(Check out The Following on my TV ratings website, www.seriesmonitor.com)
In late January, FOX's The Following premiered for its second season. Having been a fan of the series since the pilot episode aired 367 days earlier, the incredible cliffhanger in the season 1 finale meant the season 2 premiere was among the top three premieres that I was most looking forward to leading into the 2013-2014 season.
In just 15 episodes, the creative team behind The Following told an impressive story. Beginning with the premiere, Lily Gray and the twins were introduced with no perceived relationship. Joe Carroll reappeared, became acquainted with Lily, before casting her and her twins aside and reuniting with Emma. Carrie Cooke became intimate friends with Ryan, and Claire appeared rather suddenly, shocking everyone except Mike who had known all along.
Among other storylines, Joe worked his way into the Korban cult, killed its leaders, and turned its members into his followers. We also met Joe's teacher, Dr Arthur Strauss. Max Hardy was introduced, one of the twins was kidnapped by Ryan and Mike, then broken out of the hospital. Lily killed Mike's father, Emma threatened Carrie and forced her to broadcast a message from Joe, and a priest antagonized the situation, causing Joe to retaliate by taking over his church, and last but not least, among many others, Lily and Emma were both killed by Mike and Claire respectively.
All up, that's a lot of storytelling, definitely a lot more than some other series with 24 episodes to tell it in.
Let's have a quick look at both seasons from the perspective of the storylines and characters.
In season 1, The Following's storyline was fairly simple - a protagonist vs an antagonist. Joe Carroll escaped his maximum security prison and taunted Ryan Hardy whilst Emma kidnapped Joey and used him as leverage to run rings around Claire Matthews and Ryan. Edgar Allen Poe was the central inspiration for Joe's actions, most of which were planned in advance by Joe, along with pre-orgaqnised allies, and there were followers of Carroll everywhere you turned your head since every possible law enforcement organisation had been infiltrated.
The primary problem I had with season 1 was that Joe Carroll and his followers were just too good. They couldn't be beaten at anything. Whenever intel was required, or someone needed to be removed, it happened immediately with little hesitation or things going wrong. Despite the protagonists doing their best, they couldn't do anything to bring the standoff to an end because Carroll was too good.
This led many to come to the conclusion that Ryan and his fellow law enforcement officers were rather useless, walking into traps, making constant dumb mistakes and errors of judgement, and missing obvious signs that something wasn't right. And while this conclusion isn't entirely wrong, the main issue was that the storyline was constantly geared towards the antagonists, so the protagonists stood no chance at the end of the day
The second season shifted the playing field substantially, with the creative team giving the series a much needed shake-up, because there is no way the format of the first season would have washed with viewers for a second time round.
For starters, the creative team focused on keeping Joe and Ryan apart and out of direct contact, while giving them both some solidly designed and cleverly intersecting storylines. This meant that Ryan and Joe didn't spend each episode butting heads, with Joe always winning like in the first season, but the connection between both characters strengthened and increased in complexity at the same time, which made for some entertaining and powerful moments because the frequency of the interaction was drastically reduced.
In addition, and most importantly for me, the creative team made the storyline much, much more sporadic and unpredictable. The protagonists made steady progress in winning the battle over the antagonists, but not without plenty of hiccups and surprises along the way. The addition of new characters to both teams, along with the introduction of what you could say was a third team in the format of the twins and Lily, also spiced things up significantly as the interactions between the three teams occurred. It made for a more well rounded and entertaining season as a result.
To summarize the above, season 1 focused on the conflict between protagonists and antagonists with the antagonists almost always coming out on top thanks to better planning, infiltration, and sheer numbers. Season 2 brought in new characters and conflict while making the fight a lot fairer and the storylines more complex.
Let's look at the characters and how they changed this season.
In the premiere, both Ryan and Mike had found other jobs before being roped back in to hunt for Joe. Very early on, Ryan developed an appetite for death, as did Mike following the murder of his father. This was interesting to me because this was a break away from the pair's usual moral standards, and it's debatable who's moral compass was more absent or corrupted. Max Hardy didn't take long to become hooked on the same obsession Ryan had, and as the season progressed she herself became a bit more violent and supportive of the actions of her partners.
But for me, and I'd say the majority of viewers, it was the change we saw in Joe Carroll that caught my eye the most. In season 1, Joe was a man in complete control, and in the position of power, but in season 2, he had to start with nothing while maintaining a much lower profile than he would have been used to. His spontaneous decision-making was quite bizarre at times, but his long term decision-making seemed intact - this was proven in the way Joe rose to power over the Korban cult and manipulated Lily during the course of several episodes.
Characters who didn't develop a lot in my mind included Emma, Lily, and the twins. Emma developed a lot in the first season, but lacking the power she had back then, she hardly changed in season 2. Like Lily, she didn't survive to the end of the season, which probably explains why both weren't developed a lot. The same goes for the twins - they were their mothers' slaves for a time but began to change after her death. I'm betting they'll change significantly next season, dependent on whether one survives his gunshot wounds.
Looking at the technical aspects of the season, I have to say I was, once again, very happy. The handheld camera is used extensively in the series as a method of providing more urgency and intensity, which it does very successfully. The color reduction and darkened tint added in post-production is very effective at portraying darkness and evil, and has a way of drawing the viewer in as well. The simplistic, no frills wardrobe full of dark colors for, in particular, the female cast, goes hand in hand with the aforementioned cinematography. In the audio department, the use of backing tracks is infrequent at best, but the choice of backing track is almost always spot on. Any added score is almost always deep and dark, but doesn't ever get in the way of the dialog.
In the special effects area, The Following has a reputation for a high body count and lots of blood, the quantity of which is the key here. For some reason though, the amount of blood was pulled back significantly from the first season. That's not to say a lot less people died (though that is probably the case), rather less blood was used in said deaths. There were scenes where plenty of blood was present, but by the standards set by the first season, the word "plenty" means a lot less blood in season 2. I'm sure there will be the odd comment below which says I'm bloodthirsty, but that's not the case at all - it's a mere observation.
Finally, the actors deserve a mention as well. Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy lifted their game alongside the storyline, with both required to display a different side of their characters while also building that awkward chemistry. I thought Sam Underwood did an outstanding job playing both the twins - perhaps a spot on Orphan Black is on the cards for him. Shawn Ashmore was consistent, and did a solid job displaying several new emotions his character developed. Connie Nelson, Valorie Curry and Jessica Stroup were impressive as the main female leads for much of the season, and Natalie Zea slotted right back in when she returned later in the season. Sprague Grayden didn't make a great news reporter, but she did make a great love interest for Ryan, with some really nice scenes between the two
Looking forward to season 3, like it was at the beginning of season 2, anything could happen. Joe is now back behind bars, but it remains to be seen how he will rebuild, and what the next mission he will set himself will be. If the past is anything to go by, Joe doesn't like sitting on the sidelines, so he will make his presence and influence known in some way, shape or form. I have to say I was pretty shocked when Claire pretty much dumped Ryan in last night's season finale, meaning he now has to reestablish his purpose in life as if Claire doesn't exist. Again, if the past tells us anything, Ryan won't be able to accept Claire's decision.
One thing is clear though. The twins - either one or both - will return. I'm not at all convinced it'll be a one man band next year, and if Joe and Claire can be seemingly reincarnated then so can a twin. Those guys are nutcases, so what's a few gunshot wounds to them! But who picked them up in the pickup truck? Could it be their father? I'll leave that for you readers to speculate.
Thanks a lot for reading! I've thoroughly enjoyed the sophomore season of The Following, but it's always great to hear your thoughts, so please share them in the comments below! Remember you can see full ratings and statistics for The Following on my website, www.seriesmonitor.com/thefollowing
Posted by Jimmy Ryan at Tuesday, April 29, 2014 7 CommentsReviews The Following
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