The best part of this episode — “Final Chapter” — is Claire frankly telling Joe that his writing sucks. I mean — YEAH OF COURSE IT DOES! — but considering that the writers of “The Following” are the ones writing Joe’s novel, it’s strangely self-critical to have another character point out that the plot, like, you know, totally reeks. Self-critical, but also hilarious. Joe raving to Claire that the lighthouse is A MOTIF and trying to defend his narrative linking of his character and Ryan’s characters through the love triangle with Claire is quite funny, except when you realize that if even the writers of “The Following” think that their endgame is a silly, tired plot, then that means no one, anywhere finds this gory, horrific cliffhanger compelling in the least.
“Final Chapter” is not a satisfying finale or even a coherent episode. The pacing is entirely off, for one thing, and the plot points themselves don’t feel meaningful or significant. The few elements that do feel somewhat interesting are diminished by the rest of the episode.
For example — going into this finale we’ve all known that “The Following” already has a second season in the works — but it’s been very hard to imagine how the dreadfully boring story of the cult murdering their way around Maryland as the FBI bumbles after Joe Carroll and his band of merry murderers could be drawn out for 12 to 16 more episodes. “Final Chapter” introduces the idea that Emma might be Joe’s successor — Emma and Molly, the woman who stabs Ryan and Claire in the final moments of this episode. I find the idea of the cult being taken over and retooled interesting — mildly interesting, I guess — but it’s not very well-established, and rather than build in the character work necessary to care as to whether or not the cult will continue to be a force next year, “The Following” chooses to end with a needlessly bloody cliffhanger.
That means that “Final Chapter” manages to seriously wound two of its main characters and outright kill two others. I’m not quite convinced that Joe Carroll won’t return from the dead next season — the very bad foreshadowing suggests that at the very least, the major players may think that he’s still alive — but Agent Parker is needlessly killed off in the first half of the episode, for reasons that remain entirely opaque to me. Considering all the senseless murder that happens in this show on a regular basis — including a few in just this episode — it’s surprising that I even care about yet another body. But Parker was one of my favorite characters on “The Following” — one of the few characters that felt tangible or recognizable. She provided a perspective on the killing cult in the show that felt both curious and ethical, in contrast to Ryan’s lumbering, vengeful rage. And then she’s casually tossed into a grave to be buried alive as part of a larger plot to snare Ryan Hardy — a terrible, prolonged death that is drawn out for maximum horror. Parker deserved better, but she’s sacrificed to the bloodthirsty writers of “The Following,” who seem anxious to find another important body to throw on their sacrificial pyre every episode or so. It’s an upsetting way to say goodbye to that character, and Ryan’s response is to torture and then murder one of Joe’s accomplices, which essentially proves everything Joe ever said about Ryan, which is that he’s a bad guy disguised in the good guy’s clothing.
Joe, meanwhile, gets what he richly deserves, which is (hopefully) a slow death in a fire. Maybe Joe always intended to die in that weird shack next to the lighthouse — which is where he takes Claire on the boat, and where Emma lures Ryan after they find Parker’s body — but we can at least hope that he had an uncomfortable death, after murdering hundreds of innocents. Unfortunately, because all of the violence in this show is so anticlimactic, even Joe’s long-awaited death feels meaningless. Not only are we denied a sense of Joe truly atoning for his sins, we’re also denied the satisfaction of the good old-fashioned action-movie villain death. Essentially, Joe dies a madman, and the resolution lacks the sense of triumph it ought to have, even before the grisly cliffhanger. Ryan and Claire finally kiss, but their romance has never had the weight necessary to carry the audience’s catharsis. After Joe dies, the entire show is obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s as if the writers knew that their romantic pairing lacked verve, so they grafted a cliffhanger onto their triumphant reunion to make the ending feel more dramatic. Hardly a satisfying conclusion to what has been a harrowing series.
Because “Final Chapter” never manages to resolve the most important question of “The Following”: What was the point? Why did Joe Carroll kill all those women? Why did the cult members think that following him was a good idea? Why did the cult adopt Poe as their standard-bearer? What was any of it, except purely shocking? I left “Final Chapter” with a bad taste in my mouth. It’s an episode that takes all of the most questionable and terrible parts of “The Following” and stitches them together into a shoddy patchwork. It’s a disappointing end to a disappointing first season, and I have trouble imagining how a second season could follow up this messy finish.
Odds and Ends:
*** For what it’s worth, I did predict that the final showdown of this season would be Ryan and Joe over a helpless Claire. Do I get a medal? A cookie? Anything?
*** I’ve grown oddly fond of Emma, which probably means I’m losing my mind.
*** Seriously, why does everyone in this show kill people with kitchen knives?
*** The violence in this episode is at times so awful that the show has to film it in dim light. Joe viciously stabs a man to death to make a point to Claire, and Ryan gouges another man’s eye out. This is not a fun episode to watch.
*** Sad to see Agent Weston cut out of the finale plot. I was looking forward to seeing Shawn Ashmore save the day.
*** I admit to being slightly intrigued by the plot device of the manuscript narrating the necessary events of the story. But only slightly, I promise.
*** At one particularly ridiculous reference to Joe’s manuscript, my watching partner and I exchanged incredulous, wall-eyed looks. She offered: “That look, right there, should be the whole review.”
What did you think? Are you going to watch the second season?