I miss you already, FOX's The Following and you haven't even been gone more than a few hours.
I went into The Following's first season finale wanted only a few things: I wanted Agent Parker (Annie Parisse) to die; I wanted Emma (Valorie Curry) to live; I wanted one more epic face-to-face between Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Carroll (James Purefoy) to top all of the little ones we got previously; and I, of course, wanted them to still be in each others' lives at the end of the episode. And while I didn't get everything I wanted in the physical sense, I think I cleaned up pretty nicely on this score card.
Now, before you all start sending hate mail for my comments about Parker and Emma, let me offer my reasons. After Parker was buried alive in the penultimate episode, sealed and stuffed underground, running out of air and with no idea where she was, it seemed pretty clear she'd be just another casualty of this little war of men. I pretty much wrote her off as dead and buried (heh), and if we had never seen her again in the finale, I would have been okay with it. Hardy's the Red Mask of Death after all, right? So everyone around him must die. Besides, she would have been a loose end-- someone who now Hardy might wonder if she was in on things with Carroll all along, someone who would cause him to question and doubt himself just when he was finally back on top and had found his strength again. That kind of dismantling of the psyche is always fascinating for characters. But I admit that what Kevin Williamson and the show delivered instead was better. Hardy having to confront the fact that he couldn't save everyone-- that yet there was more blood, a higher body count on his hands this time didn't strip him down or dissolve him into the mess of a man we met in the pilot. Instead, he used it as the adrenaline he needed to really complete his plan. And Carroll, or anyone who get in his way, other FBI agents included, be damned.
Additionally, the amazing performance from Parisse as Parker knew her minutes were coming to an end, and she was selfless enough to want to use her remaining time to those around her certainly helped with everything. While Hardy went full force forward now, the "it's not your fault" she tried to infuse into his brain will have to be ringing in his ears in the future. Couple that with what he's ultimately going to learn about her family and background, as well as the final, near-fatal attack from crazy Molly (Jennifer Ferrin), and he won't be paranoid to second guess everything and everyone: he'll be smart to.
But while this show sets up a sense of inherent distrust initially, it works its butt off to prove it knows its characters and has since introducing them. Parker's plea that Mike (Shawn Ashmore) not lose his goodness is not a silent nod to the fact that he could be a secret follower but instead a seed that everything he recently experienced may soon prove to be too much for him. It's one thing to lash out and beat a follower who buried an agent alive; it's another to treat future cases in a similar fashion. At the end of season one, Mike seemed about on par with where Hardy was after his initial encounters with Carroll, but without the lightness of a new love to at least cushion his blow to rock bottom.
When it came to Emma, I just flat out find her so complex and interesting as a character, I wanted to see as much of her as possible. She has been the one I've found most consistent, and yet she's in this rare position going into the second season because she truly dedicated her life to this man and his plan, and now she's alone and without a purpose. Or is she? Will she decide to pick up where Carroll left off, looking for revenge against Hardy?
Because the thing of it is, Emma has been quite lost since Carroll brought Claire (Natalie Zea) back into his life, but now that she has learned he is dead* it is a whole other ballgame. She dedicated her entire adult life to "serving" his mission. She has a face and a name that has been plastered all over the news. Where can she possibly go from here but down?
* And I want to put this on the record now: there can be a lot of arguments made for why Carroll could have faked his death. That guy he stabbed in front of Clare could have been a follower who helped him rig an escape hatch. He could have followers high enough in the ranks of law enforcement that they "fixed" dental records to positively ID the body. He could have even left a tape recorder of his moans of agony to hit play in the burning barn (you'll notice that those sounds were ADRed, put into the post-production process after the fact and any close-up on Carroll's face behind the flames was a much more neutral position to leave you wondering). Believe me, I'd love to make my case for this just because I don't want to think he's dead. But the show doesn't deal in cheap red herrings like that. It never misled the audience about characters or events; the questioning the audience had was always projection, but the text was always clear. In fact, I feel like purposefully putting in the sentence about the FBI confirming Carroll's dental records was a way for the show to be like 'No, really, stop playing conspiracy theorist, he's dead.' And in this case, to simply fake Carroll's death would be to remove all of the stakes completely. He is only human, but "undoing" a death would change the rules and provide for a repetitive story arc in season two when this show is really allow about testing boundaries but delivering something new.
So what I find fascinating is what Hardy and Carroll's final moments, centered on Claire, mean for Hardy in the future, just like what Parker's final words to him will prove to mean. A lot was said as Carroll was threatening to kill Clare in front of Hardy and then forcing Hardy to talk about how he first fell in love with Claire. Watching those two in a scene together is so powerful, and yet I wish they had flashed back, not to cut the tension in the scene, but to offer more insight. There was an implication that Claire came to understand what her husband was up to before he was captured, but she was so quiet during the confrontation scene, it was hard to prove whether or not that was just one man's projection. Certainly such a secret could have a big impact on Hardy and not only how he looks at the woman he loves but also how he considers everything he has done thus far because of the woman he loves. I can't imagine they wanted to hold any cards back for season two, but I wonder just how much Hardy's recollection-- or justification-- of events match up to the other versions. There is just so much history there, and since Claire was stabbed, too, and I feel like probably fatally, which will spin Hardy back down to where we first met him in the pilot, even if we get flashbacks of the three in season two, they will absolutely be one-sided. Will that mean that Hardy's own darkness and madness will be the real thing to worry about-- more dangerous than any psycho killer amassing an army? Will he be able to function at all, without the yin to his yang?
Killing Carroll before the final act implied that his chapter was over, and what was to come was the much more chaotic outbursts of those who were promised something from him (again, hopefully like Emma). Molly was the tip of that iceberg, the one closest to Hardy and a dangling thread the show had to pay off before the end of the season. But what of Carroll's other followers-- some of whom we have yet to meet, some who escaped the compound earlier this season-- who are still out there, some more lost than others, some probably clearly calling Carroll's plan a failure and wanting to right those wrongs, to help his legacy get left behind as one of triumph? Will they continue to attack and kill as a way to prove just how far his reach-- his fame-- goes? These story seeds have been planted, ready to sprout soon, as well.
Mid-way through this season the show introduced the idea of the deprivation bunker training as some kind of potential, larger scale terrorist threat. That's the equivalent of introducing a gun in the first act of the play; it has to go off by the end. But it didn't go off, so was it just a red herring or something to fill the time, a way for the FBI to kick around a theory that they didn't have time to properly explore? I personally feel like the biggest takeaway from Carroll and this season is that (as crude as this analogy may be) he was equivalent to Bin Laden as the head of a movement. Just because he's taken out of commission doesn't mean everyone under him isn't still working with the same violent, guiding principles. They're just doing so quieter, invisibly, without a "face" of their "campaign." In fact, they're probably even angrier now to have lost their leader, so when the next attack comes, it will be that much worse, even if less coordinated or thought-out. The Following truly is a ticking time bomb. And I can't wait for it to be fall to see what story it explodes next!