Fox’s The Following was one of 2013’s biggest television surprises. After 14 narrative-heavy episodes, the season finale left us with our jaws on the floor. Just when viewers thought that Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Claire (Natalie Zea) had survived the Joe Carroll (Jame Purefoy) ordeal and were heading swiftly toward happily ever after, the compelling freshman season ended with a shocker that put an abrupt halt to that thought process, and left a lot of loose ends in its stead.
In a stunning example of storytelling at its peak, The Following returned with a season two opener that simply put made you cringe with expectation. After a short (recent) history lesson that answered any lingering questions from last season’s finale (and officially killed Claire off), we picked back up with our cast (or those who made it through season one alive) one year later, on the anniversary of Carroll’s alleged death – a date that should predictably make people in the world created by The Following a little on the nervous side.
Ryan is now the lone survivor of the final attack made by the original cult of Joe Carroll, and Mike (Shawn Ashmore) is holed up in Virginia dealing with the repercussions of it all. Both of these men took a significant beating, physically and emotionally in season one, which was still evident when we reunited with them after all this time. Although they largely shared in many of the more painful events leading up to Carroll’s defeat, in the time lapse between season one and two, it’s pretty obvious that they haven’t spent much time together. Other than a one-time run in at a bar, not completely at random, Mike’s attempts to reach out have been exclusively one-sided.
It’s not until a new cult makes a very dramatic introduction to the public that Ryan and Mike are pulled back into the thick of things, courtesy of the FBI. It’s also at this point in the episode that we are clued in to the fact that despite Ryan’s outward apathy toward the case and anything Joe Carroll-related, he has continued to follow it closely – not unlike Mike, except in a more closet psychopath type of way. For now, at least, these two men will be proceeding with the investigation from different sides; Mike is back with the FBI as a consultant on the case, whereas Ryan has chosen to avoid the bureau’s legal red tape this time around.
I suspect that part of Ryan’s motivation for remaining in New York had something to do with him thinking (read: paranoia) that Joe Carroll was in fact still alive. Although, we were also introduced to Ryan’s niece, Max (Jessica Stroup), on this episode. I’m pretty sure we were mislead to believe his only family member was an older sister, but it looks like she has a daughter. I have to admit though that it’s almost entirely too convenient that she happens to be in law enforcement considering his current lack of insider information.
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