The Following: Season Two catch up
Spoilers for Season One in the first paragraph, for the first half of Season Two in the rest of the article.
How do you follow up a successful, if schlocky, first season? That’s the question The Following needs to answer. Year one was good fun at points, had an interesting relationship between its strong villain and central protagonist, but was flaky in its logic and character behavior, as well as seriously lacking in the realism stakes. Think of it as 24 for the serial killer genre. We take a look at the first five episodes of the second season here, to see if it's as preposterous as the first.
Quick recap of where we were at the end of season one, Joe (James Purefoy) is dead, Ryan (Kevin Bacon) and Claire (Natalie Zea) have been stabbed. And that’s exactly where we pick it up, tying up the fact they haven’t brought Natalie Zea back this time round by killing her; good decision, her character had nowhere to go. So, Claire’s gone and we shift on to a year later. Ryan’s getting his life back together; he’s been sober for six months, moved to New York City and is teaching. All very nice, all very boring for our dynamic, pacemaker fitted, former FBI man. Luckily then a group of proper crazies are determined not to let Joe’s cult die out and there’s a brutal attack on a subway with just one survivor, Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen), who isn’t as innocent as she seems. Anyhow, some stuff happens, Ryan is temporarily dragged back into the FBI fold, along with Mike (Shawn Ashmore), there’s a new boss (Valerie Cruz) who is an exact copy of their old boss, the late Debra Parker (Emily Kinney). Ryan goes rogue and gets the boot. Then comes the big reveal…
Joe is alive; well it would have been a big reveal had you managed to avoid spoilers and James Purefoy’s name in the titles at the start of the episode. A whole bunch of complicated and slightly unexciting things happen, Joe’s old lover Emma Hill (Valorie Curry) returns, the subway killers are revealed to be twins who are the sons of Lily Gray, the ringleader of the whole thing. Eventually she and Joe meet up and that’s where it gets interesting.
Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy is arguably the least interesting of the main characters, his motivation is purely revenge this time around and he’s willing to go to implausible lengths to get it. Some of his actions are just plain nonsensical; why his NYPD niece, played by Jessica Stroup, follows him around even after saying she’s “enabling him” is a mystery. Having thrown every disadvantage the scriptwriters could, including a physical disability (his pacemaker), an addiction (alcoholism), the loss of someone close (Claire Matthews), there aren't many places left to go. It all leaves Hardy as a bit one dimensional.
Much more interesting are the bad guys. James Purefoy returns with relish, to his role as the clever, though clearly unhinged, sociopathic serial killer and cult leader Joe Carroll. He’s chewing all the scenery he can get his hands on, even with the gigantic beard he sports for the first couple of hours. But is the character losing some of his charm and persuasion? Certainly Emma is not as easily manipulated, neither is Lily Gray who is arguably more menacing than Joe. Not only is she dangerously insane herself she has the beginning of her own cult, “her family” as she refers to them. She has taken Joe’s cult and built on it, finally getting the most important person under her control, Joe himself.
Despite being a very average first five episodes we’re finally at the point where it’s beginning to get interesting. So far it’s been a bit of a rehash of the first series but Joe and Lily working together adds a different dynamic to it. For Ryan now there are two dangers, and you feel on balance Joe is also losing control of his own situation and destiny; for a clever man he is very easily distracted and manipulated. Where to from here? Who knows, but hopefully to a more interesting place than we’ve come from.