Fans of the show will not be subjected to anything they haven't seen before - the main positive of the episode is that the series can only get better.
The following review will contain spoilers on Season 3, Episode 1 of The Following.
As a “follower” of the series since its debut; the season three premiere of The Following felt like an unremarkable, if not boring, reintroduction to Ryan Hardy’s (Kevin Bacon) eternal struggle with internal demons. Rehashing the same themes that the second series ended on, viewers are subjected to a couple of new cult members, some new love interests and a lot of the same old problems.
With the first season of the show being such a success – juggling a riveting story line, deeply disturbing (yet enamouring) characters, classical literary references and dark, intriguing visuals, it captured the attention of millions of viewers. The works of Edgar Allen Poe were an inspiration to serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who was on a mission to regain his wife and child through enacting out a number of gruesome crimes – acolytes brainwashed through his charismatic methods, devoted to his cause and literally willing to die for him were the basis of his ‘following’ – the premise of the show being the battle between good and evil, and seeing where the lines blur in the process. The second series only intensified this – stretching the story a little at times, but still adding new and interesting characters into the flow and providing classic twists and turns that fans of the show will know and love. Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen) and her twin sons (both played by Sam Underwood) were marvellously creepy additions to the cast – the brothers exhibiting an especially impressive display of acting from Underwood. With a strong level of intensity and fast-paced action throughout the two seasons, a sense of expectation was created for the third – and whilst it delivers on acting and pace; there’s a certain sense of a loss in originality that kills the atmosphere.
To begin, Carroll is safely locked away in a high security prison awaiting execution – or so the show would like us to believe; as we find out in a wedding reception with a host of smiling cast members. Hardy is at ease – enjoying some jovial conversation with his new girlfriend (a rather handy replacement for Claire), and the context is set for a year after the previous season’s events took place. As expected, the happiness doesn’t last long – a pouting Weston (Shawn Ashmore) arrives to sulk about Max Hardy’s (Jessica Stroup) new boyfriend; the show instantly destroying the one triumphant ending of season 2 with the lovers’ now-awkward sexual tension – essentially taking a step backward and reinstating an obvious escalation that will emerge over the episodes. After some establishing of where the characters are at and what’s going on, the reception ends with the spilling of blood, alongside Ryan Hardy being brought back to his inescapable brooding place – the problems of ‘being too close to his lover’ and ‘making sure that lives matter’ begin to crop up again in no time. The show progresses to introduce a new threat to Hardy and co’s lives, with sinister messages (harking back to the events of season 2) spelled out in blood at murder scenes that are a little too close for comfort.
A new cult emerges in the episode, bringing with it new deaths and new insane members – The Following season three maintains the programmes affinity for violence, disturbingly psychotic characters and a lot of fumbled FBI work; though it really isn’t anything that hasn’t already been done previously. The initial series held so much originality and spark that it’s hard for the continuation of it to come close, especially when one of the most interesting and appreciated characters (found in Joe Carroll) is taken away – leaving us with only a moody Kevin Bacon to lament what he’s done and reflect on his actions, Max and Weston now following suit. The tension of the episode is apparent, but not as effective as it is intended due to a sense of expectation; we already know what will happen as it fits so classically into the Following mold.
Arguably the saving grace of the start of the series, and what will probably be a shining beacon of disturbing light in the episodes later on, comes in the form of Sam Underwood. Mark Grey makes a return as the new cult leader with his own followers, demanding revenge for his family’s deaths – paying particular attention to the loss of his overbearing and affectionate mother. His performance as the twin left behind is mesmerizing, aptly showcasing the psychotic breakdown of a fragile character through a form of schizophrenia. Whilst laughable out of context, the mirrored mannequin that he speaks into to recreate Luke is chilling; the warped vision of his face looking back is a scary reminder of just how little he has left to lose this time around. However, this being said – if this sort of action is pushed too far the show may become farcical instead of scary. The plots so far have had their moments of possibly taking it a little too close to the edge, so this will have to be something to look out for in the coming episodes.
All in all, the episode was watchable – it remained within the cat-and-mouse, psychological horror genre that is classic of the series. For new viewers it might be exciting to see so many murders and psychopaths in one hour long sitting, but for veterans of The Following the reiterated plot of a crazy cult led by a crazier leader may become to be a little tiresome. Even the deaths feel borrowed – the Hannibal series and Se7en being chief representatives for the tableau death that makes a few appearances. The rest of the series may not be such a write-off, but where the season is currently sitting on episode one, it seems that whilst some interesting character progression has space to take off, the actual narrative of the show won’t extend beyond grisly death, a few crazies, and bad-mood Bacon; all which have been explored thoroughly and fully in the previous series. Let’s hope that something new can be gleaned in spite of the lack luster starting point.
The Following is broadcast on Saturdays at 9:00pm on Sky Atlantic.