The third season of The Following, Fox’s Poe-obessed serial killer procedural, starts so promisingly, with bedraggled FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) finally having something resembling a good time at a colleague’s gay wedding. With serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) behind bars, Hardy can relax, toast his friends, and flirt with a new main squeeze played by Zuleikha Robinson.
But the joy lasts only a few minutes before a lunatic splashes the brides with blood—and calls out Hardy for a handful of Carroll-related misdeeds. Thus the series quickly settles back into its odious pattern: Grisly murders are committed, Hardy broods, and the always outsmarted FBI looks like it’d have trouble handling security at a Tony Bennett concert.
Though Purefoy doesn’t appear on camera during the season premiere, his shadow looms large, as there are a new set of killers—including a couple who like to bone next to fresh corpses—whose work seems to at least be paying homage to the type of kills that Carroll’s cult executed in the first two seasons. Even though we’re now in the third season of the show and the rest of television is also filled with incredibly intense violence, the mayhem on The Following has always felt way too intense—which makes it perhaps the least-bingeable show currently operating on your cable guide.
One element of The Following remains steadfast and keeps the show from going too far over a cliff. That’s Kevin Bacon, who works hard trying to sell what is often depressingly heavy-handed material. The rest of the cast is happy to just whisper, grunt, and squint, but you really get a sense that Bacon is internalizing everything that’s happening. And there’s so much darkness in Hardy that it’s always tantalizing to consider that he could easily become the villain of the story. But man, Hardy can’t drop a little gallows humor into his chase of murderous sociopaths?
The thing that keeps a show like Hannibal from becoming gut-wrenchingly difficult is the underlying sense of aburdity and camp that lurks just beneath the gore splattered across the show. The Following never smiles and almost never blinks, and because of its commitment to its eye-bulgingly heavy approach, it seems poised to remain one of the most unpleasant watches on television. Here’s a free piece of advice: Next season, just make the whole show about Bacon’s character attending lesbian nuptials. That would be worth following. C-