Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the series finale of The Following. Read at your own risk!
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
The Following signed off on Monday by answering the question of whether Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) could actually get a happy ending following the death of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). The answer was a resounding no.
In the wake of Theo (Michael Ealy) kidnapping Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson) with an aim to raise Ryan’s unborn child to be a serial killer, Ryan shot this season’s bad guy, who ultimately got the last laugh by sending them both over a bridge to the dangerous waters below. Presumed dead, Ryan uses this opportunity to go after the shady organization protecting wealth serial killers and leaves his former life behind. EW caught up with executive producer Alexi Hawley to find out what would’ve happen had the show been renewed:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you ever consider changing the ending and actually killing Ryan, or was there not enough time once you found out the show was canceled?
ALEXI HAWLEY: No. We never considered that. The reality of it is given the way we were airing our last four episodes back-to-back and then back-to-back, we had to lock everything before we found out our fate. There was no time, even if we wanted to. Personally, I feel like the ending is incredibly dynamic in the way it would’ve held us into season 4 if we had one, but I also feel like, as a place to leave off, it leaves off with more story left to tell, which I don’t think is a bad thing. In the audience’s mind, The Following is still alive and they can imagine where it might’ve gone. Rather than wrapping up everything neatly with a bow, which—since you implied we should’ve killed Ryan—isn’t necessarily a happy bow.
If you were given the opportunity to properly end the show, what would that have looked like?
We never went down that road, honestly. We set out at the beginning of the season to tell this story and we wanted to end it with Ryan coming to realize that the questions he’s been asking for three seasons—”Can I have a life outside of my obsession? Can I be happy?”—as much of a tragedy as it is, the answer is ultimately no. By his very nature, he puts the people around him in danger. We felt like we needed that kind of closure. This was the most compelling way we could think to tell that story.
You were clearly setting up this evil organization for a potential fourth season. What can you tell us about who they were and what Ryan’s mission would’ve looked like in taking them down?
Honestly, we were still talking about what it would look like. I do think the idea that—except for possibly Robert Durst—you don’t hear a lot about serial killers who were uber-wealthy. That idea was really interesting to us. The idea that people with almost unlimited resources could actually protect themselves and their evil proclivities would’ve been an interesting direction to take the show. Ultimately, that’s why Ryan realized that he had to fake his own death. People with those kind of resources who can corrupt FBI agents like Lisa Campbell (Diane Neal), who have money to buy off anybody, would’ve changed the show in a really interesting way. You wouldn’t be up against people who were individuals like Joe Carroll or Theo, you would’ve been against something a little bit bigger. I thought that would’ve been a nice little reinvention of the show.
Would Ryan really not have told his family that he was still alive in order to protect them? I have to imagine the temptation to reveal himself would present, especially since Gwen is pregnant.
That’s the tragedy. Ryan makes the ultimate sacrifice. He sacrifices his own happiness in order to protect the people that he loves. A secret is only safe if nobody else knows it but you. There was some discussion about whether Max (Jessica Stroup) or somebody else should know, but ultimately, at the end of the day, he is alone. Even putting it out there that he’s alive would put those people in danger. It’s a really heartbreaking moment at the end when he sees them all together and he has to walk away from him. The hope in season 4 would’ve been, by the end of the season, once he’s gotten his vengeance and closed every door that leads to danger, maybe he could’ve reunited with his family and held his child. That would’ve been what we had hoped to have landed on.
After killing Lisa Campbell, has Ryan become a ruthless killer now?
I don’t think he’s a ruthless killer. At the end of the day, the show lives in the gray. We’re not a black and white universe. Ryan is a character who has definitely lived on both sides of the line. The trick is, “How do you save your soul? How do you come out of it a good person?” At this stage, knowing the risks, knowing the dangers to everybody he loves, Lisa Campbell was obviously a bad guy and people were dead because of her. She could lead him on the beginning of the trail to the people that are after him and his family. He couldn’t leave her alive. In the moral universe of The Following, yes, he’s judge, jury and executioner, but he’s at least not killing good people. It’s a little Dexter, but at the same time, it’s a consideration.
Would Joe Carroll have continued to be a vision for Ryan next season?
Our goal this year really was: What’s life beyond Joe Carroll on The Following? With his physical death—which I thought was really disturbing and compelling—ultimately Joe becomes the devil on Ryan’s shoulder. He’s the manifestation of all of Ryan’s self-destructive instincts and to push the people away who care about him. We thought that him conquering that at the end of [episode] 13, having gone down this really dark path, but to ultimately get a little redemption was a powerful moment. So, no, that was the end of Joe.
If Ryan survived, is it reasonable to think Theo may have, too?
It’s reasonable to think that he may have. I don’t think we landed 100 percent on what the beginning of next season would look like in terms of that. It’s safe to assume that he was probably dead, but in our universe, there is always a chance. We couldn’t say definitively partly because of that ending. We needed to be able to think it was possibly Theo going through that hospital, because that’s an expected thing. The twist that it’s actually Ryan is pretty effective.
Are we to assume that Max and Mike (Shawn Ashmore) ended up together? And they would’ve helped with Gwen’s baby?
Absolutely. That is the happy ending. We obviously had to punish you a little bit. [Laughs] We couldn’t just have a love story happy ending, we needed to have a little stabbing in it. That felt like the most compelling—even though it was the meanest thing we could do—version of their proclaiming their love and also dovetailing with Mike and Mark (Sam Underwood) on the resolution to their story. Once we landed on that scene, I was really excited by it on the storytelling level. You do struggle with Mike and Mark clearly wanting to kill each other and we’ve been dancing that dance all season. The idea that they actually almost do kill each other felt really satisfying. Obviously Mike survives, but I don’t know if you noticed, but our last shot on Mark, he actually has the trace of a smile on his face because he thinks that he’s succeeded. He thinks he’s killed Mike and ultimately that’s all he was living for.
Was there an ending in which you considered killing Mike off?
No. Not me. I can’t speak for Brett [Mahoney], but no, I didn’t. I wanted to tell this version of it. I do think that The Following can’t be a show without hope. In order for the darkness to be powerful, you need the light to be equally powerful. Max and Mike is the great love story of our show, so it felt like we wanted Mike to survive.
There’s been talk of the show being shopped elsewhere. Is there potential to wrap up The Following in one way or another?
I’m not sure about that. Obviously anything is possible with so many different platforms out there in which to tell stories. That being said, I haven’t heard anything specific at this point which would lead to that. Look, we left the show with a very dynamic sendoff. I would love nothing more for the show to continue in some form.