TV Recap: The Following, ‘New Blood’

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The Following, Season 3 Premiere – ‘New Blood’ Plot Summary:

Plot: It has been one year since Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) was put behind bars for good. Ryan (Kevin Bacon) and Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) have moved on with new loves and new lives. Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), however, has not, and it’s not long before a recent villain returns in bloody fashion.

Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX
Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX

Oh The Following. I want to say I’m surprised that you got a third season, but I’m not. You’re an ambitious experiment in the fact that you star an internationally recognized and beloved actor. To cancel so early is to acknowledge a misstep in creation. Yet when you consider how horrible Season 2 was, it’s tough to think of The Following as anything else. The creepily enjoyable story of Ryan vs. Joe in Season 1 was replaced with an insipid murder-fest that cared more about a body count than story. Many people even took to calling the show “murder porn.” In many respects, they weren’t wrong. “New Blood,” despite being promised as a reboot of sorts, is still classic Following throughout. There’s blood, violence, and stupid characters. Yet there is still a very real indication that, perhaps, this season will be better than the last.

If Season 2 was an extension of Season 1, than Season 3 is definitely being set up as something different. Joe Carroll, despite being mentioned several times, doesn’t appear once. He’s on death row in a top secret facility. I’m not certain of the show’s ability to kill Carroll, so a large part of me totally expects him to come back, but I would love for the writers to just eliminate him completely. Carroll should never have been a villain beyond the first season. It’s too ridiculous of a premise to make a show where everyone dies except the main leads. There also is no long game for Carroll. What, did anyone expect this show to be several years of Ryan chasing various cults lead by Carroll? That would be stupid, and it’s what happened last year.

Speaking of last year, Korban is still very much a thing Ryan remembers. He killed a lot of people there. In a refreshing turn of events, the premiere explores the thought that Ryan’s actions have consequences. As much as it was smart for him to go lone wolf, having actual repercussions gives the show a more realistic feel. We even see Ryan at a congressional hearing where it’s debated if he broke any laws. At the opening wedding, we’re delivered an excellent fake out where a waiter doesn’t attack Ryan like we thought he would. The music and the man’s nerves made us expect another stabbing, but it was instead a “blood” toss on par with PETA. The man was a grieving father whose daughter Sherry was killed at Korban. He blames Ryan for what happened and the guilt our protagonist feels is real. For a moment it actually looked like The Following was focusing on strong character development and not killing.

Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX
Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX

But then we’re reminded how short sighted this show really is. The congressional hearing ends within minutes, clearing Ryan of any wrongdoing. That waiter at the wedding? He’s not a grieving father after all. He’s a sociopath named Andrew (Michael Irby) following Mark Gray (Sam Underwood). Ryan finds this out when he arrives at the girl’s parents house, offers his sincere condolences to the mother, and the sees a completely different man.The parents also quickly forgive Ryan too, instantly absolving him of guilt. So just as quickly as the show began the discussion about collateral damage, it’s over. It’s very disappointing. I loved the early fake out and was all set to watch Ryan get reamed by two upset parents who’s confused daughter was gunned down. A daughter who, as far as we know, was only guilty of being at Korban. Instead the show defaults to its typical formula that no one is who they say they are, everyone is evil, and killing is simply a way of life.

Female representation is once again a major weak spot with two disappointing performances. The first is Max who is now part of the FBI. Her fling with Weston, that we spent all last season building towards, is already over, and it’s a little silly why it ended. We see in a flashback that Weston left to go on a revenge mission for his father’s death. Mark is out there and he needs to be stopped! His reasons are sound, but Max responds to his departure with angry sobbing and yelling, saying that he needs to stay there with her. It’s pretty bizarre, especially since we never saw them as a couple and don’t know the motivations behind Max’s extreme emotional state. Was she upset Weston would die? Did she just want to be alone?

Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX
Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX

Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson) was the other disappointment. She’s a brand new character this season and an identity beyond Ryan’s new girlfriend it not established. In fact, she’s as stereotypical as they come. When Ryan kicks the mission to find Mark into high gear, Gwen responds with frustration that Ryan is putting his job first. Apparently that’s an issue for them? Does she not care that a crazy psychopath is running rampant with new followers and Ryan needs to save lives? Their “fight” is resolved at the end with a kiss and apology, which is as cliched as it can get. Calling it now: Gwen will get captured later on, Ryan will try to save her, and she will die. That’s literally her only role right now. Future dead girlfriend.

“New Blood” does get credit for returning this show to its tonal roots. One of the big reasons Season 1 was so good was because of how terrifying it was. Back then The Following was a deeply unsettling program with creepy houses, sadistic villains, and unpredictable outcomes. Season 2 quickly replaced this with an insane body count and a lot of stabbing, and it sucked. This premiere still had the stabbing (because duh), but Mark is a pretty scary villain. The guy is supremely messed up after watching his brother get killed. Mark apparently now has a double personality, not entirely unlike Gollum/Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, where he talks to Luke through himself. It’s an interesting change and one that can help make this show better.

Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX
Photo Credit: Christopher Fragapane/FOX

At best, “New Blood” makes Season 3 look like a soft reboot. The show does feel a little different with a crazier villain, law enforcement not being moronic, and a possible exploration into the impact of Ryan’s actions. Apparently this new season will have a smaller body count too. All of these are good things and will help the show improve, maybe even make a fourth season more likely. However, a lot of the negatives still remain, and those alone can spell doom. This is still a ludicrously crafted world filled with unreasonably crazy people and stupid actions. I don’t exactly have much faith in the ability to save this show at this time and mainly expect this to be the final season. We’ll see if that pans out in the long run.

As an aside, Pop-Break.com will not be covering The Following weekly anymore. The viewer numbers and ratings plummeted last year with the decreasing quality, and with that came less readership. Reviewing the show weekly stopped having any benefits. Personally too, it stopped being an enjoyable experience. I did not want to watch the show anymore. I don’t even know if I’ll stick with this season. It will be very week to week decision. There’s no guarantee of future coverage either, like a mid-season catch up or finale review. My apologies to the show’s fans who followed my reviews. Whatever number of you still remain.

Rating: 6/10

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.
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