From show creator Kevin Williamson, the hit psychological thriller The Following is returning to Fox for its second season. This time around, when Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) finds himself in the middle of a horrific new murder spree, the FBI calls on Ryan and Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) to speak with the lone survivor, Lily (Connie Nielsen), in order to help them solve the case. Ryan is reluctant to re-engage with the FBI, but finds a valuable ally in his niece, Max (Jessica Stroup), an NYPD cop working in the Intel Division, who helps prove his suspicion that Joe Carroll’s (James Purefoy) reign of terror is far from over.
During this recent interview to promote Season 2 of The Following, executive producer Kevin Williamson talked about the biggest difference between Season 1 and Season 2, the use of flashbacks, the decision to bring Joe Carroll back, the biggest challenges this season, what they learned from Season 1 that they’ve carried over into Season 2, how he balances scares vs. violence, keeping a sense of humor, the journey for Emma (Valorie Curry), the new characters, the dynamic between Mike and Ryan, and the mutual obsession between Ryan and Joe. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
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 all changed. I think the biggest difference is that it’s not such an FBI chase, in the sense that Ryan Hardy’s not a consultant, smack in the center of an FBI task force, 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.
There is a year time jump, but the first episode has flashbacks to the events that have occurred in that year. Is that going to be a staple of Season 2, or is that just for the premiere?
WILLIAMSON: No, we certainly use it 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 when a certain someone is alive, we explore childhoods. We go a little bit more into the psychology of our characters and what made them the way they are. 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.
What was behind the decision to bring Joe Carroll back, and did you have the plan of how it was going to play out, all along?
WILLIAMSON: 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. 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 an escalation and an evolution of his character, and it’s really been a lot of fun. So, yes, it’s always been in the game.
Did you ever consider getting rid of Joe for good?
WILLIAMSON: Of course, I’ve considered it.
What changed your mind?
WILLIAMSON: We’re still telling the story. We’re not done with the story yet. When the story’s done, that’ll happen.
What was your single biggest challenge, going into the new season?
WILLIAMSON: Well, I wanted the show to be different. I didn’t want it to feel like every week 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 pick what you like and you 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. 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. So, you figure out what doesn’t work and you throw that aside. I think we learned a lot about that, 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, 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.
WILLIAMSON: That’s a loaded question. I learned so much. Every project is different. This story has been, in some form, in my head for 15 years, and I finally got an opportunity to tell it. I had always envisioned it as a movie or a cable show without commercial breaks. Then, it ended up as a network drama with breaks, and I was suddenly challenged with, how do I get the momentum and pace, and keep a thriller going, and write to a commercial break, six times over 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 all those scenes I’d rather see. All those scenes about Ryan Hardy, Claire and Joe Carroll, and how he teaches his cult, how he finds these people and their vulnerable minds, and how he 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. The scenes when Ryan Hardy must save little Joey for the woman he loves, are 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.
Because this show can get quite dark, do you have a hard time balancing how far you can go?
WILLIAMSON: It’s definitely dark, but I don’t ever sit around and think, “Oh, let me just 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. And when I think of a thriller, I just think of a fast-paced page-turner, edge-of-your-seat type of experience. I want people to be moved. I do 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, just in terms of their MO. I like the dark. 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? 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 remember just the brutality and the body count. That’s not the story 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, every season can just be a brand new show.
How important is it for you to keep some humor in the show?
WILLIAMSON: Well, there’s actually more of that this year. We’ve lightened Ryan up. Ryan has a whole different persona this year. After last year, he’s not so dark and hopeless and grim. This year, 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 the surviving side of him. We have a whole international house of psychos that are just delicious. We have some really fun characters. It’s been exciting, this year. I just hope people will give it a chance because it is a brand new, different show. It has a lot of the fun stuff from last year, but I think it takes our characters into 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 three chapters of five episodes. This last five, we are already setting up for Season 3. I’m really hopeful that we get a Season 3 because I’ve got another story I want to tell.
We see, in the first episode, the public’s fascination with Joe Carroll 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 on the periphery in the storytelling?
WILLIAMSON: The entire premise of the premiere is that 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, we do play a little bit more with the publicity and 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 these cable news channels. It is on the peripheral, but yes, we do go down that road. Carrie Cooke, for instance, who wrote the book that we tease in the first episode, actually comes onto the show later, has a full-on storyline and becomes a major part of the series. She’s got her own cable news show. She’s a little tabloid cable news journalist who wrote the book. It’s one of those books that she wrote really quickly, wanted to get it out there by the anniversary, and the publishers are trying to make a buck. Its accuracy is in question.
What’s Emma’s journey, this season? Is she still just a Joe Carroll follower, or does she have her own thread that she’ll be working through?
WILLIAMSON: Well, a little of both. She is one of the surviving members of last year. In the premiere episode, we don’t touch on her too heavily. In real honesty, we needed a lot of real estate to set up our new characters. But she does emerge, in a big way, as the episodes continue. She has spent the year hiding in the shadows of society. She’s got nose rings, and she dyes her hair. She’s had a hard time of it. She’s the FBI’s most wanted, so she is going to have an interesting journey because she thinks Joe’s dead. Then, when she discovers that he, in fact, may not be, there’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 the little nanny who took care of this kid. She’s not so much a follower anymore. She’s a little bit more of a leader.
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 last season?
WILLIAMSON: Oh, sure. I always feel that Joe Carroll is this delicious character. He’s got these followers. We met a handful of them last year. But, we never met or 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 get to see how they interact with our surviving characters from last year. Me and the writers have had a lot of fun 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 see how it all falls into place, and you see how these characters all emerge and come together, you go, “Oh.” You’ll understand. There’s a bigger plan in place. I know that wasn’t much of an answer, but I’m trying to be spoiler free.
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?
WILLIAMSON: 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 Ryan, with all his years and experience on him, working alongside Mike Weston, who is basically becoming Ryan Hardy before his eyes. I think that relationship is the center and focus of most of the season. 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 of this brutality, and the horrific events he witnessed and was 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.
Are we going to see him at odds with Ryan, especially since he’s refused to join the task force officially?
WILLIAMSON: Yes. That’s what’s going on right now. Here are two men that should be friends, but Ryan is 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 protect Weston is to push him away. It’s a bittersweet relationship. It’s like, “I’m not going to be your friend because I actually care about you.”
How do you put a new twist on Ryan and Joe’s mutual obsession with each other, this year?
WILLIAMSON: Well, I feel like now we’re on to the obsession. Last year, it was like we’re trying to find Joe Carroll. At the end of last season, we saw Joe unraveling because he was obsessed with Ryan, but now we’re telling a full-on love story. You’ve got these two men who are 100% obsessed with each other. 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. He’s obsessed with it because of 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 human, so it’s going to be interesting. His journey this year is to watch how that goal changes, over the course of 15 episodes.
The Following returns to Fox for a special preview on January 19th, immediately after the NFC Championship game, and then on its regular night and time on January 27th.