About the Show

Kevin Williamson loves making audiences scream. The creator of the big-screen Scream franchise (and whose previous TV credits include Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries) goes for the suspenseful jugular, often quite literally, in this graphically violent and shockingly twisty cat-and-mouse thriller. The adversaries: FBI burnout Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon in his first primetime-series starring role) and charismatic serial killer/Edgar Allan Poe fanatic Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Carroll’s escape from prison sets off a chain of terrifying events, many perpetrated by a seemingly vast cult of psychotic Carroll-worshiping acolytes (hence “the following”). The stakes get personal when Carroll targets his ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), also Hardy’s former lover, and their little son, Joey.

Season 1

A familiarity with the macabre writings of Edgar Allan Poe—especially the eye imagery—may prepare you for the mayhem that comes when serial killer Joe Carroll escapes from prison after nearly a decade. A wide network of deranged followers springs into bloody action to help carry out his elaborate revenge plot against isn’t he retired? ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who put Carroll away. Hardy is especially keen on protecting Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire, with whom he had an affair, and her son (and Carroll namesake) Joey. The body count is so high that, midway through the season, Williamson admitted, “Characters I don’t want to say goodbye to are dying. We’re that show.” Much suspense is generated by never knowing exactly who will be revealed to be part of Carroll’s cult of mad followers, and the relationships among his most prominent disciples can be erotically charged and disturbing. Drinking game: Down a shot every time Hardy or one of his FBI cohorts does something stupid and allows a bad guy to get away or gets caught, tortured, shot, or stabbed. You will get very drunk indeed.

Season 2

The action jumps forward a year from Season 1’s climactic showdown, with Carroll presumed dead (though anyone who’s ever watched TV will know better) until a grisly New York subway massacre exposes a new gang of Carroll worshippers, including identical twin brothers named Mark and Luke, who are beyond creepy in their death fixation and mommy issues. Hardy, now allied with his NYPD detective niece Max, initially follows the case as a rogue operative against FBI orders but eventually rejoins the team as Carroll’s presence becomes known. In one of the show’s stranger detours, as the master villain prepares to come out of hiding, Carroll infiltrates a religious cult that makes his own coterie of killers seem almost sane. Almost.

Best Episodes

Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot"
Among the most terrifying hours of TV ever produced, this grisly curtain-raiser follows Carroll's prison escape with horrifying twists revealing just how insidious, deadly, and pervasive his followers are. Trust no one.

Season 1, Episode 9: "Love Hurts"
The sickness escalates, with guest star Marin Ireland playing an especially devoted Carroll fan. She starts murdering other women who share the name of Carroll's ex-wife, Claire Matthews, in hopes of flushing the genuine article out of protective custody.

Season 1, Episode 15: "The Final Chapter"
It's cliffhanger chaos as Hardy pursues Carroll (and his captive, Claire) to a remote lighthouse. Adding to the tension: a desperate search for FBI agent Parker, who's been buried alive. As Kevin Williamson teased at the time: "This was always meant to be a modern-day gothic horror story. And all gothic horror ends tragically." But for whom?

Season 2, Episode 7: "Sacrifice"
Carroll and his nearest and dearest maniacs are invited into the Korban religious cult, where predictably gory initiation rituals commence. On the outside, the horror hits close to home for Max and Special Agent Weston.

Season 2, Episode 9: "Unmasked"
Many unnerving (and, as we've come to expect, fatal) twists occur, including the discovery of the FBI mole and Carroll's public declaration of his comeback, which is preceded by a monstrous attack at a book signing.

Bits and Pieces

  • In the pilot episode, Jeananne Goossen played tough FBI agent Jennifer Mason, but she was written out by Episode 2 to make way for Annie Parisse as Special Agent Debra Parker, whose specialty is cult behavior.
  • For several weeks in 2014, Shawn Ashmore (Mike Weston) found himself competing in the same Monday time period against his identical twin brother, Aaron, a star of Syfy’s Warehouse 13.
  • The Following produces 15 episodes a season, fewer than the network norm of 22, because Kevin Bacon (who had been hoping to land a cable series) was unwilling to commit to a longer shooting schedule.
  • The series films on location in New York, where Bacon lives with wife Kyra Sedgwick and family.
  • Guest stars of note in Season 2: Good Wife Emmy winner Carrie Preston as Judy, who helps hide Carroll during his year of exile; Jake Weber (Medium) as religious cult leader Micah and Jacinda Barrett (The Real World: London) as his wife, Julia; Tom Cavanagh (The Flash) as televangelist Kingston Tanner.