Plot: Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) has been kidnapped by Mark and Luke (Sam Underwood). Can Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) come together to save the woman they love?
Finally, after 15 straight weeks of complete ridiculousness, The Following has finished its second season. This season was basically a jumbled mess of random character introductions and wholly unnecessary plots that are quickly forgotten without an extra thought. So should it really be a surprise for anyone that “Forgive” essentially rendered the past month and change of story completely pointless? After many episodes dedicated to Joe waging a “holy war,” the entire idea is squashed in about 10 minutes. In its place is an episode that really could have happened without any prior events related to Korban, Kingston Tanner (Tom Cavanagh), and the concept of organized religion, for better or for worse.
Right off the bat, I want to mention what I liked the most about this finale: It was simple. This season became very complicated and overstuffed as the episodes kept chugging along. In contrast, “Forgive” focused exclusively on our main cast. There was barely any attention paid to the pointless tertiary individuals belonging to Joe’s religious cult, specifically because they got gunned down by the FBI. Once that was all said and done, the episode swung solely to Joe and Ryan attempting to save Claire. Mark and Luke got their chance to be extremely psychotic mad men which was a nice return to how they were back when the season started. You know, before psychotic religious people took their place and they were pushed to the wayside. In truth, that entire scene at the dinner table was probably the most intense moment of the season.
“Forgive” also took time out to openly question who Ryan is as a person compared to Joe. This was mentioned briefly in recent episodes but last night put the entire concept in the spotlight. As Joe himself said, the two men are very much cut from the same cloth save for a few moral differences. Each man is charismatic enough to get people to do their bidding no matter what. Take a look at Max (Jessica Stroup). Her uncle has easily set her back professionally by a significant margin. How many times was this NYPD detective forced to break the law for family? Or how about how Mike forwent severe PTSD therapy to keep himself on Ryan’s side? That’s the same type of ravenous devotion Emma (Valerie Curry) had for Joe, minus all the sex (except Mike and Max are together now). In more ways than one, Ryan really was becoming Joe.
Which brings us to the entirely expected but still disappointing ending. Right when Joe has a gun to his head, begging to be killed, Ryan chooses to send the man to jail. From a character development standpoint, I can see why Ryan felt the need to do this. His transformation into someone similar to Joe was thrown into his face like a bad mistake. By killing Joe in rage, Ryan wouldn’t be better than the man who refuses forgiveness at every turn. Joe has wanted to die for several episodes now too making this the ultimate form of defiance. From the standpoint of the story though, I think we can all agree how stupid this was. Joe will not go away. He has broken out of jail repeatedly in the past. Ryan is adamant that Joe will be out of his life forever but can we seriously believe that? Absolutely not. Joe is alive and you can bet he’ll return in some capacity to fight Ryan. Hooray?
It is also frustrating that we had to sit through a poorly concocted “holy war” story to reach this ending. Really, what was the point of all that? To fill up a 15 episode season? I honestly cannot remember any other show to adopt a main story only to discard it completely by the finale. Even our lead characters took a step back from all the development they incurred over the past several months. Ryan, who moved on from Claire and was pursuing a relationship with Carrie Cooke (Sprague Grayden), suddenly wants to start over with her. Carrie wasn’t even in the episode at all despite her seemingly high level of importance. Wisely, Claire says it’s a bad idea. Joe is similar as he begs Claire for forgiveness. This is a man who literally last week told Emma how she was the only woman for him. He also had no intention of ever meeting her at the restaurant too. It must really suck to be Claire and have two insane men chasing after you.
Joe and Ryan teaming up to save Claire was a great way to change up this horribly formulaic show. I remember mentioning that this would have worked once Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen) was slighted by both of them half a season ago. Why couldn’t this have happened sooner? Joe working with Ryan instead of against him is actually a good idea to keep the story fresh. There really is so much potential behind this concept and having it appear in the finale is such a tease of what this season could have been like.Maybe we’ll see this in Season 3 since Joe is hopefully staying behind bars for good. Getting locked in a Ryan vs. Joe structure is way too constrictive for a program that clearly wants more.
Since The Following is coming back for another murderfest, the big question is where the show goes from here. Mark is alive, Luke is dead, and they were both picked up by an unknown person. Claire has completely disconnected herself from Ryan and Mike is actively pursuing a relationship with Max. Joe is officially behind bars once again, but Ryan’s pain isn’t over as he has a nightmare about Mark. If the show really wants to make Mark the new bad guy with his mysterious stranger (Carrie perhaps?), it must stick with that and explore Ryan’s pain from a psychological angle. Keep Joe in prison too as a consultant. At the very least, this is a good jumping off point for a more streamlined season. As for “Forgive,” it was an okay ending to a generally subpar Season 2.