As far as anyone can tell, Claire has only done one cool thing in two seasons of The Following: kicking Luke about the legs and shoving him into a small room while she escaped. In the end, it didn't really amount to anything (except for giving her a way to find Joe Carroll alone) which is why it's the only cool thing she’s done. It yielded a zero-sum situation, which is no small feat considering Claire's heretofore infamous knack for only causing chaos and melancholy in all that she surveys. For her to do something and have it not be the total ruin of best-laid plans is the best we can hope for.
The Woman Who Was Supposed to Stay Dead, the same one who volunteered to be kidnapped on a number of occasions seemingly just to give Ryan Hardy fits, rose up near the end of the season to obliterate the momentum of what had been an interesting, if not particularly compelling, run of episodes. While The Following's second season was far from perfect, it’d found a balance that Season 1 lacked. Instead of letting the flawed scheming psychopaths slither away from capture with the aid of bumbling law enforcement, Season 2 had more to do with subterfuge and a complete undermining of that force. Somehow, it’s easier to accept a mole thwarting an investigation than it is to watch supposedly trained police officers derp around obliviously before ending up as human knife blocks or close-range target practice for Joe Carroll’s untrained militia of serial killers.
The Following has always traded in the police and federal agency clichés that we’ve all grown accustomed to in media. Scanning through security camera footage to find a grainy face only takes moments. There are no consequences for vigilantism (in fact, you might sometimes get your own special task force as a reward). You can enhance anything. This is simply the superhuman ability we’ve come to expect from the FBI. But with the upgrade to the feds' IQs out of the way and the writers’ room finding ways for Carroll to slip the handcuffs without relying on a botched raid or gullible cops, Season 2 was able to focus on other things that happened in the show.
Like those creepy twins! Luke and Mark seemed so important at the beginning of the season, and the possibility of a merger was interesting (though less interesting than two psychotic families clashing against each other like mob bosses fighting for territory). But even though the Dead Ringers were super creepy and utterly skilled at making an entire audience hate them and their petulance, their story disappointingly petered out by the time Carroll usurped his cult of Second Wave followers. There was a battle, sort of, where Lily’s army of mercenaries raided Korban and then Hardy, by infiltrating the cult, took out a good percentage of those fools. But the story never lived up to the promise of what could have been. And that was kind of a theme for the season.
I’m not sure what the writers were planning for Mandy, but it couldn’t have been that she would hang out with Carroll and whimper for most of the season before being needlessly killed. She was the source of ire for Carroll for about 15 minutes after the twins had their way with her, but there was really no fallout. Hopefully, The Following initially had a plan for Mandy outside of “diversity,” but it was handicapped by the different changes in trajectory. The promise she showed was quickly swallowed by the twins. The twins’ promise was (mostly) swallowed by the cult. And then the cult was then swallowed entirely by Claire.
These developments wouldn’t've been so problematic if they hadn't come about so unceremoniously. Like Lily Gray falling stiffly to the ground after Mike shot her, with no pageantry or narrative gravity. Or the church scene in “Forgive.” What had once been The Following's dominant storyline, where these cultists were fleet of knife with nary a second thought to real-world ethics, ended with the lights shutting off and the SWAT team killing every single one. Obviously, if a cult went up against a SWAT team like that without equal weapons or any leadership, that’s what would happen. It felt like the end of that arc for the series was put out of its misery because Hardy and Carroll were heading toward the new narrative hotness. Sorry, blood cult. You’re old news.
And, what’s worse, it was all for Claire. UGH, Claire. Looking at Natalie Zea’s face when Weston went to visit her in Witness Protection was enough to make my eyes roll straight back into my head. She was much better off as the haunting spirit that guided Hardy toward vengeance. Keeping her alive seemed like an unnecessary wrinkle in a series where our main characters already had plenty of motivation. Both of them getting distracted by Claire’s safety was too much, especially after having to watch Claire actively work to make everything worse. “Stay in Witness Protection, Claire, because it’s safer for you.” NO. I DON’T WANNA. “Hey, Claire, how about you don’t tell the world you’re alive and you stay in a safe place so you can’t be used as a hostage?” NO. I WANT TO TALK TO A REPORTER AND GAS MY SECURITY DETAIL. “Hey, Claire, despite you being completely terrible, I still love you.” NO. YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED.
Within the space of an episode, everything that’d happened prior to that point was basically reduced to filler. Sure, we were introduced to the twins and the extraordinarily hard life of Michael Weston, but everything Joe Carroll had done previously was consumed by Claire getting kidnapped. Hardy turned on a dime from moving on (albeit with a woman who had to become a victim for him to like her) because Claire arrived and blew everything up. I don’t love this show. I couldn’t even say I like this show (honestly, I usually tell people to stay far away from it). But I felt bad for fans in that moment, when the twins magically showed up at the inn and used Claire as leverage. That was disappointing.
However, it did create the opportunity for what The Following has basically been working for from the beginning: Carroll and Hardy working together toward a common goal. I liked that idea better when it looked like they'd be joining forces against a common foe in Lily Gray. But The Following went in a different direction by resurrecting its so-last-season objective of bringing the two together. It was fun to see them react to each other despite the nag inside of me repeatedly insisting that these two wouldn’t work together because they'd compete with each other. I can just hear Kevin Williamson in my head, telling me that the reason Ryan Hardy didn’t shoot Joe Carroll at the end of "Forgive" was rooted in the men’s mutual respect for one another, their hidden admiration. Or not-so-hidden admiration. The ride to the twins’ mansion, where Carroll was sitting in the back of the cop car driven by Hardy, was basically Carroll’s Kevin-Spacey-as-John-Doe moment, complete with some knowledge of which Hardy was ignorant.
They rescued Claire and, with Mike and Max’s help, Hardy saved the day while also being able to have Carroll arrested. Mark got away with Luke’s body (though Luke has taken more bullets than a victim of the Valentine’s Day Massacre this season, so who knows whether or not he’s alive), but The Following pushed the reset button on Carroll and Hardy’s relationship. It seems like it’s all set up for a very Silence of the Lambs situation, where Carroll may help Hardy go after Mark next season. Because, as long as the show keeps getting new seasons, Hardy is never going to get that future everyone keeps telling him he deserves.
It was a low bar, but The Following Season 2 was better than The Following Season 1. Whether that made it a good show is debatable. And in that debate match, I'm squarely on the "no" side. The Following is still ridiculous and convoluted; it demands such daring leaps of faith before viewers can suspend enough disbelief to think that any of these events could ever happen, even in the fantastical story world the show has created. But there was marked improvement, development for the important characters, and a table-setting for something different next year. Because we can’t have Carroll escape the clutches of law enforcement again to start another cult next year. Can we? Right? Praise Joe, I hope not.
– A case could be made regarding the lack of importance that characters of color seem to hold on The Following with regard to the numerous deaths on the series. For example, Jamel got blasted by Hardy but earned barely a mention, while Lily, Luke, and Mark blubbered about Giselle being stabbed. Sami recieved the same amount of sympathy. And Carroll left Mandy for dead. At least Emma got to fight for her death. The others barely had a chance. By the end of the season, we had a serious white-out. I understand keeping to horror cliches, but that’s one we probably could’ve skipped.
– Not much was earned this season, but I really liked what the writers did with the Max/Mike relationship. Particularly since both of those fools deserve some love and affection. Of the people who remain on the show, those characters are the ones I've found myself most interested in, and I'm surprised they could keep that relationship flirty and passionately concerned for the entire season without succumbing to the temptation of rolling around in the sheets. Hardy found the time to make it with Carrie Cooke but his staff—the woman who worries incessantly about her uncle and the man who suffered a great deal just by being associated with that same uncle—barely had time to gaze longingly at each other in between finding ways to rescue the old man from himself. But The Following gave the couple some moments without being over the top. And that’s something to praise on a series like this.
– If you don’t count the mercenaries Hardy shot while defending himself out of Korban (who may've all been wearing kevlar), Hardy and Carroll's body counts were just about even. In fact, Hardy killing Carroll would’ve pushed him ahead. For Hardy: Jamel, Giselle, Sami, the Huntsman, one of the henchmen charged with getting Luke out of the hospital, and the guard in the crowd at Korban (possibly the guard outside of Korban, too, but we never really saw him kill the guy). For Carroll: the preacher in Arkansas, the girl in the cage, the Russian, Julia, Micah, Preston Tanner, and Tim. I was, of course, tickled that the show mentioned how Hardy has killed more people than Carroll, cumulatively.
– The season finale had its meta moments, as Kevin Williamson is wont to include. Meditations on Hardy being “the good guy” and the aforementioned “who’s the real serial killer” debate filled the dinner scene. By the time we're done with Williamson’s oeuvre, I’m pretty sure we'll be able to apply for college credit at the University of Phoenix or something.
– Really? You get Charles S. Dutton and you give him five minutes of screen time? Seeing as how I’d generally rather be watching reruns of Roc than The Following, I see that as a crime.
– Face-touching is very important in this show. Mark freaking out about having his face touched forced me to notice how many times it happens. It seems like any time a serial killer wanted to swindle, con, or display any kind of emotion, he went for the face cradle. Emma was super into it.
– Much like the cultists on this season, whenever a main character on this show dies, I feel like they’re going “home,” free from the bonds of this pit. You’re free now, Valorie Curry. Fly away, little butterfly.
– I like Tom Cavanaugh and I respect him for trying new things as an actor. Is it so wrong that I just want Ed back, though? Or at least for someone to make it available for me to download in a quality format and not as a VHS dub? Please, NBC. Just do it. Come on. Ten dollars if you do it. TEN BUCKS, NBC.
– So what do you think is in store for next season? Is Luke really dead, or is he the horror villain cliché of psychopathic invulnerability? Who did Mark get into the car with? How will Hardy get pulled back in? What will Max and Mike's 'ship name be? I'm going with Mikey-Max. But I'm open to suggestions.
What did you think of The Following's finale, and the season as a whole? Who do you think was driving the truck? What are you expecting in Season 3?