'The Following' Finale: Ryan and Joe Face Off in Deadly Last Battle

Fox’s serial killer drama opted to go out with a more mysterious season ender, with a final scene that left many questions unanswered and introduced the likely season-three mystery.
Sarah Shatz/FOX
"The Following"

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Monday's season finale of The Following, "Forgive"]

It’s Joe Carroll versus Ryan Hardy yet again.

The Following wrapped up its sophomore season with a more cerebral finale than last year’s closer. Viewers last heard a loud gunshot echoing through the church in the waning seconds of last week’s penultimate episode, which left Weston’s fate in limbo. Was he Joe’s latest fatality?

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As Monday’s finale “Forgive” began, it turns out it wasn’t Weston Joe killed, but televangelist Kingston Tanner’s son. Whew. Amid Weston’s pleas for Ryan to kill Joe once and for all (“Kill him, Ryan, just kill him!”), twins Mark and Luke -- with Claire taken hostage -- turn out to have impeccable timing and call Ryan, demanding that he bring Joe in exchange for Claire. After they dance around each other, Ryan finally makes his presence known to Joe.

Ryan cuts the church’s audio feeds, and it’s here where he shockingly (or not so shockingly) colludes with the enemy. After the police kill follower after follower in the church, Ryan, Joe, Max and Weston slip out. Here’s where things get oddly bro-mantic. On the car ride to Claire and the twins’ location, Joe verbalizes his truest desire: to live in infamous glory (“I think I’ve probably accomplished that”). He’s even come around to the fact that Ryan and Claire have a special connection, and should he die (he’s already planning his death, take note, Ryan!), they should live happily ever after. Creepy. Joe pounds home that he and Ryan are “cut from the same cloth” and that “they’re basically the same person.” Will this prove to be the case?

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Joe’s already decided his odds of survival are slim, telling Ryan that he hopes his death serves as the “salvation” he seeks. But the first of a few twists: Ryan and Joe get into a fiery car accident at the hands of a Joe follower. After Joe is saved by the follower, he kills him and goes on to save Ryan. They arrive at the hideout and find themselves in a room wallpapered with Joe Carroll-related intel, from detailed plans to creepy Joe masks. It’s odd to see Joe and Ryan working together for a common cause, even helping each other at certain points (e.g., Ryan warns Joe not to drink the liquor).

Ryan and Joe save Claire, but of course, it’s a trap. The twins gas the room, and soon the archenemies turned partners in crime are tied up, along with Claire, as playthings for Mark and Luke. Oh, and it’s during a violent game of truth when Joe learns Claire killed his dearly beloved Emma. The twins turn the tables on Joe, telling him his antics have been major “epic fail”s, forcing Ryan and Joe to address their biggest demons. The twins, surprisingly, speak a lot of truth, telling Ryan point blank, “It’s the height of irony. You’ve become the man you hate. You’re no better than the killers you hunt.” Finally, Ryan admits that he’s “not good -- I know that.” Then comes the kicker.

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Ryan’s been on a lifelong revenge spree, just like the twins, all because of a tragic childhood event. When Ryan was 17, his father was killed; he tracked down the killer and murdered him in cold blood. “He’s been seeking redemption ever since,” Joe reveals. “It’s probably why he’s so fixated on me.” It’s like they’re in pseudo-serial killer therapy, only with guns and such. Ryan feels he needs to be “forgiven -- but you can’t be forgiven, not for that. It’s always there; it never goes away. Who will forgive me?” Cue his breakdown, tragically believing he can never be truly “good.” Mark and Luke spare Ryan, targeting others in his orbit. But their impromptu plan gets derailed when Weston and Max get in on the action.

What ensues is an act where Weston, Max, Ryan, Joe, Luke, Mark and Claire play “murder.” Revelations, such as Weston being the one responsible for Lily’s death, are made, while some are killed (Luke, by Max) and others are injured (everyone else). But when Ryan has the chance to kill Joe, yet again, he doesn’t. Instead, he turns him over to the police. Weston has the right reaction in this situation: “Why didn’t you kill Joe?” Ryan: “Because this needs to end, Mike.” But doesn’t this keep it going?

How spry is Mark? Police fail to locate him, and there’s no sign of Luke’s body, but Ryan is confident that chapter is done. Later, he tries to keep the Claire romance going, but she ends it for good -- after all, she symbolizes his past. She tells Ryan to build a future for himself, “whatever that is.” Speaking of the future, Weston makes a grand romantic gesture, kissing Max (“Finally!”).

It’s now on to the next Joe Carroll-less phase of Ryan’s life, but something tells us that’s going to be difficult. (Didn’t Ryan attempt to start anew at the beginning of the season? Look how that ended up.) That evening, Ryan has nightmares of Joe’s bloody body in his bed and Mark creepily warning, “You’re a dead man, Ryan Hardy.”

And here’s how The Following ends its season: Mark slings his dead brother’s body into a waiting truck, driven by an unknown party. “Thank you for coming. I didn’t know who else to call,” Mark says as the white truck drives away.

Where are they headed? Who's the driver? Is it someone we have yet to meet? Is Joe Carroll’s story finally over? Did Ryan dream up some parts of the episode? Sound off in the comments below.

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