One of the most disturbing programs to ever air on American broadcast TV, from the very beginning The Following has felt less like a network crime drama than a small screen horror movie of the week.
Frequently defaulting to gruesome torture as opposed to just coloring a little outside the lines of the macabre to build suspense, although the show's penchant for gore and depravity was established in the show's original pilot (as a fitting ode to its Edgar Allan Poe inspired Gothic horror origins), the use of shock for shock's sake only increased with time.
Testing our patience as well as our stomachs, the Kevin Williamson created work of Seven era David Fincher style Neo-Noir still had its moments in season two.
However, much like a superstitious villain on the verge of getting caught, shortly after a genuinely surprising opening sequence of nerve-wracking episodes, the thrillingly original series began relying too heavily on the same M.O. that had initially set The Following apart early on.
And long before its cast members engaged in a 2015 web video spoofing both the show's paranoia as well as its frequent use of double agents and triple crosses (via the twists that had once floored us), The Following's overreliance on fake outs had started to grow stale to savvy viewers both on social media and at home midway through its rollercoaster second season.
Having embraced its original status as a cult favorite much too literally by doubling or – depending on your math – tripling down on the idea of killer cults, the middle installment of the largely chaotic albeit still compelling serial thriller required its audience to suspend disbelief in a greater way than ever before.
Buoyed by The Following's top notch cast however, the series has rallied along with the lead character played by Kevin Bacon who’s in a much better place literally and figuratively as its final season kicks off.
Of course, we know the tranquility won’t last long but thankfully, when the show’s trademark horror suddenly begins, this time around the writing matches the intensity of its performers including breakout star Michael Ealy who rivals James Purefoy's diabolical mastermind Joe Carroll in terms of both spine tingling moments and evil supremacy as what Joss Whedon would call this season’s “big bad.”
Making the most of the natural chemistry of its characters and character actors – namely Kevin Bacon's (anti)hero Ryan Hardy and Purefoy's aforementioned villain – The Following revisits some of the alarming themes that it had been flirting with from the very first episode, which similar to the show's fake-outs and gore have only grown more apparent over the years.
Going deeper into the existential arena of whether Hardy needs Carroll to remain the "hero," the show also starts to explore the psychological overlap between the two men who had originally been friends.
Although fascinating, this arc is pushed much too far – paying off incredulously in a handful of episodes that threaten to "jump the shark" with regard to The Following as Ryan Hardy goes completely off the rails. Still, thankfully knowing they needed to wrap things up in time for the conclusion, Williamson and company right this ship before long.
Aspiring to deliver something structurally and stylistically commensurate to the incredibly complex, corkscrew-like twists and turns of the vastly superior, intellectually demanding first season, fortunately for viewers, the storyline is much more focused in this, the show’s final outing.
While it still falls prey to contrivances and repetition as the final fifteen episodes make their way to the finish line, to The Following's immense credit, season three wastes no time trying to recapture the same tangible electric shock that made the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up during its critically acclaimed premiere year.
While truncated seasons also mean that a few characters are shortchanged – similar to ABC’s suspenseful soap How to Get Away With Murder, The Following is proof that TV is largely better served with quality versus quantity network orders of ten to fifteen episodes where creativity reigns supreme and filler is left on the sidelines as it is on cable channels.
Much like 24 which had served as a main source of inspiration for Bacon’s dark hero, a few plot strands are left dangling in the end, perhaps in the hope of a last minute renewal or even a standalone feature-length follow-up on any number of channels or platforms that might continue Ryan Hardy's plight to take out the serial killers that walk among us.
Nonetheless, thanks to a return to taut, twisty character-driven storytelling (versus big picture cult-minded gimmickry) as well as a firmer grasp on the type of paradigms that serve the show best, the third season of The Following serves as a worthwhile final chapter to Fox's forty-five episode daring Gothic horror series.
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