April 28, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Following”


It was no easy feat for the second season of THE FOLLOWING be even more idiotic and vicious than its Season 1.  But devotion to craft pays off in the end, and series creator Kevin Williamson and his writer/producer partners managed to do it, with tonight’s season finale capping the accomplishment.

Where to begin in describing this wreck of a show?  An ordinary dopey thriller might pull out the old trope of having a person seemingly killed in the previous season’s finale turn out to be alive, but The Following did it twice.  Yes, both the seemingly immolated Poe-obsessed serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), nemesis of ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), and Joe’s innocent, very much stabbed ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea), love of Ryan’s life, were revealed in the course of the season not to be at all dead, Joe through some balderdash involving switched DNA, and Claire with the aid of some ER personnel who deserve bonuses.  Actually, the season pulled this trick three times, if you count identical twin psychopath Luke (Sam Underwood), who appeared to have been shot by FBI agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), but who turned out to be wearing a bulletproof vest.

Then there were the multiple episodes wasted in pretending that the sole survivor of a massacre committed on a NY subway train–apparently by Joe’s cult members–seemingly proper and gracious art gallery owner Lily (Connie Nielsen), was anything other than a mass murderer herself and orchestrator of the massacre, not to mention a collector of young international psychopaths who she took traveling around the world with her identical twin maniac sons .  (The very best part of this plotline was the fact that when the NYPD and FBI did their background check on Lily after the subway attack, not only did they fail to catch her insanity, they also didn’t notice that she was a billionaire.)  And the ease with which Joe took over someone else’s relatively peaceful cult, as he switched his muse from Poe to Jesus (well, really to himself) and transformed its members overnight into ruthless, sadistic killers.

You get the idea.  All of this was in addition to The Following‘s continued happy lingering on the slaughter of innocents (without any of the aesthetic fascination of Hannibal), and its depiction of law enforcement officers as so stupid they wouldn’t pass muster in a Police Academy movie, as well as Ryan’s incredible vanishing heart condition and his now-you-see it-now-you-don’t alcoholism.  For Season 2, he acquired a perky NYPD detective niece Max (Jessica Stroup, from the 90210 reboot), whose place on the show was to say “You can’t do that–it’s crazy!   You’ll be killed!” before helping him do whatever it was.  She did, however, provide a surprise by living all the way through the season, while sadly, crazy Emma (Valorie Curry), Joe’s one genuinely creepy acolyte, did not.

The season finale, written by Williamson and directed by Marcos Siega, was as misguided and unsatisfying as the rest.  It turned into, of all things, a road trip buddy movie, when the twins abducted Claire and Ryan had to break Joe out of the church where he was merrily killing people live on the internet (including an evangelist–who was compelled by Joe to slit his own throat–and the man’s son), so that they could rescue her together.  Once they’d arrived at Casa Crazy Twin, they (and we) were subjected to 10 solid minutes of Luke and Mark (or Mark and Luke) doing their sub-Norman Batesian whining at the manor house dinner table about their mother being dead, while never quite killing anyone in revenge.  This led to what was supposed to be The Big Reveal about Ryan, that as a teenager he’d tracked down and killed the man who murdered his father, and had never forgiven himself for it–which was the set-up for the final indignity, when Ryan let Joe live (even though Joe had previously suborned mass murder from inside his jail cell, and had escaped prison to kill even more), in order to redeem himself and become A Better Person.  No, actually the final indignity was that Joe, Luke and Mark may all have survived the finale (one of the twins had been shot multiple times, but on this show, that doesn’t mean anything), making them eligible to return in Season 3.  (The final minute tried to make anyone care who was mysteriously driving the twins away from the scene of the crime.)

It’s anyone’s guess why FOX renewed The Following for another season, since its ratings have been at a low ebb for weeks, and it’s not a cheap show to produce, what with Bacon (a very fine actor who hasn’t changed the expression on his face in 2 seasons) and Williamson attached.  Presumably it has some foreign or ancillary value, although with only 15 episodes produced each season (at Bacon’s behest), even that’s limited.  In any case, it will be back, good news only for those in desperate need for a show to hate-watch now that Smash is no more.  (Hey:  combine the two and stage The Following as a musical, and then you might have something.)


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."