Chuck Wendig posted a while ago about endings, specifically TV series finales. He talks about how difficult it is to get it “right”, and posts a list of things that a finale will ideally accomplish. So now seems like an excellent time to talk about The Following. (Warning: mild spoilers ahead.)
From season one, episode one, The Following was a show I looked forward to every week. It quickly set a precedent of expected and unexpected violence. You knew after the first couple of episodes not to get too attached to a particular character because once you did, he or she would be gone. People died – often in a blaze of bloody glory – and they died frequently. The body count was high, the tension even higher. What else would you expect from the writer of Scream?
The Following was not a perfect show by any means. It had its fair share of missteps and screw ups, particularly in season three (which turned out to be its final season). Season one introduced us to a spectacularly creepy and insidious cat-and-mouse game between former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). For every step forward Hardy and his team took toward the recapture of Joe, Joe changed direction, leading the team on a sick and twisted chase.
Season two opened with the uncertainty of Joe’s whereabouts and introduced us to the diabolical twins Luke and Mark. The twins quickly became two of my favorite characters (after Emma, another of Joe’s followers). Delighting in the pain and havoc of causing death, the twins would stage murderous tableaux, puzzling Hardy and the team and leave them scrambling to find the link between their killings and Joe Carroll. When the season ended with Joe in custody, I had to wonder what the show would do next.
The third and final season of The Following was uneven and chaotic. It had its highs – the box, the depiction of Joe’s execution (more on that in a minute), Michael Ealy’s portrayal of a psychopath – but the back and forth between Joe and Ryan, that foundation of the show, was missing. They tried to lead viewers away from the basic premise of the show and in a new direction, a World Without Joe Carroll, and didn’t quite succeed. Too many threads to follow, too loosely tied together to be plausible, and week after week I hoped Joe would find a way to escape prison and live to taunt Ryan another day.
The show pushed the envelope from the beginning, with its ever-increasing body count and creative ways of killing off characters. After a while, all the death and destruction became predictable, but season three had a few new tricks up its sleeve. The box was one of them. I’m still surprised they managed to get away with that on network television (apparently, so were the showrunners). Even more surprising was Joe’s execution. From everything I’ve read about lethal injection, it looked like the show gave viewers a realistic depiction of what it’s like. It was easily one of the most disturbing and uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen. And while season three suffered from the too-many-killers-in-the-kitchen scenario, the addition of Michael Ealy’s Theo (and how he was written) had the potential to drive the show into season four.
Which brings me to the series finale. The cancellation notice came down in April, after the story arc had been plotted out and the scripts likely already written (and possibly filmed). Now, I like my endings nebulous. I don’t want all the loose ends tied neatly in a bow. But the ending of The Following left too much room for speculation. It’s one thing to know Ryan’s off to seek vengeance. It’s another not to have more information on the shadowy enemy he’s fighting against. The clues dropped about the bigger nemesis behind Theo came too late in the season and only served to confuse and frustrate.
While not a complete disappointment, the series finale of The Following didn’t tick all the boxes. It succeeded in making me want more, and I won’t get that more. Ryan’s out there, prowling the world to rain destruction on his enemies, and I won’t get to see it.