Fox’s “The Following” began its run last January with a gruesome introduction (remember the ice pick death?) and then rolled further downhill into absurdity as investigator Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) sought to capture killer and guru-to-a-flock-of-murderous-followers Joe Carroll (James Purefoy).
In the season finale, it appeared that Carroll died in a boathouse explosion but “The Following” has the type of plots that only the most gullible viewer would take at face value.
The slightly bigger cliffhanger question from the end of season one was whether Hardy’s love interest, Claire (Natalie Zea), would survive the entirely predictable twist ending in which she and Hardy both got stabbed. Her fate is cleared up in the opening moments of the episode (spoiler alert: Natalie Zea is no longer a cast member). Then “The Following” gets back to its primary interest in making life hell for Hardy.
Tonight’s season premiere — airing at approximately 10 p.m. following the NFC Championship Game on WPGH — offers a sense of what Hardy has been up to in the year that has elapsed since the events of the season finale. As written by series creator Kevin Williamson, there are flashbacks that fill in the details of Hardy’s coping mechanism (mainly alcohol) and some mopping up of his murder-in-the-woods of a suspect.
The premiere introduces new crazies who, without much explanation, pledge devotion to Carroll, including Luke (Sam Underwood), who murders a woman and then talks creepily to her dead body about his preference for touching over sexual intercourse.
Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) is one of the few surviving heroic characters to return in season two. He and Hardy get dragged back into the Carroll mess when the killer’s devotees don Joe Carroll masks — replacing last season’s Edgar Allan Poe masks — and slaughter passengers on a New York City subway car.
There’s just one survivor, art gallery owner Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen, “Boss”), who seems like a possible new romantic interest for Hardy if she doesn’t turn out to be a secret Carroll devotee.
And that’s the problem with “The Following”: Its attempts to be unpredictable are entirely predictable. It’s the kind of show where you expect Joe Carroll to finally show up in the closing moments of the episode — and guess what happens? He does!
In a teleconference with reporters last month, Mr. Williamson said he sees big differences between seasons one and two.
“I never envisioned the show to be such an FBI hunt,” he said. “I wanted to write all the other scenes, the scenes between Ryan and Claire or how Joe Carroll teaches his cult, their vulnerable minds and how he digs in there and gets them to turn their will and life over to him and how they fall into such a blind devotion. But when Ryan Hardy must save little Joey, then that’s the A-story until Joey is found. It has to be. And then you find yourself writing an FBI show.”
This year, Hardy is not part of the FBI, although the FBI is still in the show, and Mr. Williamson is getting to tell stories about Joe Carroll he thought of last season but never had time to work into the series.
“Joe Carroll is a delicious character and he has these followers and we met a handful of them last year but we never got to live with too many of them,” he said. In part that was because they were always getting killed. “The show doesn’t feel as violent as last year. Remember the brutality and the body count? That’s not the show we’re telling this year. I’m not gonna pretend it’s not scary and violent, but it’s a different feel and tone.”
If he says so.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.