The Following: Season 1 - An overview of the hits and misses
Review by Rob Carnevale
THE first season of serial killer drama The Following came to an end on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday night (April 30, 2013), and pretty much summed up all that’s good and bad about the show.
Occasionally brilliant, sometimes frustrating and quite often downright silly, this was a suitably tense final episode that put everyone – viewers included – through the emotional wringer.
Of the plus points, the ultimately futile search for FBI agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) was a series highpoint. Last seen being abducted and buried alive in a coffin (in scenes reminscent of CSI and Buried), the opening moments of the finale were dedicated to the efforts of Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) to finding and saving her.
It allowe for a genuinely emotional final exchange between the three of them, via phone, in which Parker absolved Hardy of blame in her death and told Weston to continue to be a good man.
Parisse has been one of the show’s most consistent performers. Her character arc has been great to watch, while her compassion has been brilliantly relayed. Her death was therefore all the more shocking and sad. As Ryan shed a tear, so did we.
But it was a measure of the way in which the writers of The Following liked to stretch credibility that the manner of Parisse’s death felt more contrived than it should. How could Joe have known the way things would play out? A lot had to happen correctly, amid a great deal of chaos, for Debra to be captured in the first place. It was one of several occasions where, upon closer scrutiny, The Folllowing wasn’t anywhere near as clever as it would have you believe.
The remainder of the finale was then about finding serial killer Joe (James Purefoy) and preventing him from killing his ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), as per the bonkers finale of his book.
Again, this was good and bad. The interplay between Joe and Claire and, eventually, Ryan, was nicely done with Purefoy, especially, tapping into the right amount of crazy. Early on, his ownership of his murders was brilliantly realised.
While the actor’s ability to deliver a winning put-down or absurd statement was never more apparent than when informing Hardy that Claire had stabbed him with both a knife and a fork, so there wouldn’t be much opportunity for any real fighting between them.
Purefoy has delivered the good as Joe, even if the manner in which he has been used hasn’t always convinced. There was not always enough time devoted to finding out more about him rather than dishing it between his less interesting followers.
And while his run-ins with Ryan were always good value, again there wasn’t enough of them.
The big question remains, though – is Joe dead? Word from America suggests perhaps not, especially given a second series beckons. We’d like to see Purefoy back, even though his spectacular [and explosive] ‘demise’ would suggest the writers have one hell of a task in pulling that character out of the fire.
That just leaves the very final scene in which both Claire and Ryan are stabbed by the latter’s next door neighbour and long-time booty call. Can we really be expected to believe that one or both willl survive? It would undermine credibility if they both did.
But The Following has proven it is seldom afraid to opt for the silly. And it has been to the show’s sustained detriment that it has had viewers going ‘as if’ more times than it has impressed them with its cleverness.
Paramount among those frustrations is the number of followers who had been allowed to visit Joe in prison without apparently being vetted. It was only in the final hour that the Feds decided to screen all those past visitors in the hope of identifying more suspects. Is the FBI really that stupid?
A second frustration is the number of times Ryan Hardy has been allowed to go it alone in spite of being unfit to do so. Shawn Ashmore’s likeable Weston is particularly under-used and poorly served in this regard, continually being demoted to the sidelines. If Ashmore returns, his character deserves a much stronger arc as the actor has continually risen above his material to create someone genuinely worth rooting for.
There should also be more tension-filled moments like the search for Debra in the finale than action-packed, 24-style confrontations that ultimately heighten the stupidity of certain creative decisions. Having Hardy and company close in repeatedly on followers, only to have the tables turned on them by surprise revelations and betrayals is becoming old. The writing needs to be more intelligent than that, as do the personnel on both sides.
That said, The Following can be great when it wants to be. Bacon is a terrific lead, Purefoy his equal as the main nemesis (who may or may not be back for more) and there have been several strong episodes that elevated the series above the average.
A sharper focus and tighter plotting may well help to ensure that the sophomore run of The Following overcomes such flaws to become genuinely riveting week in, week out. As good as this first run was at times, you always felt it could have been so much better.