Is it possible for the past to remain buried even when other people want to bring it up again? What happens when the truth comes out and it threatens to bring everyone else down as well? That's part of the premise behind the new season of Fox's "The Following," which generated another battle between good and evil. Unfortunately, the show has a long way towards redeeming itself from some missteps that happened last season.
"The Following" continued right where the season one finale left off with Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) fighting for their lives after one of Joe Carroll's (James Purefoy) followers tried to kill them. Unfortunately, Ryan lost the love of his life after Claire succumbed to her injuries and he retreated back to drinking away his sorrows. Since he believed that Carroll was already dead, Ryan left the FBI for good and went into teaching aspiring agents how to catch serial killers. After a year has past, he was given the shock of his life when he saw on the news how a group of Carroll's followers trying to pay tribute to their fallen leader by killing a train car full of passengers while wearing Joe Carroll masks. Only one of the passengers managed to survive, which was based on a possible ulterior motive. The passenger was an art dealer named Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen) who seemingly had no connection to Joe Carroll, but she was starting to develop one with Ryan from the start. Despite pulling away from the FBI, Ryan launched his own investigation with his niece Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) against his former colleague Mike Weston's (Shawn Ashmore) wishes. Meanwhile, Joe was still alive and keeping a very low profile for the past year, but a suspicious man threatened to destroy all that. He was forced to explore his dark side and appeared to be eager to return to the fold with his followers sooner or later. Will his greatest follower Emma (Valorie Curry) welcome him back with open arms or will she turn on him after he betrayed her?
In terms of questions, the show has posed quite a few big ones, but the biggest one involved whether the new seasons undo the mistakes made during season one. Luckily, the premiere episodes managed to rectify a few mistakes, such as exploring Ryan's demons even for a short time rather than sweep them under the rug. Another improvement was the removal of the improbable romance between Zea's Claire and Bacon's Ryan because it was only destined to end badly and served as more of a distraction than anything else. Hopefully, this season won't make the same mistake with Bacon's obviously strong rapport with Nielsen's seemingly virtuous Lily. A wise move would be to make her less than virtuous as a way to avoid comparisons to the Ryan/Claire romance. Only time will tell if that's the case. The show has also managed to utilize the followers in a way that didn't take away from Purefoy's rather fascinating Joe. Purefoy was a much more active part of the action that allowed him to get his hands dirty as he managed to dispatch a man who threatened to expose him. He also managed to balance a dangerous combination between humor and horror without going too over-the-top like the character bordered a few times in the latter half of season one. As for the followers, they were best served in supporting roles until viewers grew familiar with them before giving them stories of their own. This season's new follower breakout was Sam Underwood who played one of the twins who used their similiar looks to fool their victims before they savagely ended their lives. Let's hope that the show fully utilized Underwood's talents in a way that made him a new potential foe to go against Bacon's character, or at least give him a grand exit if necessary.
As for breakout performances, Bacon and Purefoy led the pack as their two wildly different characters were going on two very different journeys this season. In the first season, Purefoy's Joe was looking to destroy Bacon's Ryan from the ground up, while the other did everything to fight back. In the new season, Bacon's Ryan was determined to have one more final confrontation with Purefoy's character, while the other was still trying to keep his past buried. Bacon's Ryan has changed into a tougher and much harsher character than he was last season, because all of his personal distractions were in the past now. He made his sole focus to destroy his nemesis the main reason to get up in the morning. Sure, Bacon still brought his trademark charm and sense of humor to the character, but he also made Ryan a much darker wild card than he was before since he was no longer an FBI agent. Nothing was holding him back from breaking any of the rules. Bacon's strongest scenes as Ryan involved him interacting with Nielsen's Lily because viewers got a chance to see Ryan's true feelings of guilt over what has happened in the past year. He was able to demonstrate the quiet sadness in his eyes without always having to verbalize it. Purefoy, on the other hand, had the more challenging task of being introduced to viewers again as a villain on his own merit without a flock of followers behind him. He embodied Joe to be a man who tried to hide his dark nature, but he was also conflicted as well because he enjoyed killing people when it was necessary for him to embrace his violent side. Purefoy's most memorable moment in the premiere came when he confronted a potential victim and told them that he accepted his fate as a serial killer. It was also disturbing to watch a very dark smile come across his face after the deed was done. There will likely be more of those moments as the show slowly works toward another confrontation between the show's leading men. Fingers crossed that they will take their time before doing so.
Verdict: Bacon and Purefoy worked to make this new chapter of the show just as interesting as last season, but this time without some of the mistakes that plagued the latter half of the first season.
TV Score: 3 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)