In its second season, The Following remains trash that doesn’t even have the common courtesy to be self-consciously trashy. Despite the fact that serial-killer cult leader Joe Carroll’s (James Purefoy) rivalry with F.B.I. specialist Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is pulpy nonsense, the series is thoroughly humorless and blandly stylized, two facets which have sadly become synonymous with creator Kevin Williamson’s television work. However, it’s the show’s incessant emphasis on the helplessness and suffering of Carroll and company’s victims, while rarely taking full stock of the human fallibility of the murderers, that makes The Following particularly abhorrent.
These factors might have been mitigated by more compelling central characters, but as written, Carroll and Hardy are sculpted in risibly broad strokes. Carroll is depicted as a twisted intellectual, obsessed with literature and, of course, Edgar Allen Poe, whereas Hardy is an intuitive, big-hearted romantic, reckless enough to sweep Carroll’s wife off her feet, but always sincere. As the second season kicks off, Hardy is admittedly a bit harder, having gone rogue in the wake of a handful of personal tragedies, and now waits for the inevitable resurgence of his nemesis and the eponymous network of psychopaths. A massacre in a New York City subway car by men wearing Joe Carroll masks sets him off, serving as the inaugural death-laden set piece of the season, carefully calibrated to underline and highlight the “sexy” evilness of the murderers rather than their ugliness.
As expected, the season introduces new “followers” to the network, but no matter who they are, their only real function is to maintain the plot’s momentum, to give the writers an easy way to keep Carroll two steps ahead and provide the occasional grisly slaying. By broadly defining these characters as simply good or evil (Team Carroll vs. Team Hardy), the writers reduce a potentially fun series to a lifeless husk of a story.
There may be no more fitting symbol of what the series does wrong than the dark, ambient cover of CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” that closes the first episode of the season. A gloomy glop of boring synths and slow percussion, the song eradicates the buoyant personality and near-absurd delight of the original’s detailing of the apocalypse and effectively turns rambunctious attitude into faux-gothic posturing. The Following similarly takes one of the oldest genre conceits in the book, strips away all manner of personal detail, gallows humor, and the genuinely grotesque, and tries to sell what remains as horrifying instead of plainly sadistic.