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  • Alas, Poor Scrappy: For some fans, Tom's death. Even though he brought a lot of it on himself, he was one of the few major characters on the show who actually was a good man, not a Designated Hero. Considering he got acid to the face before his death, and the fact that not even Max cared the slightest about his death, was very harsh, even for him.
  • Anti-Climax Boss:
    • Many fans were disappointed when Joe and Ryan's climactic fight in Season 1 abruptly ended with Joe becoming trapped in a ring of fire and presumably dying in an explosion. However, this was subverted when Joe turned up alive in Season 2, leaving open the possibility for a more epic showdown.
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    • Lily Gray in Season 2. For all her power and resources, she dies rather easily, and her big confrontation with Joe never even happens.
    • Joe Carroll in Season 2. Again. After a brief fight with Hardy, Hardy knocks him to the floor and points a gun at him. Carroll has a Villainous Breakdown and begs Hardy to kill him. He doesn't, and Joe is arrested shortly afterwards.
    • Dr. Arthur Strauss in Season 3. Despite being the Big Bad for the entire series, not to mention Joe's mentor, he's killed very unexpectedly by Theo the second he turns his back on him.
    • Joe Carroll again, presumably for the final time in Season 3. In the end, it isn't a gunshot or an epic fistfight that kills him. After his hostage situation is resolved, he's quietly led to the public execution chamber and lethally injected as he stares lifelessly at Ryan.
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  • Arc Fatigue: Fans are starting to get frustrated over the subplot involving Joe and Ryan's relationship (and Joe Carroll in general). Even after he dies two-thirds of the way into Season 3, he is still on the show shoving the new and/or more plot-relevant subplots to the side. It's created a situation in which neither fans who wanted him written out for Season 3 and feel he no longer fits in the show (obviously he was not) nor fans who love the character and want him to stay (he appears only sporadically and is almost totally Out of Focus) can be satisfied with his role in the show now.
  • Awesome Music: Many episodes end with dark metal/electronic/ambient background songs. These have included:
    • "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by Marilyn Manson (Pilot).
    • "Angel" by Sepultura (Chapter Two).
    • "If I Had a Heart" by Fever Ray (Let Me Go).
    • "Bad Moon Rising" by Mourning Ritual (Resurrection).
    • "Stand by Me" by Ki:Theory (Trust Me).
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    • "Oats in the Water" by Ben Howard (New Blood).
    • "Promise Land" by Hannah Miller note  (A Hostile Witness).
    • "David" by Noah Gundersen (Reunion).
  • Base-Breaking Character: Joe Carroll. He's either a brilliant villain who's well-loved for his chemistry with Ryan Hardy and for his ability to quickly make any situation work in his favor, or he's a boring Creator's Pet with the same death-craving subplots who's stealing the spotlight from other, more interesting killers.
  • Broken Base: Joe's death. Some people thought his death was very underwhelming; others thought it was a proper way for him to go. Some people are upset about his death and believe the show is doomed without him; others are glad that he's gone and believe the show can finally move forward. And then there are those who, understandably, believe that He's Just Hiding!. Although the fact that the show has been cancelled, rendering the third season the final one, remedies some of the complaints and makes the questions of his possible survival unlikely.
  • Complete Monster: Professor Joseph "Joe" Carroll is a megalomaniacal Serial Killer and Ryan Hardy's Arch-Enemy. After escaping prison, Joe hunts down one of his survivors and brutally murders her, first by cutting out her eyes. It's then revealed that Joe is the leader of a cult where he trained dozens to become killers like him. While he pretends to be a kind and genuine cult leader, he sees every one of his members as expendable pawns; even his son is viewed as a "trump card" so he can raise him to be a killer, and he has no problem with killing his ex-wife after she rejects him and tries to kill him. When Joe's cult is dismantled, he resurfaces and teams up with Lily Gray, another cult leader, before abandoning her and her followers to be arrested or killed once things go awry. Joe comes across yet another cult, kills the leaders, and starts training the members to become killers too, which leads to a series of spree killings. When Kingston Tanner calls out Joe on television, his response is to have his son, Preston, kidnapped, force Preston to murder an innocent woman, take a church hostage, and then kidnap Kingston and force him and Preston to kill each other. Joe watches as Kingston kills himself to save his son, and then he murders Preston anyway. After Joe is arrested, he attempts to escape one last time; Joe murders a few prison guards and takes some VIPs hostage before demanding he speak to Ryan Hardy. Once together, Joe threatens to kill the VIPs until Ryan confesses that he gains satisfaction from killing people, just like Joe. A manipulative chessmaster, Ax-Crazy yet Wicked Cultured, Joe Carroll believes that people are just pawns or disposable characters he can use to fuel his desire to kill.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: When Micah is on the floor gurgling as he dies from poison, Carroll nonchalantly shushes him.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: The villains are Ax-Crazy homicidal maniacs who gleefully commit very brutal on-screen murders and we see a lot of the story from their point of view; by and large they are selfish, unrepentant and prone to Moral Myopia, and their competence ranges from Villain Sues to Big Bad Wannabes (Joe himself starts as the former and devolves into the latter). The heroes, though, are not the most comfortable people to follow either: Hardy is a vengeful Knight Templar prone to Protagonist Centred Morality who allows the villain to dictate his moves; the FBI have many fair What the Hell, Hero? critiques to make of him, but they tend to be incompetent and stupid in their own right as both they and Hardy get many minor characters killed; Agent Weston and others become steadily more brutal due to Hardy's influence; and civilian characters (whether major like Claire or one-shoters) are out of their league and make dumb decisions to varying degrees. It becomes difficult to root for anyone the longer the story goes on, particularly since the series so often relies on Fridge Logic, Idiot Plotting and Diabolus ex Machina to move things forward. As a result, the ratings took a big knife to the gut in season two (and cut down to less than half in season three), albeit no more so than anything else that aired on Fox in calendar year 2014.
  • Designated Hero: As detailed above, Ryan and anyone in his orbit will inevitably become this as time goes on, since the show seems to share his warped views on justifiable force in the line of duty. However, the show now seems to be more aware of this, and a big deal is being made about how far Ryan has fallen almost to Joe's level. In one of his final confrontations with Joe before the latter's execution, he even admits that he gets satisfaction from pulling the trigger on the killers.
  • Draco in Leather Pants:
    • The murder twins have been nothing but brutal, twisted, sadistic psychopaths since their first appearance on the show, but that doesn't stop some of the fanbase from squealing over them, even as they torture Mandy, and some of them were actually horrified when Weston beat one of them to a pulp.
    • Some of the minor cult members count to the point where the fanbase will become delighted as they murder innocent people.
    • Theo Noble. One of the most dangerous serial killers on the show with a body count as high as Joe Carroll's, and he's the one character almost every fan of the show adores about Season 3. Some even like him more than Joe.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Jacob Wells. It helps that he's one of the few cult members who isn't Ax-Crazy, who's Affably Evil, and whose character is fleshed out the most in Season 1.
    • Fans are already taking a liking to Theo, Dr. Strauss's best student. He's the exact opposite of every other cliché Ax-Crazy serial killer in the show, he has various Pet the Dog and Kick the Dog moments, and his calm, cold attitude makes him quite frightening compared to many other killers. It helps that he's played by Michael Ealy.
  • Foe Yay: Carroll and Ryan. It's heavily implied in the flashbacks that the two recognized one another as kindred spirits and developed an unusually strong bond before Ryan figured out that Joe was the killer he was looking for. Ryan states about Joe: 'Charm and Seduce. I know what his followers feel. I fell for it. And five more girls were murdered.' Word of God states that Ryan developed a strong attraction towards Joe bordering on being romantic and Joe likewise became infatuated with Ryan. Joe himself has stated that everything he's doing is for and about Ryan.
    • Also, the whole "love at first sight" exchange in the season finale pretty much elevates the subtext to main text.
    • Not to mention Carroll watches home porn videos of Hardy and Molly - videos it appears he instructed Molly to record!
    • Even more so in late Season 2, when Joe refuses to kill Ryan who he considers his best friend and even saves his life in the Season 2 finale. Ryan decides not to kill Joe either.
  • Fridge Horror:
    • According to Charlie, the mercenary Bo is not part of the cult. He has "useful skills," but he's too unstable to be an actual member. Think about that. There are people out there that the Carrollists consider too crazy to join them.
    • Joe Carroll was always good at manipulating people, but he's taken a scary level in competence with the second season. It doesn't take him long to insinuate himself into the Korban and assume a position of power. And it coincides with his admission that he's a terrible writer. The thing that caused the rift between Joe and Roderick was the fact that Joe was more concerned with his new art project than tending to the daily workings of his cult. And now, Joe doesn't have that distraction any longer. He's not deluding himself anymore with the idea that he's any kind of artist. Now he's a full-time psycho.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Allison Mack's guest appearance on a show about a cult became this post-NXIVM.
  • Genius Bonus: Many of the main characters share the last names of classic authors (Hardy, Carroll, Parker, etc.). What significance this has, if any, has yet to be demonstrated.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Joe Carroll mentions to Hardy that when he dies, so will Hardy. Not even two weeks after Joe's death, FOX cancelled the show. Meta Lampshade Hanging doesn't even begin to cover it.
  • He's Just Hiding!:
    • Many people believed that Joe Carroll was still alive at the end of Season 1. They were right.
    • Claire got this treatment in Season 2, and was indeed revealed to be just hiding halfway through the season, having been placed under heavy witness protection.
    • After the Season 3 episode "Evermore," the fandom became rife with speculation that Joe secretly survived his execution. Sadly, given FOX's cancellation of the show, this is unlikely.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Carroll gives his mission statement at the end of the pilot; his ode to Poe, ''The Gothic Sea", was "clearly too avant-garde. Lost in literati pretense. Now my new story... will play to a much wider audience." On April 4th, 2013, The Following's rival show Cult was cancelled due to a perceived lack of viewership, while The Following was renewed for a second season, thus demonstrating the validity of Carroll's belief that a straightforward tale of sex and violence would appeal to a much wider audience than something requiring much more investment. Meta beyond imagination.
    • Not only that, but its other rival show, Hannibal, which consistently got praise from critics for being more "avant-garde" than a lot of broadcast shows (including The Following), did rather poorly in the ratings itself, even for NBC. Like The Following, it ended up getting cancelled in 2015.
    • Joe's meta, future-predicting nature reaches its head near his death. In the episode featuring that event, he makes it clear that when he dies, so too will Ryan. A few weeks after the episode aired, FOX announced that the series has not been renewed for another season. Crosses over with Harsher in Hindsight for fans.
    • Sam Underwood has said that during the audition process for Season 2, Mark and Luke were advertised as only one character with a Split Personality, in order to avoid spoilers. Come Season 3, and that's exactly what Mark has become.
  • "Holy Shit!" Quotient:
    • Reaches epic proportions in the second half of "The Siege".
    • "Evermore" in spades, culminating with the quiet, somber death of the Big Bad.
  • Ho Yay: Ryan Hardy and his old friend Tyson; their episode is practically dripping with Ho Yay. Tyson even refers to them as "married"!
  • Idiot Plot: The success of Carroll's followers is largely reliant on both local and federal law enforcement being unbelievably incompetent.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Mark and Daisy. They're both serial killers for sure, but they're also both very lonely individuals who have lost their loved ones and have no other friends or people to relate to.
  • Like You Would Really Do It:
    • Pfft! Yeah, like they're really gonna kill off Debra Parker after she was Buried Alive. ...Oh, wait.
    • A lot of fans were convinced that Claire really died in the Season 2 premiere, since the writers tend to kill off characters left and right. It turns out that Mike helped her fake her death before putting her under Witness Protection.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Even some of the most diehard fans of Lily and the murder twins were horrified when they tortured and killed Mandy before setting her dead body up to eat with them at dinner.
    • Theo murdering his wife and leaving his children behind.
  • Narm Charm:
    • Charlie's death is fairly ridiculous in execution, but the scene itself is shot beautifully.
    • Many scenes involving the over-the-top-crazy Korban cult in Season 2. It helps that Joe and Emma obviously aren't taking their beliefs seriously.
      • The "PRAISE JOE!" scene is especially silly, laughable, and still somehow awesome.
  • Nightmare Fuel: This show is just built on it.
  • Paranoia Fuel: From what the show implies, anyone could be part of Carroll's cult. They are also terrifyingly good at getting into people's homes, even if police are stationed inside.
  • Replacement Scrappy: Gwen for Claire. Unlike Claire, who proved to be a bit of an Action Girl when necessary and was a key character for the plot, Gwen is just a normal, boring, nosy Satellite Love Interest who constantly whines about Ryan's job and isn't relevant to the plot at all.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
  • The Scrappy:
    • Emma. She's a Manipulative Bitch who has no problem having sex with virtually every man she runs into, including Carroll. She leaves Paul and Jacob to die after the FBI storms their hideout, she doesn't give a damn about anyone except Carroll, and she's more than okay with doing anything he tells her to do, even if she knows it's not right. But what really turned her into The Scrappy was when she slashed Jacob's throat, even after he practically begged her to come run away with him.
    • Tom. Some people already didn't like him for getting in the way of the Mike/Max relationship and for having little chemistry with Max. Then he started playing with the Idiot Ball, and he constantly committed one dumb act after another until he wound up putting Mike's life in danger, and ended up getting killed in the process.
  • Sophomore Slump: Season 2 wasn't as well-received as Season 1, in large part due to Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, predictable twists, and for having several side characters who either weren't as interesting as Season 1's supporting characters, or didn't last long enough for the audience to see their full potential.
  • Squick: When Joe kills the Reverend in Season 2 (his first kill in over a year), he basically has an orgasm. Yeek.
  • Take That, Scrappy!: In Season 2, the new Followers don't think much of Emma.
    "Why don't you like Emma?"
    "No one likes her. She's unlikable."
    • Later, in Season 2's penultimate episode, Emma's Rasputinian Death at the hands of Claire: stabbed in the gut, thrown out a window and then finished off with a wooden stake.
    • Tom's death for many fans. He ended up digging his own grave by thinking Mark and Daisy wouldn't double-cross him after giving up Mike.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character:
    • Debra's death disappointed a good amount of viewers who hoped that she would have been revealed to be a Follower.
    • The show has a habit of killing off interesting Followers (Louise, Jacob, Roderick) and keeping idiotic or boring ones around (Emma and Joe himself).
      • Possibly Fridge Brilliance: the "interesting" ones are the ones whose unstable personalities are causing conflicts with Joe's Master Plan. Getting rid of them steers things relatively back on track, and leaves Joe with people he can more easily control.
    • Special mention to Jacob's death. He spends the entire first season trying to decide if he really wants to be in the cult, and then, when he finally leaves, Emma unceremoniously kills him for no reason other than pure shock value. Waste indeed.
    • Season 2 has Carlos, who gets stabbed in the neck for no reason at all, and Giselle, a fairly competent Dark Action Girl who easily could've replaced Emma's role in the show as The Heavy.
    • In Season 2, Lily Gray's death disappointed some fans who wanted her to confront Joe and maybe even become the main Big Bad for Season 3.
    • In Season 3, some fans were hoping for Neil Perry to stick around for quite a while, since he was a calm, Faux Affably Evil killer who never rose his voice and was brushing against a Hero Killer status. Instead, he commits Suicide by Cop in the second episode he appears in.
    • Dr. Arthur Strauss was set up as the Big Bad for Season 3, and considering that he's Joe's mentor, he could've proven to be a terrifying villain. Instead, he was garroted to death in the episode directly after the one where he finally got out of prison for arguably the same reason Jacob was killed: shock value. That being said, Theo Noble, his best student and the one who killed him, is turning out to be as terrifying and competent a villain as Strauss could have been.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Early on in Season 3, Tom finds out via laptop recording that Mike executed Lily Gray. Instead of delivering this information to the FBI as evidence or even using it as blackmail against Mike, he's forced to smash the laptop, and this bit of detail is all but forgotten about. The laptop itself, however, did play a key role later on when Tom is forced to kill an FBI agent because of it, and he ends up delivering Mike to Mark in exchange for the incriminating evidence against himself.
  • Too Cool to Live:
    • Jacob Wells, the only cultist who had a heart, who eventually knew what was right from wrong, and who was arguably one of the nicest villains in the entire series.
    • Micah, the over-the-top Faux Affably Evil cult leader who wanted to be "famous" like Joe and Lily.
  • Uncanny Valley:
    • Those Poe masks. Given the genre, it's probably deliberate.
    • And from the second season, Joe Carroll masks.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: You were all paying attention the day they discussed Poe in American Literature Class, right?
  • What an Idiot!:
    • One of Carroll's cult members tries to get Hardy to stand using Claire Matthews as a Human Shield. Hardy even points it out: everyone knows he's not going to hurt her.
    • Giselle gloats that she killed Max right to Ryan's face (even though she didn't). Guess who gets stabbed to death half a minute later?
    • Mandy's decision to join Lily's family after abandoning Joe. Even though she was there when Joe coldly broke it off with Lily, it apparently doesn't occur to Mandy that Lily's a vindictive psycho who might torture her for Joe's location and/or kill her to spite him. Oops.
    • If Emma had killed Claire before she shot Robert, she might still be alive, and her plan to convince Joe that Claire ambushed her and killed Robert would've worked out flawlessly.
    • Duncan decides to take his niece hostage in broad daylight, directly in front of Ryan and Mike with a knife, instead of waiting until the coast is clear. And he stands right beside a hot cup of coffee within her niece's grasp. He's subdued seconds later.
    • Tom wasn't exactly smart to begin with, but he should've known better than to give up Mike to Mark and Daisy without thinking they wouldn't immediately kill him afterwards. Mike even offers to help Tom apprehend Mark, Daisy, and Theo together, but he chooses not to due to his grudge against him.
    • Penny. After everything Theo does to rescue her from Ryan, she ends up staying behind to try and kill him, as opposed to running away with her brother. Guess who ends up wasting all of her ammo and getting shot in the back by Ryan?
    • Eliza, in spades. Despite never knowing about Ryan, she still proceeds to go after him even through she's managed to stay under the FBI's radar for months, possibly years. It isn't until after Eliza begins to interrogate Ryan that he decides to come after her.
  • The Woobie:
    • Meghan Leeds and Olivia Warren in Season 1.
    • Ryan himself definitely qualifies, with his dark and troubled past (even before he ever met Joe Carroll), his guilt at not catching Joe sooner, his inability to save Sara, his reputation as a loose cannon amongst law enforcement, his alcoholism, and his inability to let anyone near him demonstrate how utterly broken he is.
    • Little Joey becomes this throughout the first season.
    • Mandy. Yes, she did choose Joe over her own mother and join Lily rather than simply fleeing the compound, but she's still nothing more than a young girl who was under the influence of her cult member-mother and the cult leader himself, whom she lived with and became attached to.
    • Preston Tanner. His possible lover is murdered right in front of him, he's kidnapped by the Korban cult, he's forced to kill a woman so Joe won't kill him, and then he gets to watch as his father slits his throat right in front of him. And then Joe shoots him in the head because he couldn't stand him crying. And all because he was the son of a man who called out Joe on live TV.


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