I have a confession to make: I was worried that the season finale of The Following would be too good. That’s weird, right? To be concerned that a show so egregiously and aggressively bad in the bulk of its fifteen-episode first season would suddenly change tack and provide a satisfying hour of television? But you set higher expectations for season finales. The Walking Dead, in its first two seasons anyway, offered practically no reason to watch outside of its bookends. Solid premiere, crappy episodes to follow, solid finale. A crap sandwich! To think that the The Following would…follow (last one ’til fall!) that model made sense. But then this little show of ours — which is of course a pretty BIG show for FOX, and will be back next year — assured me this would NOT be the case last night. Hell, I knew it as soon as that kid took off his Poe mask in front of the police station: The Following season finale would be just as craptastic as all the episodes preceding it. For the sake of these recaps? I don’t even know what I would have done if it had been okay. Thank GOD things turned out the way they did.
Let’s rewind a second and remember where we left off after our penultimate chapter:
– Parker had been captured by some Followers and buried alive ala Ryan Reynolds in the movie Buried or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Vol. 2, but without the benefit of being the main character of her story.
– After she shivved him with a fork, thus turning the Hannibal Lecter cannibal trope completely upside-down, Joe absconded with Claire on a boat. Where to? NO ONE KNEW.
– And just in case this comes up: Hardy’s ex-girlfriend was still out there, still salivating at the prospect of writing Joe’s “final chapter.”
You guys good? You need to grab a bottle of Kettle One before we dive in? It’s going to be a long, boring ride!
Everyone at the FBI is freaking out in the wake of Parker’s disappearance, but freaking out in that weirdly nonchalant way we’ve come to expect from The Following version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its satellite offices. “Hardy, it’s Parker,” says the female black analyst whose character exists only to pass the phone to Hardy. “She wants to talk to you.” Does she? Does she want to talk to the main character of the show with whom she’s been partnered for this whole friggin’ serial killer investigation? Sorry, I’ve got to cool down — we’re like a quarter of the way in and, like bestselling author Joe Carroll, I’m already losing my mind. What Would Poe Do (WWPD)? So Hardy, polite, gets on the line and learns that a) Parker is in a box somewhere and b) NO, dammit, she doesn’t know where that is. “The call is untraceable!” yells black analyst. In one of my favorite recurring drinking triggers of this first season, Hardy and Weston look at a map to see if they can sort of intuit where their partner might be. Could she be in…DC? Bora Bora? DAMMIT, THERE’S NO TIME.
Sweet Claire is dislocated herself, waking in a dark room that shouldn’t surprise her because hey, everything in the set design is dark. Only it’s not just an unfamiliar room; it’s an unfamiliar place entirely. She steps outside to learn that she’s at a LIGHTHOUSE, aka the title of Joe’s first (less than successful) book. And all I can think is: narcissistic much? Claire might not even like lighthouses, Joe. Relationships are about embracing what your partner is into, even if it goes against your natural instinct to crazy-kill other human beings. And you wonder why she left you!
Hunting down Parker — who we learn has “3 to 5 hours of air,” based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations — Hardy and Weston manage to capture a Follower sniper. Which is great, right, but gosh darn it, we’ve seen time and again this season how Hardy’s “unique interrogation technique” will always get shot down by his tight ass superiors. Know what? NOT THIS TIME. “Do what you need to do,” says Hardy’s boss, not realizing the bureaucratic nightmare he’s just unleashed for himself and his department. But Hardy and his loose cannon protege are already wheeling their man into a tool shed, just LETTING LOOSE with a barrage of well-placed stomach kicks. It’s go time. “We’re not gonna kill you,” Hardy tells the guy. “But we’re gonna get really close.” Which, by Hardy’s bizarre worldview, means literally blinding their hostage with his own thumb. You can tell this is meant to be symbolic, some mirror to the woman gouging her eyes out in the pilot. “Joe and Hardy are twins, sort of!” we should be commenting right now on an episode recap, maybe this one. But it’s also played as a hyper-cool moment, the ultimate proof of Hardy’s devil-may-care badassery. SCREW EYEBALLS.
With the information gleaned from their hostage, Hardy and Weston have what they need to rush to Parker’s aid. Problem is, she…might not live to see them get there in time. Did someone say death scene over the phone? RING RING, DUDES, IT’S A MAJOR TURNING POINT IN THE EPISODE. “She’s scared, Ryan,” calm black analyst tells Hardy as she patches the two of them through. But not scared enough to offer some incredibly on-point advice and foreshadowing to our two heroes. To Weston: “you’re a good man. Don’t lose that.” To Hardy: “This is not on you. I knew the deal.” You helped practically nothing throughout the season, Parker, despite your background as a “cult expert.” And now, dying, you make things even worse for everybody. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE HORRIFIC EMOTIONAL AMMUNITION YOU HAVE JUST GIVEN THESE TWO GUYS?!
She dies on the phone, just her mouth visible in the enveloping darkness. It’s all very artful.
Hardy and Weston finally reach the burial site, where frantic digging does nothing to change Parker’s status as a dead person. Their Follower hostage chuckles nearby. “Little too late. Bummer.” And Hardy, in a moment that is no doubt meant to tell us that he is just as damaged as the infamous serial killer Joe Carroll, goes off the reservation and executes the guy at point-blank range. To be fair? Hardy has killed someone in almost every single episode this season. One more won’t send him any more to Hell.
Coming down off his murder-high, Hardy notices an envelope tucked into Parker’s coffin. Could it be…? Is it…? YES — the manuscript to Joe’s masterpiece, “The Curse,” which we’d seen him diligently working on between sex tape-watching sessions. Hardy reads. And it’s all very familiar. Maybe…too familiar. “How could he know exactly what was going to happen?” demands Hardy, shaken to realize the author-murderer he’s spent his life tracking might actually be some sort of warlock. Weston, convinced they don’t have to play by Joe’s rules, utters perhaps the finest line of the series thus far: “WE CAN CHANGE THE STORY.” (If right after this you screamed at your television “WE CAN CHANGE THE CHANNEL,” then tweet me so we can become best friends.)
That’s as good a cue as any to check back in with Joe and Claire, busy rehashing the plot of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (maybe?) and certainly the play “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Why didn’t Joe opt for a Virginia Woolf fixation? Dumb, Joe. Anyway — blah blah blah “I loved you once” blah blah “You just leapt into the arms of the lithe and free Ryan Hardy” blah blah hostage stabbing blah I LITERALLY CANNOT SEE ANYTHING THAT’S GOING ON. In a genuinely creepy moment, Joe murders some throwaway hostage in front of his ex-wife. She’d been crying about feeling responsible for all of his murders, like she had blood on her hands. “THAT is what it’s like to actually kill someone” he tells her, making a simple point in the most grandstanding way possible. Showboat!
It isn’t long before Hardy (having ditched Weston, the Mary “I can’t let them hurt you” Jane Watson to his alcoholic Spider-Man) surrenders himself to the Followers and is dropped off at the lighthouse, tied up alongside Claire and that dead hostage we just mentioned. Great family reunion, or greatest family reunion? Blah blah more idle chit-chat until Joe finally makes his move to murder Claire in front of Hardy. THEN Hardy summons his courage and tells Joe exactly what he thinks of his goddamned book:
“You know what they say about teachers, right? Those that can’t do…teach. I know all your trigger words. You’re a hack. Second-rate. Mediocre. Pretentious.” Joe manages to keep it together enough, at least until this part: “I’m bored with you. And I’m bored with Edgar Allan Poe.” FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHHHTTTTTTTT.
Bodies move around in space (I really do apologize but I can’t see anything on this show) until somehow, someway, Hardy and Joe’s tussle lands them in a boathouse full of gas tanks. A stray bullet, or match, who knows, ignites the tanks. FIRE. The punch-fight to end all punch-fights continues until finally, finally Hardy the scrapper throws Joe deep into the flames. There’s one brief moment where you think, “might Hardy save him? Is there some weird love here, or at least a sense that Hardy can’t go on without his arch-nemesis/favorite Goodreads author?” Then the boathouse blows up and, tropes of the genre be damned, I don’t see how you get out of that one. RIP Joe. RIP you magnetic, erratic warrior-poet.
The next morning…
Joey calls. Yay! Hopefully he’s with a referenced babysitter this go-around. Weston shows up (well after movie convention tells us he should have) all pouty that Hardy wouldn’t let him in on the final play. Calm down, buddy! That’s one less monologue about the creative process that you had to participate in! Joe, it would appear, is really, really dead. DNA and dental records corroborate. So what dangling threads remain?
We see Emma at some diner in Mobile, AL, wearing one of Keri Russell’s Americans wigs. She’ll be BACK, sure, but not right away. Parker’s definitely dead, and therefore not a Follower like I predicted. Roderick is definitely dead. Hardy’s friend in witness protection? No. The FBI agent who got stabbed in the eye? I mean, that’s a tough spot to get out of. THINK, FOG, THINK. Wait. Wait, I — I got it. THERE SHE IS, HARDY, THERE’S YOUR CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND STABBING YOU NOT IN THE BACK BUT RIGHT IN THE STOMACH OH HOW DID WE MISS THAT ONE.
Claire emerges from the bathroom (they were going to have a nice quiet date night) only to be greeted with the same enthusiasm. And there it all ends — hardy, bleeding out on the floor, while the love of his weird life falls down to join him, also bleeding out. Blood begets blood or something. “Nevermore.” I don’t know anymore. And that’s it for season one of The Following. Was it good? No. Could we recommend the show to even someone we’d like to victimize, in a Follower-lite sort of way? No, no. Were these recaps worth your time and attention? I don’t even know how to begin to think about how to answer the question. All we can say about this schizoid little show with the hard-on for literary deconstruction is that it happened. And of course: SEE YOU ALL NEXT YEAR!
Follow Henning on Twitter @HenningFog
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