The race is on to find Joey, the son of serial killer Joe Carroll and his ex-wife Claire. He's been stolen by a motley threesome of strange characters who follow Carroll's every whim, but they're having some troubles of their own - Jacob and Paul had a gay relationship going on, but Jacob loves Emma, and Emma loves to boss both of them around, and Jacob has never killed anyway - so it's obvious that things aren't going exactly as Carroll had planned.
Or aren't they? In "The Siege", things go awry for the group when Ryan stumbles upon the farmhouse where they're keeping Joey, and in "The Fall" Ryan is taken hostage by the three. That's got to be worth something, even if Ryan does escape; he lets Emma and Joey slip away after an elaborate ruse concocted and carried out by Carroll from prison brings help to Emma's rescue.
And Carroll has been using his lawyer Olivia Warren (Renee Goldsberry) to leak information to his followers. He's got everything in place, and the contingency plan is actually pretty awesome in its scope. There are literally hundreds of followers out there waiting to help Carroll out in any way possible, and they're primed at the drop of a couple of phrases from a Poe poem. One of them is Charlie (Tom Lipinski), who is meant to kidnap Claire and bring her to Joey as part of a rendezvous; later on it becomes clear that the entire family was supposed to be reunited.
Throughout these three episodes of The Following, I found myself surprised at how brutal the whole thing really is. Not elegantly so, mind you, but rough around the edges in a way that makes it even more sinister. Olivia reveals through the slight act of writing a note that she has lost a couple of her fingers to one of Carroll's games, and even though she probably doesn't want to work for Carroll as his lawyer, she must or risk her life or a couple more appendages at the very least.
The same goes for the torture sequences of The Following, when Paul keeps a girl locked up in the farmhouse basement. They're toying with her, making her wonder when she will die, and that's probably not an intentional fear that the show is creating but it's there all the same. Nothing is very tactful in The Following, though - everything is super visceral, right out for the viewer to see, that sometimes it's hard to imagine that Ryan and company are really falling for these tricks.
But it makes sense, because the characters make a lot of dumb mistakes. Claire, even though she knows it's ridiculous and stupid and even quite hopeless, decides to meet with Carroll's follower, only to be abducted and held as sort of collateral for Joey. And Ryan, always the hero, decides to go into the farmhouse on his own, where he is beaten up, held hostage, and nearly causes the death of an innocent girl.
At the end of "Let Me Go," we see a whole network of followers pouring out of a hideaway as Joe Carroll makes his triumphant return home after a break from prison. The show has often tried to explain this - apparently there's an Internet website or something - but there's no possible way that Carroll has had this effect on everyone simply by his legacy. The show has given us a few examples of why certain people are so attached to Carroll - he helped them kill their mother, he helped them through their depression, he understands them - but all of these other people seem like shrouds of characters. Who are they, and how could this network possibly work?
The Following is sort of a free-for-all; it's not really well-written or full of pathos, but it's pretty fun in a nonsensical way that circumvents all of that boring stuff about drama and tension and gets right to the action. That means that it's quite lacking in some departments, but as long as it continues its gruesome tone, along with the ridiculous plot lines that stide the line between ridiculously stupid and humorously fascinating, it's a show that's a guilty pleasure.