:::Spoiler alert for seasons one and two of The Following:::
Just days before the new season of The Following premieres, we're breaking down what to expect. We caught up with the cast of the show at New York Comic Con to talk about what's going to happen in the second season after such an explosive (literally) end to the last one.
During the first season, audiences were introduced to Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy's characters, who play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. Joe Carroll, played with relish by Purefoy, is the lit-loving and manipulative ex-professor-turned-serial-killer who heads a devoted cult of -- wait for it -- followers. Meanwhile, Bacon stars as Ryan Hardy, the former FBI agent who tracked down Carroll after his first killing spree before retiring into heavy alcohol abuse and depression -- that is, until Carroll escaped prison and his "groupies" began surfacing and Hardy was called back in to help.
After a season of chasing each other into some dark places, audiences were left wondering if Carroll would survive a huge houseboat blast, and what would happen to Hardy and Carroll's love interest, Claire, after being stabbed. (Hint: It's not good.)
After Claire's murder at the end of season one, Hardy finds a new love interest a year after the attack that left him injured. Connie Nielsen steps in to play Lily Gray, a New York City art dealer. Nielsen uses her own linguistic talents in the role, speaking more than half a dozen languages.
"[Lily] has a background in Europe," Nielsen says carefully, trying not to reveal too much about her character. "She also has a gallery in France, and she's someone who just has an international sort of life. She is actually a victim in an attack where she is the sole survivor, and that sort of brings her into our story. Then there are a series of problems that actually [lead to] more problems, and that's really as much as I can tell you."
The show deals with both heroes (or in Hardy's case, a very reluctant hero) and villains, but the characters are given shades of gray to play around with, toying with the audience's perceptions of what "evil" motivations might actually look like in this world.
"I love playing a villain," Valorie Curry says of her role as the cult-member-turned-babysitter and murderer, Emma. "No villain ever thinks they are [evil]. I could never approach her as an evil character. She's somebody who does monstrous things and was raised a certain way, and programmed a certain way, and because she loves someone [Joe Carroll] so much, she's willing to do monstrous things."
"Everything Joe does, he believes in like proper sociopath would," explains Purefoy. "Joe doesn't think there's anything wrong with what he does. He thinks it's unusual, but he doesn't think there's anything wrong with that. He absolutely adores his son, and his wife; but clearly, he's never going to be dad of the year, is he?"
While the show deals with some pretty dark deeds and situations, Bacon says he doesn't mind going in that direction. "I don't think you'll ever hear me saying, 'I don't wanna make it too dark,'" he says. "I'm not that guy."
At the end of the first season, things got even more violent as FBI agents Hardy and Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) went rogue with a suspect.
"Mike got the crap kicked out of him and survived," Ashmore begins. "But he also murdered, kidnapped, and tortured a suspect at the very end. That was a big turning point. There are very serious consequences to what [Hardy and Weston] did in the last episode, which was take that guy out in the woods, beat the crap out of him, poke his eye out, and shoot him in the head.
Ashmore explained what his character, the formerly green and enthusiastic FBI agent will be dealing with this season. "I think that what we're seeing is a mirror of what Ryan went through," he says. "The same events: losing people close to him, having his life threatened, having to kill people. We find Ryan in the pilot as an alcoholic, broken down, and we saw Mike in the pilot, this shiny new agent. We've seen him being broken down. It's a journey of does he, within the same circumstance, follow Ryan's path?"
The same sort of mirror situation happens to Ryan Hardy at the beginning of this coming season. Now a professor at a New York City University, Hardy's teaching criminology full time, and it's a marked similarity to where audiences saw Joe Carroll get his start.
"You'd like to believe we jump ahead in time a year," Bacon says. "And you'd like to believe that maybe Ryan has moved past his Joe Carroll obsession -- because the obsession obviously works both ways -- and has moved on with his life. But you look at him and you say, 'What's he doing?' He's teaching in a tweed jacket, and you kinda go, 'That's Joe.' That's who Joe was when we first met him. So you come to find out that he has not let his obsession with Joe go all together. It's still there beneath the surface."
While Carroll may have escaped the explosion -- though whether he's unscathed remains a mystery -- don't expect too much of a change in character for this Edgar Allen Poe-inspired sociopath.
"Joe is only about Joe," Purefoy explains. "I think one of the interesting things that I've found about playing him with our audience is that they feel very complicated about him. Especially if you try to show him as very human -- by humanity I mean, having a sense of humor, for example -- that kind of stuff really helps with an audience. Because if he's got a good, sardonic dry wit on him, then the audience find themselves laughing one minute, and horrified by what he does the next."
Purefoy enjoys taking viewers on a ride with Carroll. "You want them to feel complicated about you," he says. "You want them to like you one minute and loathe you the next so that the ebb and flow over an episode and over a season -- that's what keep people coming back."
But what does Purefoy really think of Joe Carroll? "He is malignant with a capital M."
Watch a sneak preview of this season:
Tune in to The Following's season premiere on Sunday, January 19 at 9 p.m. CST following the NFC Championship Game before settling in to the show's time-slot premiere on Monday, January 27 on Fox.