It's taken me quite a while to get to the season finale of The Following, and that just goes to show you how lackluster of a season it was. Kevin Bacon has done his business, and the secondary characters are all... fine, I guess, but I just couldn't really get down with the show as much as I would have liked to. Maybe it's because, as the show went on, everything got way, way too ridiculous, to the point where it was difficult to tell why the Feds would let this crap go on.
Hey, that's primetime television for you though. The Following has to stretch realism if it wants to continue, because nowadays I don't think anyone could get a following as big as Joe Carroll's without the FBI tapping a phone line here or there. That doesn't make the show's mistakes any less forgivable, but at least there's a reason for them.
"The End is Near" and "The Final Chapter" are episodes that pretty much work exactly how you expect them to. It was clear from the beginning that Joe was working towards some encounter with Ryan and Claire, and the show has been leading to this for a while now. "The Final Chapter" just works to pull all of this together, and although it's overall not an unexpected twist, it does have some surprises to throw at the viewer all the same.
For one, we lose an important cast member. This FBI agent experiences a harrowing death at the hands of Joe's cult followers, and it puts things into perspective for Ryan - the whole charade is meant as his story, and he's fallen for every trap Joe has set for him. This has made the show extremely frustrating, because Ryan's supposed to be the guy that knows Joe the best and can foresee his little tricks. Except he never does - he's constantly doing exactly what Joe wants him to, and he seems less like an expert and more like a gullible fool who does what he shouldn't.
"The Final Chapter" makes use of this for its finale, and it leaves the viewer shaking his head in frustration. Some of the stunts Joe pulls - using national television as a way to publicize an attack - are the same thing he did way back in the first episodes, and the FBI still haven't learned their lesson. It also feels like lazy writing, but that's beside the point.
"The End is Near" gives Claire a perfect chance to kill Joe, and she doesn't take it. Call it the lingering feelings of love, call it idiocy, whatever you want: it's still the same thing to me, and that's hogwash. The Following can last as a show without Joe because the setup has already been done. It no longer needs his character to pursue whatever weird fetish he has in his mind about Ryan and Claire, and yet it still forces this point (maybe because the show's not ready to give up James Purefoy yet). The finale gives the show the option to cut Joe out of the equation, but I'm betting he'll make a reappearance in season two.
Still, I want to see what The Following can do with the actual followers, rather than Joe himself. They are, after all, what's supposed to be making the show so intense - there's no telling who is a follower, and that's scary. Let these guys lead themselves. Show how a cause can morph from its original intent. Change up tactics a little bit.
I'm guessing that the showrunners won't really take this to heart, though, and we'll be stuck in a similarly themed plot next year as well. But there's always a chance that The Following will drop Joe from the show's present and simply show his influence in the past. That's the real draw about the show, the reason why I tuned in in the first place, and though this season has touched on that idea in part, it's really been about Joe all along. It's time to let the followers carry some of the burden.