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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: The Following, "The Final Chapter"

Season 1, Episode 15

Grade: B+

Summary:  The Following has been a fantastic roller coaster ride throughout its inaugural season, with many surprises along the way that have continuously kept its viewers guessing.  Kevin Williamson has taken the time to craft a story which is scary, but also immensely fascinating.  As Season One wraps up, the surprises are played down significantly, leading to a bit more of a predictable episode than previous weeks.  On the whole, however, the episode makes for a fitting finale for what has been a very fun ride for the past four months with an ending that continues to keep one guessing as to just what will happen next.

In the season one finale of The Following, Joe Carroll's novel reaches its final chapter, with one last showdown between Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and the serial killer he has put away twice.  All of the pieces come together to put a close on the story once and for all as Joe holds ex-wife Claire hostage.  Ryan is willing to march right into this conclusion when a startling discovery is made...perhaps Carroll's story can be changed.

You may recall that this site reviewed Episode 4 of this season of The Following.  That review garnered a few views, but nothing too spectacular.  After that, the reviews stopped due to a seeming lack of interest from you, the reader.  In the meantime, the show has continued to evolve into a much more complicated, surprising, and incredibly entertaining piece of television.  The quality of the writing and acting on the show has been so excellent that it has been decided that a review should be done here on Geek Rex of this finale in order to make one last ditch effort to convince some of you to jump on board with this show.  Until the show returns for its second season in 2014, it will be up to you to decide if you wish to begin your journey with perhaps the best new TV show of the 2012-2013 season.

So what a finale this turned out to be!  The penultimate episode of this season ended on a rather dreary cliffhanger: FBI Agent Debra Parker was being buried alive by members of Joe Carroll's cult.  Parker's true motivations have been a bit of a mystery throughout this season.  Her background of having family members who are in a cult was fascinating, but it was very difficult to fully trust the character.  What has been, up until this point, unexplained is the scene earlier in the season where Parker gives Joe Carroll a copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Carroll's muse of sorts.  This unexplained action has caused Agent Parker to be surrounded with suspicion throughout the season, with everyone seemingly just waiting for the inevitable reveal that Parker was a member of Carroll's cult too.  How this episode handles the closing of Parker's arc (for this season at least) is a little disappointing.  Despite her unclear motivations, Agent Parker had become a very fascinating character that even the most disenchanted viewers should have wanted to survive.  Hopefully there is something in her past that we have yet to see explained as the future for Agent Parker seems pretty bleak after this episode.  One of the many burning questions that will come at the start of Season Two will be whether or not these motivations will be explained, or if the character will simply be cast aside.

Easily one of the leading factors in what has made The Following such a fun show to watch is the development of Kevin Bacon's character Ryan Hardy.  His arc is one that is not too unfamiliar to most viewers: a cop who seemingly cannot do anything to get ahead in life and continues to leave a trail of dead colleagues in his wake.  While Ryan's story may not be completely original, what made it so compelling to watch each week was that the character is so ably played by Kevin Bacon.  Bacon is an actor who brings a look and demeanor about him that suggests that he has seen a lot of terrible things in his time  (a far cry from his early days of starring in rom-coms about dancing).  This demeanor, coupled with Bacon's great sense of humor help to make Ryan Hardy a sympathetic character who the audience can truly root for.  Ryan's heart condition was something the show played with a lot more towards the first half of the season, but his "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude has continued to get him into trouble again and again.  This week's episode is no different, with this attitude nearly getting Ryan killed for at least the thousandth time this season.  One gets the sense that, eventually, this attitude is going to get the better of Ryan...and the results may not be pretty.  It would seem such a development will have to wait until the second season, sadly.

Just as fascinating as the character of Ryan is the character of Joe Carroll, just as ably portrayed by James Purefoy.  While both actors do a lot of great work on this show when they are apart, it is when the two characters come together that the magic really happens.  Joe and Ryan are foils in every sense of the word, and it is great fun to see them try to get under the other's skin quite frequently.  As this episode's primary drive is the final bout between these two heavyweights, it makes for a lot of great acting in addition to the nail-biting drama.  In a surprise twist, however, this episode is kept quite intimate compared to previous weeks.  Joe, Claire, and Ryan are truly the main focus of this issue, with characters who had begun to be major players such as Emma taking more of a back seat.  It is an interesting move for a show that has been, before, so overt to suddenly become a lot more introverted.  This story-telling move seems to be serve the greater conflict of Joe vs Ryan.  Such a struggle is one that we all knew would have to happen eventually, and it does unfold in a somewhat satisfying way.  Regrettably, however, this conflict is quite short, taking up only about 7-10 minutes of screen time.  In fact, Ryan almost seemed to have completely forgotten about Joe and Claire for much of the first half of this episode.  We did not have to see these two coming head-to-head for the entire episode, but it would have been nice if the fight could have gotten a bit more focus as it could quite possibly be their last.  

All regrets of brevity aside, however, it will be interesting to see the way the conclusion of this episode plays out in the coming season.  Joe is such a huge part of Ryan's life that it will seem very strange to have the show go on without this central conflict.  Hopefully Kevin Williamson still has some surprises up his sleeve for the future, as the loss of this struggle may very well prove to be dangerous for the show moving forward.  Speaking of surprises, this episode does a somewhat weak job of ending on a cliffhanger.  Sure, it is to be expected that this show would end on a cliffhanger of some sort, but it was sad to see that the final moments of this episode were so...expected.  Once Ryan says he will take Claire to his apartment for the night, it becomes immediately clear what the eventual consequence of this action will be (if you have been watching the show up until this point, that is).  When this surprise happens, it makes for a nice little shocking moment, but it is difficult to say that the cliffhanger itself is something which will keep many viewers in desperate desire of answers until next year.

When it comes to the writing of this particular episode, it is worth noting that several characters this week tell Joe that the finale of his grand scheme is entirely too predictable, that something needs to be done to change the outcome or else the audience would be bored.  This an astounding bit of meta-writing going on for this episode as so much of this finale is, sadly, too predictable.  The cliffhanger at the end, the way the conflict between Ryan and Joe unfolds, and even some of the events leading up to said conflict are quite predictable.  Predictability is a rather new phenomenon to The Following.  Fortunately for the writers, the predictability of this episode does not completely kill the story, or make the episode boring...it just makes for a finale with a bit less of a surprise and more of a subtle nod.  What is perhaps most mysterious about this episode is the complete lack of any of Joe Carroll's followers.  The cult aspect of this show made for some of the more fascinating story beats, so it seemed odd that this element is completely lacking for the finale (adding to the aforementioned intimacy).  

Overall, however, this is not a terrible finale.  In fact, there are many things about the episode that are quite good, mostly because these elements have been good all season.  The episode is will written even if it is predictable, but was still an entertaining experience all around.  While the ending of the episode does not do much to increase the anticipation of Season 2 (coming early 2014), there is still a lot which made this season great that will keep this reviewer coming back for more.  The Following is a bold new show with a sadly un-surprising finale, but do not let that keep you from checking this show out.  Chances are, it is still better than a lot of the things you may be currently watching.
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1 comment:

  1. I would like to add some thoughts here, now that I have finished the first season. I think there are several major clues that Joe Carroll, in fact, is NOT dead. For one, his ex-wife really has a hard time believing it. The death seemed too easy.

    For another, the DNA is mostly confirmed and the dental records are confirmed. From what we know of Joe, he is incredibly capable of finding someone to alter something as sacred as DENTAL RECORDS or swapping them out for someone's dental records that he intends to kill in his place (a family member, perhaps? One that would match "early DNA"?)

    Next, you have to pay attention to foreshadowing. He became obsessed at the end with a video clip of Ryan saying "Can't kill me, I'm already dead," playing it over and over again until he said it out loud like a personal epiphany. I think he had intended to fake his own death at that point, and we all know that he is clever enough, and a good enough actor to be able to pull that off. How did the fire start again? :)

    Your honor, I rest my case.


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