Showrunners for hit shows hate to let spoilers out before a season begins, and The Following’s (Fox, Sunday, 10/9C – then, from January 27th, Mondays, 9/8C) Kevin Williamson is no exception. What he does do, though, is set the stage really well – and his thoughts on season two are intriguing in the extreme. He might even be the teensiest bit spoilery in spite of his best efforts to the contrary.
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Kevin Williamson: It’s such a hard question to answer, because I’m looking at it as we approach Episode 11, which we’re currently working on, and I think the entire show’s different. I think our characters are in a different starting place, pushing forward a year later. The entire show has reset, but it’s also pushed forward a year. It’s like the story is complete—I don’t know, it’s all changed.
I think the biggest difference is it’s not such an FBI chase in the sense that Ryan Hardy’s not a consultant smack in the center of an FBI taskforce trying to find Joey who’s been kidnapped. This story is told from a different starting place. It’s a little bit more of a character thriller and a relationship thriller, if that makes sense; rather than a procedural FBI hunt them down thriller.
As you mentioned, it is a year time jump. In the first episode, we do have flashbacks to … the events that have occurred in that year. Is that going to be a staple of Season 2 or is that just a premiere thing?
Kevin: No, we certainly use it honestly when we have an important piece of information that will propel our current day story forward. I think we use flashbacks, like we did last year, in a lot of various ways. We show a little bit of what happened in the past year, but we also— Like for instance, when a certain someone is alive, we explore sort of childhoods. We go a little bit more into, sort of, a little more of the psychology of our characters and what sort of made them the way they are. Like I said, once again, it’s a little bit more of a relationship thriller, so some of these flashbacks that we’ll be seeing sometimes go all the way back to childhood.
I’m curious, what was kind of behind the decision to bring Carroll back, and last year, did you have the plan of how it was going to play out all along?
Kevin: Yes. First of all, yes. I love Joe Carroll. I love James Purefoy as Joe Carroll. I felt like I have the rest of the story to tell. I feel like there was so much last year where we were just trying to find little Joey, find Joey. There was so much of the cult and Joe Carroll and what he was about and what he was doing that we didn’t get to tell. There were so many of those stories, that we just kept saying, “Well, we’ll do those in the second year.”
What Joe Carroll is about this year and what he’s doing is completely different than last year. It’s sort of an escalation and sort of an evolution of his character; so it’s kind of cool, and it’s really been a lot of fun. So, yes, it’s always sort of been in the game.
Obviously, the show can get quite dark. Do you have a hard time kind of balancing how far you can go with the show?
Kevin: You mean in terms of just the violence or—?
Yes. Just in general with what you’re allowed to show versus how much you decide to show or don’t want to show?
Kevin: It’s definitely; it definitely is dark and this year, oddly enough— I don’t ever sit around and think, “Oh, let me just sort of write a dark show.” I’m not trying to creep people out but I do want to tell a scary story. I do want it to be a thriller. When I think of a thriller, I just think of sort of a fast paced, sort of page turner, edge of your seat type experience. I want people to be moved. I do sort of want to explore a bunch of different types of characters this year, so we bring in a bunch of interesting new characters. Their psychosis is such that it does make for some rather dark sequences, because just in terms of their MO. I like the dark.
No, I do too. I just—
Kevin: I’m not so much in love with blood and guts. That’s the stuff I’m not so into, I’d rather be scary. The challenge, and it’s a really good challenge, is how do we scare the audience and then how to we also sort of—when it needs to be scary, it’s scary. When it needs to be funny, it’s funny. When it needs to be dramatic, it’s dramatic. When it needs to be disturbing, it’s disturbing. I think the challenge for network television is how do you do that without ripping heads off and showing innards and things like that. That doesn’t interest me anyway. I don’t like grossing people out. I’m much more into the scaring; I’d rather scare people.
We’ve been pretty good. The show doesn’t feel as violent as it did last year. There are some of the later episodes of last season where you sort of remember just sort of the brutality and I think of just sort of the body count. That’s not the show we’re telling this year. It’s just different, but I’m not going to pretend it’s not scary and violent, because it is. It just has a different tone and feel to it this year, which hopefully, that every season can just be a brand new show.
I want to talk about Emma. I love that she’s still a part of this world. We don’t see a ton of her in the first, we do a little bit. What’s her journey? Is she still just a Joe follower or does she kind of have her own thread that she’ll be working through this season?
Kevin: Well, yes, a little of both. In the regard that she is one of the surviving members of last year. She doesn’t have—in the premiere episode we sort of we don’t touch on her too heavily. That’s so that we could, we need, in real honesty, a lot of real estate to sort of set up our new characters.
Also, it’s going to be interesting. She does emerge in a big way as the episodes sort of continue, but she has spent the year hiding in the shadows of society. She’s got nose rings, and she dyes her hair every time she walks out the door. She’s had a hard time of it. She’s the FBI’s most wanted, so she kind of is going to have an interesting journey, because she thinks Joe’s dead. Then, when she discovers that he, in fact, may not be, it’s going to be a lot of mixed emotions. Did he abandon her? Did he have his reasons? She is very conflicted, and she’s going to want some solid answers. She’s not the little girl; she’s not this little nanny who took care of this kid. She’s not so much follower anymore. She’s a little bit more of a leader.
Also, we see a little bit of this in the first episode. The public’s fascination with Joe and how it becomes such a big news story as soon as something happens, has that become more of a story point this year, or is it kind of on the periphery in the story telling this year?
Kevin: Well, yes …. I think in the beginning, the entire premise of the premiere is it’s one year later. It’s the anniversary of Joe Carroll’s death and the anniversary of the Havenport tragedy. The book’s coming out, so yes, we do sort of play a little bit more with the publicity and the press and sort of the media aspect of a case like this. Clearly, in the last couple years, if you think of all the big, scary events that have happened in the nation, they’re all over CNN and they’re all over these cable news channels. It is on the peripheral, but yes, we do sort of go down that road.
Carrie Cooke, for instance, who wrote the book, that we tease in the first episode, she actually comes onto the show later and has a full on storyline and becomes a major part of the series. She’s got her own cable news show and the whole bit. She’s like a little tabloid cable news journalist who wrote the book. It’s one of those books that she wrote it really quickly, wanted to get it out there by the anniversary, and the publishers are trying to make a buck. Its accuracy’s in question.
You’ve talked a couple times about how the show is different this season, and obviously, the first year of any show is a shakedown cruise. I’m wondering what you learned from that first season and how you applied that to Season 2 in terms of character interaction or just anything like that.
Kevin: That’s a loaded question. I learned so much. Every project is different. Every story you tell— This story has been, in some sort of form, in my head for 15 years and I finally got an opportunity to tell it. Then, I always envisioned it, perhaps as a movie. Then, I envisioned it as maybe a cable show without commercial breaks. Then, it ends up as a network drama with … breaks, and I suddenly am challenged with how do I get the momentum and pace, and keep a thriller going. Then, write to a commercial break six times over in the course of 42 ½ minutes. I assembled a group of writers, and I got an amazing production team. I think the show looked great; but you learn a lot.
I never envisioned this show to be such an FBI hunt. One of the things I always kept wanting to do was write those other scenes. All those scenes I’d rather see. All those scenes about Ryan Hardy, and Claire, and Joe Carroll, and how he teaches his cult, how he finds these people and their vulnerable minds, and how he sort of digs in there and gets them to turn their will and life over to him, and fall into such a blind devotion. Those are the scenes I want to see. Those are the scenes that when Ryan Hardy must save little Joey for the woman he loves, that’s always the tops, that’s always the A story. Until Joey’s found, that has to be the A story or it doesn’t make sense. Then, you find yourself writing an FBI show.
One of the things I was really hoping to do this year is just to turn left, and not be so focused on the FBI. They’re 100% in the show, but Ryan Hardy’s not really in the center of the task force. He’s doing his own thing.
In terms of the new characters, was there a type of character that you wanted to have in the show that wasn’t in the show last season, in terms of a direction for this season in terms of the followers?
Kevin: Oh, sure. I always feel that Joe Carroll’s this delicious character. He’s got these followers, but we would sort of—we met a handful of them last year, but we never met, but we never really got to live with too many of them. I wanted to make sure that we had three or four new characters here, both good and bad, that we really can invest in, and we get to see how they interact with our surviving characters from last year.
Yes, me and the writers, we had a lot of fun coming up with Sam Underwood’s character. We did want to tell a new story. Not to give anything away, but as the show progresses and you sort of see how it all falls into place, how these characters all sort of emerge and sort of come together, you go, “Oh.” You’ll sort of understand; there’s a bigger plan in place.
Obviously, Mike’s been beating himself up over the events that led to Debra’s death in Season 1. How is that going to drive him in Season 2?
Kevin: I’m sorry. What was the first part of that?
Mike’s been beating himself up about Debra’s death, so how’s that going to drive him in Season 2?
Kevin: Well, I really think that now that we have sort of—because of last year, I think that Mike and Ryan’s relationship is a key focal point of this entire season, because it’s such a great parallel. We’ve got sort of Ryan, with all his sort of years and experience on him working alongside of Mike Weston, who is sort of basically becoming Ryan Hardy before his eyes. I think that relationship alone is sort of the center and focus of most of the season, and Mike’s having a real hard time with it, as you saw in the first episode and that continues.
With regard to last year, and everything that happened with Debra Parker, and all this brutality and horrific events he witnessed, and were a part of, that’s nothing compared to what happens this year for him. He really does get pushed to the absolute limits of his sanity and his ability to cope with something. He has a quite an interesting journey. He doesn’t have a good time of it. He has a really—
Are we going to see him at odds with Ryan, since he’s refused to join the taskforce officially?
Kevin: Yes. It’s kind of what’s going on right now. That happened in the first episode. Here’s two men that they should be friends, but they’re just—Ryan’s just going to push everyone away, because, in his mind, they’re just going to get killed. It would kill Ryan if something happened to Mike. It would just be the end of him. In a lot of ways, the only way he can sort of protect Weston is to push him away. … bittersweet relationship. It’s like I’m not going to be your friend because I actually care about you.
I wanted to ask, how do you put a new twist on Ryan and Joe’s mutual obsession with each other this year?
Kevin: Well, I feel like now we’re on to the obsession. Last year, it was like we’re trying to find Joe Carroll. Joe Carroll, who we started to sort of play out the end of last season where he sort of saw Joe sort of unraveling, because he was sort of obsessed with Ryan, but now you’re telling a full on love story. You’ve got these two men who are 100% obsessed with each other. Certainly, Ryan is, and as we set up, and I think it was Episode 12 of last year, they need each other. They fuel each other.
It’s almost reaching a point where, all Ryan wants to do is put a bullet through Joe’s head. That’s all he wants to do, he’s obsessed with it, because he wants vengeance. He wants revenge for everyone who’s died. He wants revenge for Claire. He wants revenge, and he wants a bullet through that guy’s head. That’s what’s driving and motivating him, but through the course of the season, that’s a false goal because Ryan’s a human and so it’s going to be interesting. The fun of the show is to sort of—his journey this year is sort of to watch how that goal sort of changes over the course of 15 episodes.
To kind of follow up on that—
Kevin: The reverse ….
Did you ever consider getting rid of Joe for good?
Kevin: Of course, I’ve considered it.
What sort of changed your mind?
Kevin: Well, we’re still telling the story. We’re not done with the story yet. When we’re done with the story, you’ll see, when the story’s done, that’ll happen.
I’m curious today, you touched on this a little bit, but what would you say was your single biggest challenge going in to the new season?
Kevin: Well, I wanted the show to be different. I didn’t want it to feel like that every week it was going to be the same thing. A first year show is so difficult and you make a lot of mistakes, and then you do a lot of things right. You sort of pick what you like and you sort of find the show. There was such a learning curve to this show.
It’s a very ambitious show. For an hour show, we shoot twice as many scenes than a regular hour show. Our scripts are sometimes 100 scenes, and a typical hour drama is 45. It’s such an ambitious show; we’re trying to make a little mini movie every week with all these twists and turns. Then, of course, you’re working so fast that you get behind and things fall through the cracks, and so you sort of figure out what doesn’t work. You kind of throw that aside, so I think we learned a lot about last year.
We never set out to make a bunch of dumb FBI agents, but we always were trying to portray them as the underdog and sort of be these underdogs who were dramatically one step behind this ruthless killer. At the same point, that’s not satisfying to an audience member over any sort of long term. That’s just one of the many things we learned.
As a follow up, I adore the kind of level of the dark humor that kind of goes along with it. I think that it breaks up some of the tension sometimes. How important is keeping that going forward?
Kevin: Well, there’s actually more of that this year, and we’ve lightened Ryan up. Ryan has a whole different sort of persona this year, in the sense that after last year, he’s not so dark and hopeless and so grim. This year, he has the ability to really sort of—if you come at him, he’ll come right back at you. He’s learned to cope in a way in which his sense of humor is sort of the surviving side of him and he utilized it as with all the ….
We have a whole international house of psychos that are …. They’re just delicious. We have some really fun characters. It’s been exciting this year. I just hope people will give it a chance and sort of see—because it is a brand new different show, and it has a lot of the fun stuff from last year, but I think it takes our characters into a new territory, and I think it’s going to be fun.
We’re writing Episode 11 right now, so we’re coming down to that last chapter. We broke it down into sort of three chapters of five episodes or three books of five. This last five, we are already sort of setting up for Season 3. So I’m really hopeful that we get a Season 3, because I’ve got another story I want to tell. Anyway, I hope everyone watches it.
I just wanted to thank Kevin for his time.
Kevin: Thank you. This went so fast. Thanks, guys. Thank you.
Photos by Brian Dowling and David Giesbrecht/Courtesy of Fox