'The Following's' Kevin Bacon, Shawn Ashmore Break Down Season 3 Twists

The Fox stars tell THR what to expect when the show returns a year after putting Joe Carroll on death row.

Almost a year after the second season of Fox serial killer drama The Following aired its season finale, in which Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) finally apprehended nemesis Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) — and quite a few behind-the-scenes showrunner changes later — comes a third season that promises to be quite different in size and scope. 

When series creator Kevin Williamson started the story, it was an epic soap opera of sorts, set on the backdrop of a very violent criminal world. Hardy and Carroll were entangled in a love triangle with Caroll's wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), which added a juicy personal nature to the cat-and-mouse game the duo played. As time went on and the stakes were raised, each man became more brazen in his actions, and there was a lot of collateral damage along the way.

Season three, though, now being showrun by Marcos SiegaAlexi Hawley and Brett Mahoney, sees Hardy back in business with the FBI, while Carroll is locked up on death row — presumably for good this time. Instead of one bad guy with a bunch of disciples or underlings to take down on the road to getting his man, Hardy will have to face down quite a few new threats — each of whom is completely unknown and that much more potentially dangerous.

But Hardy won't have to do it alone. Still standing after the second season's bloody finale are Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) and Gina Mendez (Valerie Cruz). Each will have a pivotal part to play in the new season, as well as in Hardy's world.

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The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Bacon and Ashmore to get the scoop on the new season's challenges and scares.

The end of season two solved the Joe Carroll case, and theoretically the characters could have all split up and gone their separate ways. When we pick back up in season three, where will we find your characters?

Bacon: Well, we jump ahead in time, which kind of enables us to come back together. We actually come back together [first] for a wedding, which is a really fun scene. If you remember the Mendez character, her girlfriend turned out to be a follower of Joe's last season and killed herself. So, [Mendez] is now getting married [to someone new].

She's moved on already?

Bacon: It's been a year! It is her wedding, and we're all pretty much there — except for the bad guys.

So what have Mike and Ryan been doing in the year we don't get to see between seasons?

Ashmore: Mike has been overseas, hunting down Mark Gray (Sam Underwood), who is the last surviving member of the Gray family. So [he's] in an awful place when he gets back. Literally. He's jet-lagged, and he gets off the plane and shows up to the wedding, and everybody is having a great time, and Max has moved on. 

Bacon: Max has a very, very handsome new man.

That Ryan approves of?

Bacon: Yeah, she likes him so I like him.

Ashmore: Mike's not such a big fan, but what can he do? Really, my thought is that Mike is probably a better agent now than he ever has been. Just the idea of seeing all of this violence and death that was building up in the first two seasons, and then losing his dad [has made him] build up this armor. He needs the armor to deal with this, and it's very similar to the one I think we've seen Ryan have. So, I think he's a very efficient, effective agent at this point, but the effect on his psyche and who he is as a person is in the toilet, basically. He's a real mess, and he's trying to figure that out.

Claire told Ryan to go and live his life; is he actually taking her words to heart?

Bacon: That was really a gift that she gave [Ryan], and she was right in that it was what he needed to do. Interestingly, he didn't walk away from the FBI. Last season he wasn't really back in; he was deputized temporarily. But now he's actually rejoined the FBI as a full-on employee. He's also in a relationship, finally, with a woman that is the right woman for me — the woman. She's not the wife of a serial killer or a serial killer herself or a journalist...and they get into a relationship that I don't think Ryan ever really expected he could have. They're going to cohabitate; it's going to be a real relationship. The difference between the reboot of season two and season three is that in season three Ryan has really convinced himself that he's OK and that he's done with Joe and that he can open up his heart to this woman.

How long can that last? We've come to expect that we can't trust any new character we meet.

Bacon: Everything does go south right away, because we find out Joe Carroll was really the tip of the iceberg...Michael Ealy's coming on, and another character who's coming on who's fantastic is the Strauss character from the first year — Gregg Henry (Scandal) — he plays pretty heavily into it. And then there are some more. So it's multiple [threats].

Ashmore: There are some of the throwbacks. There's clues that maybe Mark Gray is still around. But we don't understand all of the clues right away, so we have to go back to the detective work. It's not like season two, where it's clearly Joe Carroll and we know who we're chasing and we know what he's capable of. [During season three] we're a little off-balance. Is it Mark Gray? Who are these new people? What is this new threat? Some of the fun is, as well as the audience, our characters aren't really sure of where this threat is coming from, and we're spending the first few episodes trying to figure that out. It's fun, and it's also scary, where at the end of season two, Joe Carroll is locked up and on death row and OK, that's solved. But we realize he's not even the worst. That's really what brings it home for us. There are people out there who are just as bad, just as devious, and maybe even smarter than him. Joe always had a weakness, which is his ego, and there are threats and people that might not have that weakness, so we have to figure out who they are and what theirs is.

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Joe wasn't just violent and dangerous; he also made things very personal, mainly for Ryan. So in addition to these new threats being worse than Joe, when it comes to what they're doing, are they also worse when it comes to how personal things get?

Ashmore: Our characters become so involved that they make it personal. When you're hunting these people, when you see the crimes that they're committing, often they lash out at the people that are close to them, and that does happen. They lash out at us or people we know, and that makes it personal. Season one, we were taking people into warehouses and just beating the crap out of them — taking pipes to them — it's not at that level yet, but it does become personal. That's why these characters are so good at their jobs, too: They have to live it; they have to get as close as they need to.

Joe was such a driving force for Ryan and for this show. Without him there to be the antagonist, how is his presence still felt?

Bacon: Joe Carroll was such an important character, you want to still keep his presence alive even though he's in jail. What he's doing is haunting Ryan. I felt very strongly as we got into this season that there should be memories or dreams — just the idea of having blood on Ryan's hands was something that was very important for me to carry over. There's a scene with Joe, he's in lockdown; he has no contact with anybody — he can't see anybody outside of his lawyer — and yet he has somehow figured out things — personal things — about [Ryan]. And it's kind of cool because you realize how well he knows [Ryan]. And he's just kind of guessing, but he's getting it right. And you know, he does stay involved in the story even though he's no longer the top threat.

What is the relationship like between Mike and Ryan at this point? They have been through so much, and Mike started out looking up to Ryan so much but really seeing a side that he didn't seem to expect and then also had to confront in himself.

Ashmore: The relationship between Mike and Ryan at the start is great. They come together; they haven't seen each other in a while. But then of course the new threats start, and we jump back into it.

Bacon: We work together this season more than ever, [but] we do have a giant fight this year — a falling out. We don't actually hit each other, at least not yet, but it could happen.

Ashmore: I would [still] say we're partners. I think of Ryan, Mike and Max as a unit. We are all involved, and we have each other's backs, and the three of us are really a part of this. But Ryan and Mike are working really closely together. They have a shorthand and an understanding, and when they're interrogating someone they know how the other will act. They're definitely partners.

How is the dynamic affected by the fact that there are unresolved feelings between Mike and Max?

Ashmore: It becomes very complicated! When we find Mike, he's made the decision to leave...so he's taken on the responsibility of knowing he potentially broke that relationship, but he's still in love with Max. And Max still has feelings for Mike, but it's still that thing of, "Can they really make it work?" Last season when they kissed, everyone was like, "Oh now they're going to be together," and in the back of my head, I was like, "It's not that kind of show. It's not that easy. It's not like, cut to season three and I'm taking her out for Valentine's Day dinner." But that's what makes it interesting: We're all professionals [and] we're all handling the case, but there are definitely things that get in the way, and that's where the drama is.

Bacon: It's definitely a workplace love triangle with a workplace that is full of violent criminals, so it definitely dials things up, and it's a cool element to the story, what's happening with them.

You've been shooting season three for a little while now. How do you feel — if at all — the dynamic and tone has really shifted without Kevin running the show day to day?

Bacon: It's different writers, different way of working, different way of communicating, different sensibility, different sense of what's important. It's just the way it is [with these changes].

And similarly, it certainly sounds like there have been a lot of changes for your characters. What is the biggest one for each of you that we will feel instantly when we see them again?

Bacon: I would say [that] in the third season you actually see my teeth because I actually smile. And this is the first time [not in flashbacks that I do]. I'm happy. I'm as happy as I can be.

Ashmore: To be honest, Mike hasn't changed. He's exactly where he was, and that's the problem. He's locked into this downward spiral of chasing, and he can't get out of this pain, [though] he's trying to. He's compartmentalized...and he's learning that he's got to just break it up a little bit. He hasn't moved on, and he's desperately trying to figure out how to do that [and] what that means.

And just as an aside, what's the crazy mask on this season?

Bacon: I don't think there's any of that stuff this year. No, there really isn't one. It's different.

The Following returns March 2 at 8 p.m. on Fox. Are you excited to see what new serial killers are in store for Ryan Hardy? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @danielletbd