Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll have a complicated relationship.
Hardy hates Carroll, and for the best of reasons. Carroll's a serial killer—a former literary professor who slaughtered beautiful co-eds as his twisted salute to Edgar Allan Poe. Hardy's the FBI agent who captured him (twice) and supposedly killed him off, but not before Carroll and members of his cult—his following—took away much of what Hardy loved, including his main squeeze, Claire. Carroll even managed to stab Hardy in the heart, forcing him out of active duty and necessitating a pacemaker. As such, Hardy's reminded of Carroll's evil with every beat of his telltale heart.
For Carroll, murder is a beauty sublime, a work of art. And Hardy, by his relentless pursuit, has incorporated himself into the man's terrible tapestry.
Now that Carroll's out of the picture (but not completely dead, as it were), his followers come to the fore, and they're equally disturbed and even more terrifying, especially considering their sheer ubiquity. Even as Carroll fell out of sight after Season One, the cult continued its leader's grim, sadistic work. It seems as though members' main purpose is no longer just to kill, but to draw out Carroll and tear down Hardy—mentally, emotionally and physically, if possible—and anyone else who might stand in their way.
Hardy now believes the only way to stop them is by working outside the confines of the FBI. He must destroy them himself.
The Following is a dark, taut crime thriller following the grotesque noir template perfected by The Silence of the Lambs. As such, it may also be one of the most disturbing shows to ever land on broadcast television.
This serial drama hasn't indulged in suits of human skin … yet. But the violence and brutality we see here is disturbingly close, in both measurable content and emotional shock, to what then-horrified moviegoers saw when the R-rated Silence of the Lambs was released in 1991. The difference between the two is only a matter of degree. We see mutilated bodies and blood-spattered walls. We hear the screams of innocents as their assailants hurt and kill them. So often this happens onscreen that at times it seems The Following shares Carroll's thrill of pain and appreciates his vision of creating "beauty" by way of brutality.
It punishes viewers for tuning in. Then, like a sadist luring a masochist, it hopes they will come back for more.
In an extended replaying of scenes from Season One, Hardy shoots a follower in cold blood, and he and Claire are attacked and stabbed multiple times. As Season Two then commences, the pair is taken to the hospital covered in blood. (Claire does not survive.)
Three men attack six people in a subway car, stabbing all of them and killing most. Hardy pistol-whips a follower. He is violently struck by a cab. Someone is punched in the throat.
Amid jokes about such things as necrophilic masturbation, we see photos of a bloody murder victim, her body stripped down to underwear. We see twins Mark and Luke seduce a target, then strangle her. She and one of them are seen in underwear as he pushes the necrophilia theme even further, lying down with the corpse and talking about touching her. The men later dress the body in a flimsy nightie.
A man pays for a prostitute's services: She takes his money while under the covers, apparently nude. We learn that Hardy spent several months drunk after Claire's death. Hardy and another man plot to mislead a grand jury; Hardy refuses to collaborate with the FBI. We hear "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑."
Joe Carroll escapes prison by killing five guards. (We see them in pools of their own blood). He has "unfinished business," we learn—to kill the woman he was attacking when Ryan Hardy apprehended him. Hardy, now a broken man with a drinking problem, is called in as a consultant.
We see at least a dozen or so dead, bloodied and mutilated bodies, many with their eyes removed. A woman disrobes down to only her panties at a police station, revealing a body covered with writing. (We see a full view of her from the rear.) "Lord, help my poor soul," she says—then kills herself by jabbing an ice pick into her eye socket. We see her face streaming blood and watch her twitch violently as she dies.
A would-be victim of Carroll's tells a jury how she tried to push Carroll's knife further into her abdomen, hoping it would cut an artery and end her misery. She takes off her shirt, revealing a bra and a torso covered with scars. One man nearly strangles another. Hardy bends back Carroll's fingers to torture him. People are stabbed, kicked and hit with pieces of wood. A follower practices his killing skills on dogs. (We see dead dogs and an injured one.)
Audiences learn that Hardy slept with Carroll's wife, and there's talk of other affairs. Gay men ogle a detective. Hardy replaces the water in a water bottle with vodka. Characters say "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑" twice each and misuse God's name a few times.