FOX’s The Following concluded its second season this week with “Forgive.” With the woman they love in danger, archenemies Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) must join forces to rescue her. Will they succeed in saving their shared sweetheart from the scary psychos?
First off, The Following is cheesy. It’s more contrived than 24 ever was, and it asks the viewers to make some big leaps. For instance, the end of the penultimate installment paints the characters into a corner, with Ryan and Joe in a church surrounded by law enforcement, being watched on streaming video. Yet, somehow, they manage to get out, right past the cops, and are only noticed by the correct people? That’s quite a leap.
And yet, I still really enjoy the characters, especially Joe and Ryan. Joe is an evil man, but he can evoke sympathy from time to time, that is when he’s not actively murdering people. His earnestness in his affection for Ryan and Claire (Natalie Zea) is true, and Joe’s insistence that Ryan stay alive to continue their dynamic is almost touching. His true colors leak out occasionally, such as when he holds a knife at Claire’s throat and demands forgiveness this week, but there is still something magnetic about him.
Purefoy gets many chances to shine in “Forgive:” when he learns of Emma’s (Valorie Curry) death, as he manipulates twin abductors Luke and Mark (both Sam Underwood), and as he turns on his own follower to save Ryan. These are all moments of moving emotional developments for the cult leader, and it’s what makes him a rich character who is enjoyable to watch.
Ryan also has his moments to shine. Most of them involve how he interacts with Joe, forced to put his trust in a guy he doesn’t have any faith in at all to save Claire. But there’s also a moment, as Joe baits Luke and Mark, where we see the pain in Ryan’s eyes over (justifiably) killing his own father. It’s an important bit of back story for the role, and it’s well handled here.
In fact, once one gets past the silly escape from the church, “Forgive” is pretty good. All of the scenes in the boys’ house are intense and moving. The dialogue is well written and the actors are superb. I wanted to stay forever in the dinner scene, just watching the interaction of some masterful performers in a charged sequence.
Alas, it all must come to an end, though, so Max (Jessica Stroup) and Mike (Shawn Ashmore) burst in and start the guns blazing. One of the twins is killed, the other escapes with his brother’s body, Mike and Ryan both get moments to find out who they really are and pass the test, and Mike and Max finally kiss, something that has been building for some time. The kiss itself isn’t overly dramatic, but it has to happen to satisfy fans.
It’s an odd show where one is slightly disappointed when the action begins. The time before the showdown, though, is just so good, I want it to continue. What unfolds after is fine enough, and it ties up the season as it must. I just want more of what works best, and Ryan telling Joe they are done is very, very sad, even though it’s also untrue, as the series couldn’t continue without the two in one another’s orbits.
Ryan and Claire’s dissolution is less powerful. Sure, Ryan loves Claire and it’s painful for him to lose her, but before the climax, he is with someone else and he can just go back to her. Claire is kind of a boring character, more interesting for the things that surround her than the part itself (though I am a fan of Zea overall), and, to be honest, The Following will not suffer if she now disappears for good. Though, most likely she will be brought back at some point, given her importance to both Ryan and Joe.
The ending of “Forgive” is well-crafted to evoke tension. Ryan seemingly goes home to peace and quiet, but remembering the twists of last year, these calm bits actually ratchet up the suspense. The fake-out with the dream, where Ryan thinks the twins are in his room, is a terrific way to pay off that mood, as well as surprise the audience by not going there.
The Following leaves us with a mystery: who picks up Mark and Luke and drives them away? This is a good thread to start with for the already-ordered season three, and it’s nice that Underwood should return, as he is entertaining in the current run.
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