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Series: The Following

"I thought I might go more traditional this time, you know, villain, good versus evil. I need a strong protagonist so that the reader can truly invest, a flawed, broken man searching for redemption, and that is you."

The Following is a 2013 TV series starring Kevin Bacon.

In 2004, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a professor of literature at a small Virginia university, murdered 14 female students. He was eventually captured by Ryan Hardy (Bacon), an FBI agent assigned to investigate the murders, who saved the life of Carroll's last victim in the process. However, while doing so, Hardy was stabbed in the heart and forced to leave the bureau due to his injuries. Hardy later wrote a book about the case.

Nine years later, while awaiting execution, Carroll escapes from prison and Hardy is brought back as a consultant. Despite Hardy's skills, intuition and best efforts, Carroll manages to finish what he started by killing the one victim whom Hardy managed to save. His immediate surrender to the authorities reveals that the threat he poses has only just begun, as he demonstrates that he has recruited an army of followers for the purpose of finishing his work.

Destined to be beloved by tropers, as the Big Bad is essentially using this site as his playbook.

On March 4, 2013, the show was renewed for a second season, scheduled to air in 2014 and match the first's 15 episodes. On March 7, 2014, it was renewed for a third season.

Not to be confused with the 1998 film directed by Christopher Nolan, Following.

This show contains examples of the following tropes:

    open/close all folders 

    A - D 
  • Aborted Arc: In Season 2, Lily never really follows through on her "I have many more surprises for you, Ryan" threat. It's possible that she just dropped her vendetta after learning Luke was alive.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Hoo boy. Parker's mom not only let the leader of her cult rape her daughter (when she was probably 13), but literally forced her back into the bedroom after she ran out screaming. Somehow, she still managed to forgive them, and still loves them. Or so she says.
    • Emma had a psychologically abusive and, in her own words, slutty mother, who would put her down even in front of Carroll and Jacob.
  • Acting for Two: Sam Underwood plays Creepy Twins Luke and Mark.
  • Adult Fear: At the end of the pilot, little Joey's babysitter reveals herself to the audience to be part of Carroll's cult, as she kidnaps the little boy and takes him to Sarah's not-really-gay neighbors.
    • They start to teach Joey how to kill in the third episode
  • Affably Evil: Carroll himself. It's no wonder he's got himself a gang of groupies.
    • Faux Affably Evil: However, in reality, Carroll isn't friendly at all and quite psychotic. He even taunts Hardy over his heart problem, and plays the dying screams of Sarah Fuller. Hell, after he has escaped from prison, just watch Carroll's phone conversion with Hardy before he murders his lawyer. He basically toys with Hardy and his lawyer.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Hardy, Parker and Mike go to check out a suspect at the same time Carroll and two of his followers go to terminate him for being a liability. Parker and Jacob play this trope straight; Carroll takes Mike hostage (again) and tries to break Hardy with a Hannibal Lecture.
  • All According to Plan: This seems to be the case no matter what. The first thing that doesn't go according to plan is them not successfully kidnapping Claire.
    • Nicely averted in episode 8 where pretty much nothing goes according to plan. They do manage to kidnap Mike, but he doesn't tell them where Claire is. And then Hardy kills 5 of the cult members and rescues Mike, making the entire episode a defeat for them.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Mark, who was already devastated over the death of his mother.
  • Anti-Hero: Hardy is not one of the easiest people to get along with, has a less than flattering reputation with the bureau aside from the fact that he caught Carroll, and is implied to have a drinking problem.
  • Anyone Can Die: This show could end up being the definition of the trope
    • Debra Parker's death was shocking enough in the first season, but Season 2 somehow took it even farther by killing off Claire in the opening minutes, despite the general consensus that she had the thickest and most certain Plot Armor outside of the two male leads. However, Claire was only Faking the Dead and was shown to be alive at the end of "Unmasked."
    • Emma, pivotal to Carroll's character and a major character show, is killed off near the end of the second season.
  • Arch-Enemy: Carroll to Hardy.
  • Arc Words: "I want my life to mean something."
    • "This is my Chapter."
  • Asshole Victim: Admit it, you wanted Emma to gut her mother after witnessing all the shit she put Emma through.
    • Emma herself, for that matter, at the end of Season 2.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: In "Mad Love," Mike accurately guesses that Maggie has Ryan's sister and that he's going to Brooklyn to save her just by knowing the name of the caller.
  • Ax-Crazy: Carroll and his followers, to varying degrees.
  • Badass in Distress: When Hardy is captured by Emma, Jacob, and Paul. He's able to get Paul and Jacob too terrified to even get near him, and with quiet observations utterly destroys the bond the three have.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: Hardy and Carroll's final fight in the season finale ends up setting the boathouse they're in on fire. While Hardy escapes, Carroll is trapped and killed (they identify parts of the body later) when the building explodes.
  • Becoming the Mask: The fake gay couple ended up attracted to each other for real.
  • Behind the Black: Practically a staple of the show, given all the times a character sneaks up on another character who plausibly should have seen them coming.
  • Berserk Button: Ryan almost strangles Carroll to death when he reveals Sarah's dead body. Later, he breaks Carroll's fingers and has to be pulled off of him by the rest of the FBI team.
    • Don't ever tell Carroll he's a bad writer. Or insult Poe.
  • Big Bad: Carroll and his following.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Season 2 has this with Joe Carroll and Lily Gray (though the former gets more screentime).
  • Big Damn Heroes: Hardy saving Mike in episode 8.
    • Max twice in "Forgive".
  • Big Fancy House:
    • The Cult's HQ in Season 1.
    • Lily's country estate in Season 2.
    • Lily's other country estate, used as Luke and Mark's hideout in the finale of Season 2.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lily Gray.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Agent Riley is the first member of the team killed, in episode three.
  • Bookends: For Season 1, Ryan confronts Joe at a lighthouse. Joe even calls it Bookends. He thinks its a masterful literary technique. Claire thinks its a predictable cliche.
  • Break the Cutie: Mike Weston's entire character development revolves around this trope. Introduced as a Nice Guy to contrast with the more violent Ryan Hardy, he gets kidnapped and tortured by cult members, arrives too late to save Debra, and watches Lily Gray slit his father's throat, all while slowly becoming just as dark and violent as Hardy is. He seems fully broken when he ends up killing Lily Gray instead of taking her into custody.
  • Broken Pedestal: In Season 2, Joe eventually becomes this to the Gray family.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Weston seems the only character smart enough to wear one, which ends up saving his life when he gets shot by a follower. Contrast with the scores of policemen who die from being shot by cult members!
  • Buried Alive: Parker at the end of episode 14. She runs out of air before she can be rescued.
  • Bury Your Gays: Paul's death certainly seems to qualify.
  • Call Back: Near the end of the Season 2 finale, Ryan eats some Chinese food at his home, mirroring the final scene of Season 1 (except this time, he actually gets to enjoy the meal in peace).
  • Cartwright Curse: Hardy seems to believe he's under a version of this: after losing several family members, he's taken to pushing away anyone he might love for fear they'll suffer the same fate.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: During the standoff between the FBI and the cult trio in episode 6, one of the local cops turns out to be another cultist, and two others kill and impersonate members of a SWAT team to get a drop on the others and rescue Jacob and Paul.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Chances are, if there is a small character introduced within an episode, they'll be back in the next one with a bigger role.
    • There's a reason why, of all the women lining up at the FBI command center, the camera focuses on the one who's gonna commit public suicide...
    • Rick, the guy in the Poe mask in episode two. Seems like a completely random event at first, but then he reappears right at the end, douses a guy in gasoline, and lights him on fire. In broad daylight in front of a coffee cart. And then he becomes the next episode's killer of the week.
    • Rick's wife ends up being the next follower of the week after being introduced in the previous episode.
    • Episode 9 introduces Ryan's neighbor/ex-flame Molly. She turns out to be a member of the cult, but more importantly turns up at Ryan's place after Joe dies and stabs both Ryan and Claire in Episode 14.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Maggie sure did enjoy hamming it up in "Mad Love."
    • At the end of "Let Me Go", Joe Carroll does so while providing an exposition of his master plan to Hardy in a manner worthy of a cartoon villain.
      • During his Villainous Breakdown in the first season's final episodes, he outright devours the scenery.
    • Jake Weber was clearly having a bit too much fun playing Micah.
    • Jana. That is all.
  • Cliffhanger: The season finale ends with Molly literally stabbing both Ryan and Claire in the back in Ryan's apartment mere seconds from the end title.
  • Cool Teacher: Carroll's public image before he was caught.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: In the first season, Emma and Co. intend to train Joey in the fine art of psychopathic murder. However, this plot point is pretty much dropped entirely.
  • The Corrupter: Carroll is able to twist just about anyone into being one of his cultists.
  • Cowboy Cop: The FBI team have a tendency to kill cultists rather than arrest them (generally in gun battles, but not always). Ryan and Weston take this to an extreme in the season finale, when they very nearly beat a captured cultist to death and put out his eye in order to get Parker's location. When they end up arriving just a few minutes too late to save Parker, Ryan kills him in cold blood
  • The Cracker: Carroll is able to circumvent the restrictions placed on the Law Library computer given to him to research for his appeal in order to access the internet and recruit his followers.
  • Crazy Survivalist: A militia group calling themselves "Freedom 13" is a main resource for the cult's weaponry and trained personnel.
  • Creepy Twins: Luke and Mark.
  • Cult: The titular "following" Carroll has.
    Carroll: I prefer to call them "friends."
    • Debra was raised in one.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: After the FBI cuts the power to the church, and Hardy disarms the bombs, what's left of the Korban cult is slaughtered in a matter of seconds in the Season 2 finale.
  • Cute and Psycho: Emma, the nanny, who, despite her shy and sweet appearance, killed her mother and is one of Carroll's followers. There's also Sarah's 'gay' neighbours (also followers) - Jacob, who is actually Emma's boyfriend (warning sign in and of itself) and seemed turned on by her killing her mother, and Paul, who is rebounding from his and Jacob's more-real-than-planned relationship by kidnapping a woman and keeping her in their basement.
    • A lot of Carroll's followers/groupies are this. Most of the female cultists we've met have been these waifish bright-eyed girls with seemingly-bottomless reserves of Crazy to draw upon.
  • The Cutie: Emma used to be this, to ridiculous degree, although, even then, she was a little weird. Then Carroll got hold of her, and she became the above.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: One guess.
    • Amusingly, he somehow missed the glaringly obvious flaw in bringing together a bunch of people who think like him. They're all crazy. Hardly anyone is sane enough to have any clue what they're doing.
  • Dead Star Walking: Maggie Grace is credited as a main cast member in the pilot episode, making it seem that her character, Sarah Fuller, will play a major role in the season. Sarah doesn't even make it to the second episode.
  • Deconstruction: Of Religion of Evil and the Dark Messiah. The main flaw in Carroll's plan: he is Surrounded by Psychos.
  • Destructo-Nookie: Louise and Roderick, to the point where it looked like he really would kill her. Then again, she starts by suggesting they go upstairs and break another headboard, so it might be par for the course between them.
  • Determinator: In 2004, Hardy got stabbed in the heart by Carroll, but was able to shoot him in the back anyway. Even with a pacemaker, that still doesn't stop him.
  • Disc One Final Boss:
    • Carroll is arrested and put back in prison by the end of the pilot — but there's still his groupies and followers to contend with. And that was part of the plan. Subverted when Carroll breaks out again in episode 7, and gets away for real to take up leadership of the cult directly.
    • Micah. At first it seems like he'll team up with Joe and create a Big Bad Duumvirate for Season 2, but then Joe poisons him and takes over the Korban cult.
  • Disc One Final Dungeon: The Lighthouse Lake B&B, owned by Sarah's neighbors — and also the place where she is taken to die.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Carroll's killing of Charlie has some decidedly erotic undertones.
    • The same can be said for the episode "For Joe," where Joe stabs Reverend Glenn with a knife. While his victim's screaming in agony, Carroll's moaning with ecstasy.
    • Pretty much made explicit midway through Season 2, when Carroll is asked directly if killing gives him a sexual release, and his response is a practically moaned affirmative.
  • The Dragon: Emma at first seems to be Carroll's chief acolyte, but later turns out to just be in charge of her cell of the cult. Episode 6 reveals that the cult is apparently led in Carroll's absence by a person known only as "Roderick".
    • Dragon with an Agenda: Roderick turns into this as it becomes increasingly apparent that Carroll cares more about his personal vendetta with Hardy than the cult's goal (whatever that may be). Roderick ultimately splits from the cult in episode 13, and Carroll has him killed.
  • Driven to Suicide: When Jordy realizes he's been tricked into helping the FBI against the cult, he starts eating his bandages until he chokes to death.
    • The first person to be identified as a follower commits violent suicide in public.
    • Another follower swallows a cyanide capsule after their capture.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Carlos, who's abruptly stabbed in the neck by Luke because "no one liked him anyway."
    • Lily Gray. Mike literally walks behind her, points a gun at her, and then she gets on her knees. A few minutes later, he executes her.
  • Dropped After the Pilot: Jennifer Mason, who it appeared would be Hardy's main partner, was Put on a Bus back to Quantico after the pilot, being replaced by Debra Parker.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: What Hardy has been doing after capturing Carroll until the start of the show. He then does it again for a few months between seasons one and two.
  • Dying Alone: Ryan Hardy and his friend Tyson have a conversation about this in which Tyson says that nobody wants to die alone. Hardy replies that everyone dies alone and Tyson says that while this may be true, there's no reason to live that way.

    E - K 
  • Enemy Mine: In "Forgive," Ryan and Joe team up in order to rescue Claire from the Gray twins.
  • Enfant Terrible: Chris Bolan, the young son and willing collaborator to his Serial Killer father. It's really hard to feel sorry for him when Hardy and Weston decide to Jack Bauer him.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Jacob still gets along with his mother...although he's not exactly the baddest of bad men.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Emma and Paul both seem to genuinely love Jacob, who cares about both of them. Doesn't stop Emma from abandoning them, though.
    • Unless he was acting (which isn't impossible), Carroll seems to have genuinely loved Claire and Joey, as shown by how emotional he gets when he and Joey finally meet face to face in episode 7.
    • All three members of the Gray family may be ruthless serial killers, but they still love each other like any normal family would.
  • Even Evil Has Taste:
    • Carroll admits that Rick running around setting people on fire while wearing a Poe mask is a bit much.
    • Carroll expresses revulsion upon finding out that Claire went to a CÚline Dion concert.
    • For all her... issues, Emma seems to be above hurting Joey (though the fact that he's Carroll's son probably helps with that).
    • In Season 2, both Emma and Joe think Lily and her family are completely nuts.
  • Evil Brit: Who do you think?
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The other major flaw in Carroll's plan is that he is honestly confused as to why the fact that he has killed a few dozen people would be such a barrier to his attempts to reconcile with his family.
  • Evil Gloating: Carroll is all about it.
  • Evil Mentor: Carroll to his followers.
    • Particularly Roderick. It's indicated that Carroll took him as an apprentice before he was originally arrested, making him Carroll's first follower.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Joe Carroll vs. Lily Gray.
  • Expy:
    • Carroll could be considered a younger, less cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter.
    • Alternatively, he's like Red John, but less camera-shy.
    • Or worse, he could be considered to be a modern Charles Manson.
    • Speaking of Lecter, Hardy is basically Will Graham.
  • Evolving Credits: An interesting example. While main cast members who are absent but still alive are still credited, deceased characters are immediately removed from the opening titles when they are killed. Nico Tortorella, for example, is pulled from the credits with just one episode left of the first season after his character dies, while Kyle Catlett is credited for the rest of the season despite his character being absent (but alive) during the last quarter.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Carroll's MO. He's a worshipper of Edgar Allan Poe, and takes the latter's belief that the eyes are the window to the soul a little too seriously. As such, he and his followers tend to remove the eyes of their victims (usually before killing them)
    • The female groupie who has a nice encounter with an ice pick while waiting for questioning.
    • In Episode 15, Hardy gouges out a cultist's eye in order to make him tell them where Parker was buried.
  • Faking the Dead: Carroll and Claire!
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The woman who stabs herself strips down to her panties first - revealing that her whole body has Poe quotes written on almost every inch. Fetish Retardant just doesn't quite cover it. Then she stabs herself in the eye.
    • Sarah is taking her clothing off and sees herself in the mirror, then you notice the scar on her chest... and the other scars on her stomach.
  • Faux Dark Action Girl: Emma. She gets taken out by Roderick, and Claire, of all people, manages to pin her against the wall in a soon-to-be Cat Fight.
  • Final Girl: Sarah was this in Carroll's original series of killings. Subverted in that he finishes her off after he escapes prison.
  • Fingore:
    • In a less gory example than most, Hardy breaks Carroll's fingers to make him shut up.
    • In a flashback, Carroll's appeals lawyer attempts to fire him as her client. Carroll sends one of his followers to cut off two of her fingers.
    • In episode 8, David pretty much bites off his thumb in order to take the Cyanide Pill sewn into the base of it.
  • First Episode Spoiler:
    • The existence of Carroll's cult, the fact that he kills Sarah, and that her neighbors are both not gay and part of the cult.
    • In the Season 2 premiere, it's revealed that Joe's still alive.
  • First Name Basis: Carroll insists on being called "Joe".
    • A cultured professor and demanding serial killer like him being so informal about his first name? Could it perhaps only be because it's so close to POE.
    • After four episodes of rebuffing Weston's attempts to bond, including a specific attempt to invoke this trope, Hardy finally calls him "Mike" after he defies Parker to help Hardy save his sister and saves his life.
  • Flashback: Used like crazy throughout the first season, to the point where you'd swear this was a J. J. Abrams production. Becomes much less frequent in Season 2, however.
  • For the Evulz: Carroll and his cult basically operate using this M.O., while masking their ideals using Poe's work.
  • Foreshadowing: The episode "Silence" not-so-subtly foreshadows Emma's death via her speculative monologue on the experience of dying.
  • Friendly Enemy: Carroll comes off as this to Ryan in Season 2, even repeatedly calling Ryan his only friend. Ryan doesn't share it.
  • Georgia Doubling: For Virginia.
  • Gorn
  • Great Detective: Hardy is an interesting one. He has the makings of being one, but due to the his faults and heart problem, he isn't what he used to be. Carroll, however, is planning for Hardy to return to this.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Natch.
  • Happily Married: Joe Carroll and Claire Matthews appear to be this in the flashbacks that take place pre-murder spree.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: By the end of the pilot, it's revealed that Sarah's neighbors aren't gay partners at all. They merely built up the pretense because they are among Carroll's disciples, and they were awaiting their chance to kidnap and kill her.
    • Although averted with one of them, who actually seems to have developed some sort of feelings for the other, enough to be obviously jealous over his relationship with Emma.
    • Episode three carries implications that they may both be bisexual, and that Emma is playing a twisted game with both their emotions.
    • Theeeen by Episode 4, "Mad Love", it basically evolves into Polyamory.
  • He Knows Too Much: Carroll says this word for word when he orders the death of the cult's arms dealer.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: A major theme for both Ryan Hardy and Mike Weston. They may still be the good guys, but they edge closer to the dark side with practically every episode.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Heard anytime Hardy really exerts himself, due to the damage his heart has endured at Carroll's hands.
  • Home Porn Movie: In a sense. Molly, who is Hardy's old flame, next door neighbor, and a planted Follower of Joe's, had taped every sexual encounter she had with Hardy without him knowing. Sometime later, she gives these tapes to Carroll who watches one of the tapes.
  • Hope Spot: Episode five is full of them. They get progressively worse, until Hardy is taken hostage right after finding Joey.
  • Hot for Teacher: At least some of Carroll's groupies may have experienced this.
  • Human Sacrifice: In Season 2, Emma has her wrists slit in a ceremony by the Religion of Evil (but luckily for her, it turns out the sacrifice only requires blood, not death).
  • Hypocrite: Hardy at times, especially when around Mike. He keeps trying to convince Mike not to be like him, yet he continues to be reckless (and sometimes idiotic) whenever he's around him. He really shouldn't have been surprised when Mike executed Lily Gray after she surrendered and was on her knees, something Hardy himself did to Alex (in front of Mike, no less) back in Season 1.
  • Hypocritical Humour: One of the male followers of Serial Killer Carroll expresses his desire to snap a kidnapped child's neck, then protests two other followers sharing a room due to the bad example it'll set for said child. Granted, his real reason was jealousy, but still, working with a sadistic killer, kidnapping, and wanting to hurt a kid is maybe just a bit worse than an unmarried couple sharing a room while a child is living in the house.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Whenever a cultist tries an I Surrender, Suckers on Ryan, or tries to go "what are you going to do, you're an FBI agent and can't torture/kill me", they never seem to remember what kind of character Ryan is or how easy he is to anger.
    • Held often by the FBI, and is often identified as a major fault of the show by critics.
    • In the episode "Havenport," Weston recognizes Sheriff Nelson as Roderick and, instead of discreetly warning Hardy or Parker, tries to take Nelson down himself...in a building full of deputies who could (and do) misinterpret the situation. Naturally, Nelson gets away.
    • In "Silence," Emma could have succeeded in her plan to kill both Claire and Robert, had she not elected to shoot Robert first, thus allowing Claire to get the drop on her.
  • I Have Your Wife: Carroll's cult kidnaps the daughter of Carroll's warden in order to coerce him into helping Carroll escape prison.
    • He pulls something similar in Season 2, kidnapping the son of a televangalist who called him out, but it seems Carroll wants him for more than just leverage. He forces him to choose between killing a female Korban member or dying himself, and he chooses the former.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Though he was able to save her life before, Hardy was unable to save Sarah Fuller from being killed by Carroll the second time around.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Carroll surrenders to the FBI, which they initially interpret solely as a means to keep Hardy from strangling him to death. Only when he is interrogated at the prison he escaped from does he reveal that his capture was part of his plan.
  • I Want Them Alive: Lily has a more reasonable version in "The Reaping." She tells her mercenaries that they can kill all the cultists, she just wants Joe brought to her alive. Ultimately it isn't trying to take Joe alive that makes them fail, but the sheer number of cultists and the actions of Ryan.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Hardy does this to a Follower in Episode 15 in order to make him tell them where Parker was Buried Alive. It works but she's dead by the time they get there.
  • Jack the Ripoff: Jordy seems to believe that the best way to honor Carroll is to copy his work exactly. The other cultists believe they're meant to find their own way.
  • Jump Scare: When Hardy is attacked by the man in the Poe mask in the second episode.
  • Karma Houdini: As of the season finale, Emma, and an unknown number of other cultists, is still on the loose.
  • Kill 'em All: In the climax of "The Reaping", Lily's mercenaries descend on the Korban compound and slaughter everyone there. Joe, Emma, Robert, and the rest of the "Chosen," who have already left, are all that remain.
    • And in the following (no pun intended) episodes, Emma kills Robert, Claire kills Emma, and the FBI kill the other cultists.
  • Kill It with Fire: Rick.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Louise is shot by Hardy, while in the middle of saying she doesn't think he's got the guts to.
  • Killed Off for Real: Parker in the season one finale, being Buried Alive.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Carroll does this to Hardy after hitting him with a two-by-four and then proceeding to taunt him with the now-dead Sarah, lowering her body from the ceiling.
  • Knight of Cerebus:
    • Carroll was this in the first season, as whenever he had shown up with a full plan in effect, things would have gone from bad to even worse then before.
    • Come season 2, however, Lily Gray and Micah and his cult of batshit insane people are shaping up to this.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: At the end of "The Reaping," Lily doesn't even try to attack Mike when he sneaks up behind her with a gun on her. She gets on her knees and immediately surrenders. Mike still kills her anyway.

    L - R 
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Anyone who aids Carroll and is subsequently killed (usually by the cops, Carroll, or another follower). Olivia comes to mind.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Lily Gray is the leader of another cult.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Carroll's little speech to Hardy at the end of the first episode is just a little bit meta, don't you think?
    • And then there's this exchange, which sounds like a reaction to a studio note:
    Hardy: Nobody likes me.
    Weston: Well, you're kind of inconsistent and extreme.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: By season 2, it isn't hard to root for Joe Carroll and whomever's else is helping him. Sure, he may borderline on being both Faux Affably Evil AND Affably Evil to his followers, but by season 2, there are even worse people out there than the mass murdering socio-psychopathic Serial Killer like Joe Carroll.
  • Love Triangle: Carroll, Claire and Ryan is a very twisted one. Also Emma, the nanny, and the "gay" neighbours, who are all a part of the cult. Interestingly, it's not the girl who's in the center of the last one. Seems to develop into an OT 3 by the end of episode 4.
  • Mad Artist: Carroll, who considers it all to be a story he's making with Hardy cast as its hero. Also, Rick, in a way, given that he's a busker who recites Poe's works in between his bouts of setting people on fire in broad daylight.
  • Mad Love: Name-dropped as the title of episode four, which focuses on a M-M-F triangle of psychopaths. The trope itself zig-zags all over the place until they all get cozy together at the end.
  • Madness Mantra: The young woman at the FBI command center repeatedly chants, "Lord, help my poor soul" (Poe's supposed Famous Last Words). Then she stabs herself in the eye the way Carroll did to his own victims.
  • Mama Bear: Lily Gray is this to Creepy Twins Luke and Mark.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Following his escape from prison, Joe Carroll seems to be enjoying this life style, always having a nice glass of wine of some kind.
  • Mercy Kill: Jacob smothering the mortally wounded Paul to death at Paul's request so that he can meet up with Roderick without Paul slowing him down.
  • Meta Fiction: Carroll's first book didn't sell too well, which he attributes to it being, "clearly too avant garde". His next one? He spent a lot of time online, and it seems he found TV Tropes...
    • Meta Guy: As a result, Carroll ends up taking his trope to borderline Fourth Wall Observer levels, sounding less like a serial killer and more like a common troper summarizing a work.
  • Meta Twist: Double Subversion. The last few minutes of the Season 2 finale clearly set up a similar cliffhanger to the first season's. However, this time Ryan Hardy isn't attacked by an intruder... That is, until he wakes up in the middle of the night and finds Mark Gray in his room... Except it's just a nightmare, and the real Mark is elsewhere.
  • Mid-Season Twist: Carroll escapes, kills his lawyer, and leaves to a gothic manor where an entire house load of followers reside. He also meets his son for the first time.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Carroll, obviously. He even manages to escape thanks to the plan he created in prison.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Luke and Mark, though not because of denial but because of their nightmare-inducing sadistic glee, first with a couple they kill and later with Mandy.
  • Never Found the Body: Played with. When Carroll is seemingly killed in an explosion in the season finale, they do find partial remains, but Hardy points out that Carroll killed some random civilian earlier, and demands DNA tests to make sure it's not him. By episode's end, it appears it really was Carroll. And then in Season 2, it turns out it wasn't Carroll and that the evidence was manipulated by someone in the FBI.
    • We never see Claire's body after she's stabbed in the first season finale, but Hardy takes Weston's word for it.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Amusingly, things fall apart for the cult after Carroll escapes and takes over.
  • Noble Demon: Charlie promises Joey that the warden's daughter Dana will be OK. Dana is found in a cage unharmed next to a cell containing the body of the psychotic mercenary working for the cult.
  • Not So Different: Inverted when Parker tries to pull this on Emma. It doesn't seem to work.
  • Not Quite Dead:
    • If you thought Joe Carroll died in that fiery explosion at the end of Season 1, think again.
    • Same goes if you thought Claire Matthews really died of her stab wounds at the beginning of Season 2.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-Universe. Before he was revealed to be a serial killer, Carroll wrote a novel called The Gothic Sea, an Homage to the works of his hero Edgar Allan Poe. The book was hated by critics and flopped when it was released. After he was caught however, it became a national best seller.
  • Oh Crap: Hardy's team has this reaction in "The End is Near", when they figure out what the references to "The Masque of the Red Death" in Joe's message means: The cult has infiltrated the evacuation center, and they are about to engage in terrifyingly random violence against innocent people...and they have no idea who they are or how many are there.
  • One Steve Limit: Briefly averted in the episode where one follower starts specifically targeting women with the same full name as Carroll's wife, of whom there turn out to be a fair number.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • Hardy killing Alex in Season 1 as payback for burying Debra alive.
    • Mike killing Lily Gray in Season 2 as payback for murdering his father.
  • Pet Homosexual: Invoked. Sarah Fuller's gay neighbours are Carroll's plants, deliberately pretending to be both gay (a bit too well, but that's another trope) and her friends to put her at ease and make her find them non-threatening.
  • Phone-Trace Race
  • Plot Armor: the closest one can get to an in-universe example, as Joe Carroll is simultaneously writing and enacting a novel about Ryan Hardy. As he wants Hardy to live until the book's climax, he makes sure his plots and his minions hurt him but don't kill him off before that. From time to time, it seems Hardy acknowledges this effect. The armor is solid, as far as Carroll is in full control of events.
  • Police Are Useless: A stand-out moment being in Episode 6, where the FBI somehow manages to bungle a siege they really have no business screwing up.
    • In the second season, Hardy seems to be convinced of this trope. So much so that he wants nothing to do with FBI while conducting his own independent investigation and goes out of his way not to assist them in any way.
  • Polyamory: As of Episode 4, it's looking like the Emma/Jacob/Paul love triangle is resolved.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Jordy Raines.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Used in "Love Hurts"
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Jacob never has actually killed anyone. Or has he? As of episode 9, he has; see Mercy Kill.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • For all of Joe Carroll's Chessmaster pretensions, his cult didn't take that long to implode, because that's what happens when you try to get a bunch of violent unstable sociopaths on the same page and working together toward a common purpose (a common purpose, mind you, that not even Carroll himself seemed to be clear on). Only a handful of people involved have enough sanity to even know what they're doing. The only reason the cult is still around in any form at all is because the cops are even more incompetent.
    • The second-season premiere also depicts the aftermath of the Havenport Tragedy: Mike Weston has been suspended from the FBI pending a review of his conduct during the investigation. And at some point during the intervening year, Hardy hit rock-bottom, ending his friendship with Mike and becoming something of a Conspiracy Theorist.
    • Upon keeping on showing up at Carroller related crime scenes, Hardy gets arrested in "Family Affair" after showing up at a more recent one.
    • When an apprehensive serial killer tries to stab a woman in the bathroom, she hesitates. Then the victim in question sees the knife, shoves the killer out her way, and sprints out the bathroom screaming for help.
    • In "The Reaping", Mike coldly executes Lily Gray as revenge for her killing his father. But at this point in the show, Mike barely knows right from wrong anymore, the police have been incompetent when it comes to catching the villains, and he's no longer stable, having been physically and mentally tortured throughout the show. Given his state of mind, and the dozens of times Lily has gotten away with everything she's done, Mike figured he'd be doing the world a favor killing her.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Hardy absolutely burns Carroll with one in the season finale. Pretty much calling him nothing more than a no talent hack groupie of an overrated no talent hack and that if he wasn't a Serial Killer, no one would give a damn about him.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Jacob decides he can't stand being part of the cult anymore and tries to leave, only for Emma to kill him.
  • Red Shirt Army:
    • The police, including SWAT officers, to a ludicrous extent.
    • Carroll's new cult in Season 2 wears all red. Foreshadowing much?
  • Religion of Evil: Carroll made an entire pseudo religion based off the works of Poe. Parker eventually takes to calling it "Carrollism" or as Weston puts it, Carrollers.
    • The second season brings us a suicide cult even more fucked-up than Carroll's, and one where the members are excited to be chosen as a Human Sacrifice!
  • Revealing Coverup: Roderick removed the cult's hideout from county records to keep it hidden. This turns out to be the absolute stupidest thing he could have done, as comparing those records to satellite photos makes it as obvious as a gunshot wound once the FBI started looking for it carefully.
    • ...Too bad he didn't give that more thought; erasing a dozen or so estates from the records would forced the FBI to divide their resources.

    S - Y 
  • Sadistic Choice: In "Silence," Joe forces Kingston and Preston Tanner to choose between trying to kill each other or being both killed by Joe's men. Kingston eventually takes a third option by killing himself.
  • Sanity Has Advantages: As noted elsewhere on this page, the problem with Carroll's plans are that he and all of his followers are totally nuts.
  • Scary Black Man: Bo, the mercenary employed by the cult in episode 7.
  • Self-Made Orphan:
    • Emma's first kill was her overbearing mother.
    • Mandy, though it doesn't work out as well for her.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: In hindsight, Kingston Tanner killing himself to save his son was pointless, since Joe ended up killing Preston anyway shortly afterwards.
  • Serial Killer: Carroll, obviously, and his followers.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Jacob's character arc. He spends the entire first season stuggling over whether or not he wants to be a part of the cult, and when he finally decides to leave, Emma kills him.
  • Sherlock Scan: The moment Hardy spotted the photo of Sarah's neighbors, he instantly knew something was wrong.
  • Shipper on Deck: As incensed as Carroll seemed to be about his ex-wife's perceived infidelity (or perhaps because of it), he has quite the fixation on Claire filling the role of Hardy's love interest in his story.
  • Shower Of Love: Defied. Emma tells Paul they won't be having sex in the shower; and they leave their undergarments on anyway.
    • And then it's played straight. They either had sex with Jacob in the shower, or immediately after they got out, judging by how the next episode opens.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: A non-verbal example; see Fingore above.
    Hardy: If this book ends in anything but your death, you better plan on a rewrite.
    • As noted in below, Hardy manages to troll Carroll in episode 13, and starts mocking him. When Carroll tries to turn it around and resume a Hannibal Lecture, Hardy just hangs up on him.
  • Slashed Throat:
    • How Emma kills Jacob.
    • How Lily and Mark kill Mike's father.
    • How Kingston Tanner kills himself.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Deadly serious, with barely even a hint of comic relief to spare. Indeed, most of the comic relief that does exist comes from Carroll.
    • However, as of some latter episodes of season one, the comic relief switches around from mostly from Weston and Hardy.
  • Smug Snake: A huge amount of the cultists are incredibly smug even when caught, as many are Nietzsche Wannabes who think of their deaths as part of Joe's ultimate plans. They have a tendency to either commit suicide or be killed in a hail of gunfire.
  • The Snark Knight: Carroll. A perfect example from episode three:
    Oh dear. Has somebody been playing with matches?
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Cult member Charlie is a former soldier who was discharged for psychological reasons, and has since killed at least four people for no other reason than wanting to.
    • The cult actually seems to have several former soldiers and PMC members among its ranks. It is revealed later than many of the cult members were recruited from a disbanded survivalist group
  • Spiritual Successor: There's evidence that "serial killer who works through a cult of slasher groupies" is where Kevin Williamson wanted to take the Scream franchise in Scream 3 and again in 4, 5, and 6, before he was replaced each time. The pilot could've easily worked with horror movies instead of Poe and Sidney in place of Maggie Grace's character.
  • Straw Nihilist: The central philosophy of Carroll's cult seems to be a twisted reading of Nieztche's philosophy: they talk about creating their own morality and killing those weaker than them simply because they can.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Charlie was assigned to follow Claire everywhere, and has since developed feelings for her. Carroll doesn't seem to care.
    • Carroll for Ryan: From the moment they meet Carroll seems to find Ryan fascinating. When Ryan's stops him in the flashback Carroll's every action from that moment on is to draw Ryan back to him: the cult; the book; even his ex-wife are all bait to bring Ryan to him. He even goes so far as to set up one of his cultist to be Ryan's friend with benefits; has her report to him about Ryan's well being and has her bug EVERY room of Ryan's home so when he escapes he has video of everything Ryan has done that he can watch at his leisure. Including having sex.
  • Take a Third Option: Double Subverted, Joe abducts televangelist Kingston Tanner and his son Preston, and tries to force one of them to kill the other on a live internet feed. Preston tries to stab Joe only to get pistol-whipped to the ground by a follower. However, Kingston slits his own throat to save his son, symbolically defeating Joe by proving that people are ultimately good, rather than evil as Joe believes.
  • Take That, Critics!: Done in-universe in episode three. The murder that starts the episode (which was also the final moment of the previous one) is that of a critic who was especially harsh towards Carroll's novel. Hardy feels that was unusually petty of Carroll.
  • That Man Is Dead: Jacob tells Emma "The Jacob you loved isn't here anymore."
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: David tries one on Hardy in episode 8. He's unimpressed.
    • Mike is similarly unimpressed, and just chuckles and points out how completely nuts the guy is.
  • Title-Only Opening: Just a black card with the title ominously fading in. Also shown again at the end of every episode.
  • Token Good Teammate: Jacob is the only cult member who isn't a psychopath and hasn't killed anyone. He even shows signs of a conscience. However, he's ashamed of this and doesn't want to let his friends down, and they resolve to help him get past his hangup.When he finally does kill someone, it's a Mercy Kill of the mortally wounded Paul.
    • Charlie has some shades of this as well. At the very least he has some code of conduct and seems to be a man of his word. Unfortunately, being the only good person in a group of psychos isn't safe...
  • Too Dumb to Live: A common problem with Carroll's followers: due to being sadistic and insane, they can't help but gloat and be smug about their murderous plans, and as a consequence they end up making fatal mistakes and trolling people they really shouldn't be trolling. But Alex from the Season 1 finale takes the cake. Let's review: you've been captured by Hardy and Weston, and they would really like you to tell them where Debra Parker is. Hardy's a certified Bad Ass not above Jack Bauer-ing suspects if the situation calls for it, and Weston's a recovering torture victim who is looking for some payback. Then, after they fully demonstrate their willingness to beat you to death, by breaking your leg and gouging your frigging eye out, you decide to taunt them when they don't get to Debra in time. At what point in your thought processes did that seem like a good idea?
  • Took a Level in Badass: Deconstructed with Weston. Though at first he's little more than a dogged, eager assistant to Hardy, he gets a lot more badass after he's beaten up by Roderick, and moreso after Debra dies. It's clear that the latter severely disturbed him, and he gets so carried away with violence that he manages to worry even ''Hardy.''
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Well, not exactly kindness but Carroll, of all people, seemed to have more or less softened up in the year he was supposed to be deceased. Whilst he still maintains his bloodlust, he generally seems more laid back than he was once. That is, until Lily and the twins entice him out of hiding.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The promos for season 2 pretty much confirm that Carroll is alive.
  • Troll: Carroll loves to call Hardy just to give him a Hannibal Lecture. In episode 13, Hardy manages to troll Carroll mocking him over the fact that Roderick has been arrested, and that Roderick kidnapped Joey. Then he just hangs up on Carroll, who does not take any of this well.
    • It also backfires in episode 12. Carroll calls Hardy, who reveals they found the cult's armory/training ground. Carroll and the other cultists quickly realize this means they're screwed.
  • True Companions: Ryan, Mike and Max, as of mid Season 2 onwards.
    • On the villain side, Lily's cult who she considers her children and family.
  • ▄bermensch: Check out Carroll's flashback lecture in episode three about "making your own morality". Though he's probably just pretending to be this in order to give himself and his followers an excuse for their actions.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Turns out Rick's scared wife, Maggie, is not only a follower too, but was a serial killer long before Joe started 'making friends'.
  • The Villain Makes the Plot: Carroll and his followers have been planning this for years, and the FBI taskforce is mostly playing catchup, though things increasingly do not go according to plan.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Carroll steadily starts having one once he breaks out of prison for real. In episode 13, he totally loses it.
    • Roderick throughout "Havenport."
    • Lily at the end of "Fly Away," after Luke is (seemingly) killed before her eyes AND Joe rejects and abandons her.
  • Villainous Friendship: Carroll and Roderick's relationship. Carroll even took the blame for two people Roderick killed just so that he could stay out of prison and have a chance to make something of himself.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Roderick is a well respected small town sheriff.
  • Weapon of Choice: Carroll told his followers to find their own voice (gimmick) for their killings.
    • Knife Nut: Carroll, naturally. Most of his followers follow suit, such as Emma (well, Paul thinks so, as would her dead mom), Jordy, and even Rick has a moment to suggest a new appreciation for knives...
    • Pyromaniac: Rick prefers fire to knives, though he did use a knife for one of his killings.
    • To the Pain: Maggie, Rick's wife. She wants Hardy's sister to watch his death occur after placing electromagnetics around his chest in order to stop his pacemaker. She believe that seeing Hardy's slow and painful death would be the only punishment for her. Of course, she changes her mind when she reminds Hardy that there a lot of knives in Hardy's sister place of business.
    • Gun Nut: Hank. While only given a little screen time so far, he has been shown to have a fully stocked gun rack, and brings a tote bag full of handguns when he goes to meet Emma, Jacob, and Paul. He also seems to be handy with hedge clippers.
    • Improvised Weapon: Seems to be Paul's preferred tactic. So far he's killed two people with a hoe. Also, when Megan escapes from the basement and Emma and Paul have to chase her; Emma takes a knife, Paul goes unarmed.
    • Neck Snap: The twins Mark and Luke favor this and/or strangulation. Since they pose their victims afterwards in re-enactments of scenes from Joe Carroll's book, they're clearly trying to keep the bodies as intact as possible.
  • We Are Everywhere: Though no one in the cult has said this yet, it certainly seems to be the case.
    • David says as much in episode 8 from Season 1. Hardy and Mike both point out he's paraphrasing Bundy. Quite badly too.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "The Siege": Joey makes contact with his mother, tries to escape and nearly succeeds. The FBI manages to find Emma, Jacob, and Paul's hideout. Hardy tries to rescue Joey, only to be captured just as the cult goes into a standoff with law enforcement.
    • "Let Me Go": Carroll escapes (for real this time), and meets with the rest of the cult. It's also finally shown just how large the cult really is.
    • "Havenport": Roderick's cover is blown, which triggers a Villainous Breakdown that causes him to betray the cult and kidnap Joey in order to gain leverage with law enforcement. The FBI finally rescue Joey when Jacob decides to let him go. Roderick gets killed by the cult when they try to retrieve Joey themselves. Claire is able to convince Carroll that she might be on his side, only to stab him; this causes him to finally give up on wooing her, and deciding to kill her instead.
    • "The End is Near": The FBI finds the cult's headquarters, but the cult's already scattered by the time they arrive. Several cultists cause a massacre to provide a diversion so that Carroll can escape with a captive Claire; during the chaos, Parker is kidnapped by a couple of cultists and Buried Alive. Meanwhile, Jacob decides to abandon the cult, but when he tries to get Emma to leave with him, she kills him.
    • "The Final Chapter": Parker dies before Hardy and Weston can save her. Hardy finally confronts Carroll, and Carroll is killed in an explosion (the FBI appears confident they found at least some of his body). Hardy and Claire return to Hardy's apartment, and are attacked by Molly, who stabs them both, seconds before the screen cuts to black.
    • "Sacrifice": We are introduced to a cult of people worse than Joe's following, and they show they mean business by "mock sacrificing" Emma, nearly killing her and pissing off Joe Carroll even more. But then the real sacrifice is revealed as Lily and Mark Gray arrive at the house of Mike Weston's father and kill him over a taped video call in retaliation for Luke, whom they mistakenly believe was killed by Weston. The episode ends with Weston crying while Hardy tries to console him.
    • "The Reaping": Hardy lets himself get captured by Carroll. Carroll successfully convinces Preston to kill someone in exchange for his life. Lily Gray's commandos attack the Korban cult, killing dozens (although Emma, Joe, and several others manage to escape). Hardy frees himself and kills most of Lily's commandos. It all ends with Mike killing Lily Gray while she's on her knees with her hands in the air in front of Hardy and Max, indicating that Mike is broken beyond repair. Oh, and Claire gets Carrie to tell Joe on live TV that she's still alive.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Love Hurts"
    Claire: Take me to my son.
    • "Havenport"
    Carroll: I am afraid that it is time for Claire to die.
    • "The End is Near"
    Emma: I love you, Jacob. But I love Joe too. And I don't know how to love you both. *[slits his throat]*
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?:
    • In "Let Me Go," as Carroll is about to escape, he has Hardy at gunpoint, but lets him live. Somewhat justified, as Carroll still has plenty planned for Ryan to go through.
    • Lampshaded in "The Reaping":
    Robert: Why doesn't Joe just kill Ryan?
  • Wicked Cultured: Joe Carroll, of course. Well he thinks he is. Hardy and Claire both think he's just a depraved sociopath with a huge ego, and they're probably right.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Carroll is a master.
  • X Meets Y: 24 meets Criminal Minds.
  • You Have Failed Me: Subverted in episode 8. Carroll doesn't kill Roderick or the others for failing to learn where Claire is. While disappointed that Charlie has now failed him twice, he doesn't kill him either. Charlie however insists on being killed as punishment for his failure.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • During the standoff with the FBI in "The Fall," Emma leaves Jacob and Paul behind and cuts off communication even when they escape too.
    • In "Let Me Go," Charlie kills mercenary Bo after the latter finishes his role in Carroll's escape.
    • Almost in "Let Me Go," Carroll kills his lawyer after she helps him escape from prison.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Debra, Hardy's new superior, keeps on telling him not use any word relating to the word cult. He later finds out she's the head of the FBI cult note  unit.
    • This also might have something to do with Parker's history and her growing up in a cult.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Averted by Hardy and Carroll's wife Claire; while they became emotionally involved and the FBI felt their relationship was unprofessional of Hardy, they only had their first kiss after Carroll was in jail and the divorce was finalized.

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