[Warning: Spoilers ahead from Monday's season finale.]
In the end, it was a fiery conclusion to Joe Carroll's story on Fox’s The Following -- or was it?
Fifteen weeks of high-stakes action led to a showdown between former FBI Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). It was a fight to the death between the two nemeses, with the conniving-yet-sometimes sympathetic Joe finding himself on the unlucky side of things as the towering flames engulfed him. Explosions weren’t enough to solidify Joe’s death, with the FBI making a point to mention that the dental records and human remains were a match to Joe. But still, the question remains: Is he really dead? Considering how much of this story he’s plotted out, it certainly wouldn’t be a shock.
Another character’s fate that remained unclear was Joe’s ex-wife Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea). Thought to be safe from harm after witnessing the explosions, she and Ryan have an intimate evening before a D.C. trip the following morning, but Rya's ex Molly (Jennifer Ferrin) has another plan – stabbing Claire before the scene cuts to the end card. So, is she dead as well?
Purefoy and Zea’s unclear returns were the first to be addressed following a TV Academy screening in North Hollywood on Monday. When asked whether they had season two contracts, Purefoy sort-of joked, “I believe so, but that’s not a guarantee,” while Zea stayed mum. (However, Zea did tell The Hollywood Reporter before the panel when asked about Claire's ideal death scene: "I don't have to think about it, I know exactly what that would be.")
The Following's more definitive death came at the expense of FBI Agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), whose fate was locked up, literally, at the end of last week's episode. And it’s confirmed midway through the finale when Ryan and FBI Agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) unsuccessful attempt at reviving her.
Multiple endings were shot for the finale, but the number varied depending on whom you believed (three or “two-and-a-half-ish" were some of the numbers thrown out). As time passed, it became clear which final sequence suited the show best as a season-two set-up.
"Everyone collectively weighed in and said you know what, this one seems to have the biggest ‘come back next year’ feeling. We had one that stopped sooner, then we had one that went further,” creator/executive producer Kevin Williamson told the crowd.
“We just figured that people were mad enough at us,” director/executive producer Marcos Siega added jokingly.
As Williamson explained it, there is a reason for the events of the finale – including the emotional trigger that was Parker’s death. Though he wouldn’t divulge details, there is a reason why she was sacrificed that will be explored in season two.
“She asked to go out with a bang and we really tried to give her a breathless ending,” Williamson said of Parisse's final moments on the show.
He added: “It’s hard to talk about why I chose to let that sort of be the emotional anchor of this piece without giving away [things] for next year. I’ll just say that one of the things is [Ryan’s] death curse.” The death curse being anyone who gets reasonably close to Ryan or resembles being a family member becomes "a target in Joe’s world.”
Bacon noted that even though the finale's “scary,” it’s also “very emotional.” “It’s a testament to both of these guys (Williamson and Siega) to create that idea of her being in a box and us with a ticking clock,” he said.
The groundwork for the sophomore season has already been laid out. “Clearly we left some loose ends there [in the finale] that we will have to push forward into a new story,” Williamson said. “I do see the show as books and this was the first book in a series, a preamble in a lot of ways. There is a whole big, huge story yet to tell.”
Perhaps the only mention of who may be returning to the fold came in the form of this coy statement made by Williamson: “Whoever we push forward will participate.”
Siega revealed that they “have filmed stuff,” with his fellow cohort confirming that fact: “We thought ahead and we actually captured a lot of stuff.” Added Siega: “Stuff exists already in case something were to happen.”
Williamson was adamant that even though the cast may see changes come season two (the producer told THR on the carpet that there will be “additions”), no matter what there was still a lot of story to mine. “There is a lot more story for Ryan Hardy. We need to see the aftermath of this and the effects of this and what toll it’ll take on his life and I’m excited to write that.”
It was observed that as the season went on, shades of Ryan’s old FBI days were taking over. Even so, Bacon believed that Ryan still “has a lot to work on.” “I don’t want to just lock into who he is and stay there. Of course there are going to be things that carry over episode to episode, because we are who we are, but if can each week show a little different color then that’s really exciting,” the actor said.
When the topic of network notes came up, Williamson and Siega shed light on what Fox deemed inappropriate for broadcast at 9 p.m. Mondays for a particularly violent show.
“As the season moved forward, I started getting more and more notes,” Williamson said. “What’s really interesting is it was really OK to stab the poor girl in the basement over and over again but the minute the three of them (Paul, Jacob and Emma) crawled into the shower that was a big no-no. I think that says it all.”
Siega recalled getting scripts that would have kills that called for shots to the head, something the network wasn’t fond of showing. “They’ve got parameters,” Siega said of the network, “so we’d shoot them in the chest.” But when it came time for the finale, one of the kills called for a shot to the head, and as Siega explained, it felt appropriate for the high-stakes situation. “That’s when you test the boundaries,” he said, “and we did. They were like, ‘It’s so heroic! We love it!’ ” Williamson summed it up like this: “I feel like the word is penetration. .. You don’t see a knife actually go into the flesh ....”
Though there is a series blueprint, things change on a whim.
“Of course you start a show you have all these ambitions and you sort of have roadmaps and you have a clothespin line along the way. Of course it just completely changes every step of the way. You discover things as you move along,” Williamson. “That’s the fun of television is that it evolves.”