everything about Carroll's "demise" seemed to be too impossible, too unlikely, and too wrong-way theatrical in order to make sense. It why I'm going to leave "demise" in quotes until we get more evidence than dental records from charred remains and the early results of a DNA test. I mean, if a vindictive girl from Rosewood can dupe those things, anything is possible with Carroll and his sleeper cell followers. And there are days when I think the high school girls on Pretty LIttle Liars are a collective Sherlock Holmes compared to the FBI on this show.
Before we dive into what Carroll's "exit" means to the series, let's discuss another important and much more conclusive end: When Parker ended up in that box at the end of the penultimate episode, I think we assumed with 85 percent certainty that Ryan Hardy was going to save the day and Parker would be all, "Oh, my hero," wrapping her frail arms around his neck. Imagine my surprise.
In a Q&A with the cast and creators, Kevin Williamson said Annie Parisse wanted to go out with a "bang" and, but while she did go out with a bit of theater, her death was more of a whimper. While she's mostly been a straight-faced jester for most of the series, the show tried to build her up a little, sneaking the book in at the beginning to throw you, dedicating an entire episode to her flashbacks and building a history and motivations, only to have her die whispering and for no greater purpose than to serve as a stepping stone along the way to Carroll's hideaway.
Yes, we had a lot of fun poking at her inability to point and control a weapon and her special brand of spineless leadership. But this was supposed to be a character who meant something to Ryan (remember their bonding moment in the apartment after Claire got herself kidnapped?) and she basically died in complete contribution to Carroll's plan. She had a little fight in the beginning, but disappointingly, she was little else than a ticking time bomb for the remainder of her life. Obviously that's the nature of being trapped in a box but even in death, Parker had nothing to offer but a reason to add to Hardy's body count. And that, generally, is not a difficult thing to do.
However, Hardy did honor her passing by doing what she was so good at: identifying the right thing to do and then doing the complete opposite. Finding out that Hardy and Weston had, somehow, thwarted a part of Carroll's "carefully" constructed plan (I'm using a lot of sarcastic quotes today) should've been a boon. Ryan had an extra agent who could hold a gun (already a step ahead of his previous backup) and was willing to shoot with as much abandon as Ryan, and Ryan decided that was the moment to start playing by Carroll's rules. "Nope," he said. "I have to do this alone."
Why would Hardy not use the advantage? Nothing could be clearer: Because he was afraid that, if the story didn't go as planned, Claire would die? If that's actually the case, that's something I rationalized later and not at all how I felt during the episode. I was perplexed, almost as stunned as Weston seemed to be himself, when Ryan discharged his weapon at an agent just so he could do the stupidest of all possible things for that situation.
Though I suppose you can't argue with results. Ryan Hardy did end up putting Carroll in a very awkward, if not fatal, position. I wasn't impressed with the death and that's what I meant earlier by "wrong-way" theatrics. We made fun of the fire death when it came around during Episodes 2 and 3 because it lacked that Romantic-era emotional connection. Setting someone on fire is very dramatic, but it lacks a certain personal touch. Emma's murders were all close-range and heartfelt, accompanied by that gentle shushing. Carroll's murders were also hands-on and close-range. Pushing Carroll into the fire and then letting explosions "incinerate" him lacked a certain symmetrical quality. Carroll was supposed to be Hardy's rival, the face of his life as a shambles. the being that defined him. And all Hardy did was uneventfully push him into the nearest deathtrap. I'm not saying Ryan should've stabbed him in the gut while they talked about their feelings, but there may have been room for a little nod to their being two sides of the purported coin they tend to discuss so much. Besides, no one dies from being stabbed in the gut on this show.
So what does Carroll's "exit" do? For starters, The Following has eliminated its big bad without establishing a new one. Basically, it means there's a cult of followers that has no leader. What those cult members will do without someone to remind them that death is pretty presents three options: disabuse them of their worship, beg for them to shift their obsessive devotion to a new leader, or inspire the orphaned followers to continue with his "work" in the name of their fallen martyr. So far, with Molly getting all stabby on Hardy and Claire in the last scene, it looks like it might be the latter. Another gut-stabbing to a character that really can't die. Seriously, no one can die from a gut wound on this show, can they?
The finale presents an interesting challenge for a show that's sold itself as a cat-and-mouse game between a couple of animals that are really mediocre at toying with each other. The cliffhanger was unique in not addressing that problem but simply showing that violence will still happen, whether Joe orders it or not. There was no newly annointed villain or torch-passing. Molly's presence just reminds everyone that the cult members still being at-large is a danger to them all—especially since, if Emma's reaction to in Mobile and Molly's continuance are any indication, they all seem to be real mad.
So that's season 1 of The Following. Thanks for sticking it out for the first fifteen episodes with me, despite the show's attempts to turn us away. You've made this a lot of fun.
– You can tell when Williamson writes a script because, all of a sudden, everyone on the show is preempting any criticism about the story by making the characters announce it first. Claire calling Joe "predictable" and Ryan saying the ending is overwrought give yet another indication that the writers on this show know what they have. Williamson is a grade-A thunder-stealer.
– When will people on this show stop trying Ryan? He's given them every reason to believe that he will shoot, maim, and torture anyone he thinks will hinder him, yet the sniper was like, "You won't hurt me." Yes. Yes, he will. This show is almost more of an advocate for "enhanced interrogation" than anything 24 did.
– So Claire is apparently noble? Did you catch that about her at all during this series? How she was always thinking of others when she got kidnapped so she could see her son? Or how she was always taking care of people when she was yelling at Ryan? They really tried to drill "noble" into us, but I keep remembering "harpy."
– Joe Carroll the serial killer trying to shrink Claire's head while he held her captive, trying to tell her how powerful denial can be and how everything is not her fault, felt like a cuckold being reassured by an adulterer. I understand the impulse, but it's so wrong.
– That said, probably the best line of the season was Carroll demanding that Claire not shoulder any responsibility for the deaths of those he killed because that steals from how special they are to him. "I earned them. I own them. They are mine." It was the one time since the pilot where you felt like this guy really was a killer and not just a bookish boss of the world's most eclectic and ineffectual mob.
– The Curse is a really dumb title for Carroll's book. What a hack.
– Until I was told, I had no idea that the girl in Mobile was Emma. This show really tests my facial recognition.