With major character deaths, seeming defeat of the big bad, an incredibly short reunion of lovers, and a cliffhanger ending even the hero might not survive, creator and executive producer Kevin Williamson understands why the season finale of "The Following" might have critics and fans alike concerned about blown wads and sophomore slumps already. But, he assured, it is safe for all the worrywarts to exhale.
"Second seasons are my favorite. Second seasons are where we get our sea legs just like we did with 'Dawson's Creek' and 'The Vampire Diaries,'" Williamson told Yahoo! TV exclusively before a screening and Q&A event Monday night in North Hollywood, Calif. "Because this is basically a cable niche show on a big network, you can't slow down the story even if I want nothing more than to write a 'Breaking Bad'-type scene where characters talk for four pages. But you can make a fast-paced thriller last as long as you bring in new characters, make it addictive and fun without being too outlandish, and ground it in human emotion. I learned a lot from this season about where the story is going. I feel like this is a preamble in a lot of ways. I envision every season as a book in a series. We're ready and excited to write the second book after I take a two-week nap."
[Related: Missed the Finale? Read a Recap]
But Season 2 has already interrupted Williamson's circadian rhythm as he admitted the slightest outline exists. "We have a little bit of a map. You can't bring an ending without a beginning, and clearly we left some loose ends that we'll need to clean up and push forward into a new story."
However, that new storyline doesn't necessarily involve Hardy working new cases or trying to catch a different villain despite the alleged death of his nemesis Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). "I'm hopeful that I can keep reinventing the show each year without making it a case-of-the-week type of show," Williamson said. "I want to dive more into character; it got lost in an FBI chase. I would love to move away from that as much as possible next year and really tell the story of where Ryan Hardy and others who survived are after all of this happened to them. They will have all been changed by these events of Season 1. But we especially need to see the aftermath of these events and what toll it has taken on Ryan's life. I'm excited to write that."
Had he listened to a suggestion from Kevin Bacon (FBI consultant Hardy), he'd be writing a very different Season 2. Bacon acknowledged he'd suggested offing Hardy. "No one would have expected that, and it would have thrown the audience for a loop. Nobody has job security on our show, and I'm good with wherever it goes," Bacon said. "It was also a little more complicated than me just suggesting we kill him off, but I don't want to go into it in case we end up using it down the road."
But Bacon was also thrilled that a few folks made it out alive, at least for now, because he realized he had an unexpected reaction to the show's high death toll. "It's actually kind of sad. It was something I hadn't anticipated. I saw Kyra's situation where she worked year after year with the same people on 'The Closer,' and they became tight. I had it in my head that we would build this company of actors and become a strong close unit, but that didn't really happen because our show kills so many people off."
[Related: 'The Following's' Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon]
Even if Carroll is dead, Purefoy thinks everyone would like to know more about his backstory and doesn't really see the need for a new villain. "We have never gotten much about why Joe is who he is, how he became this way, how he grew up, and there is quite a bit more to be mined from that topic. Kevin Williamson has only scratched the surface of this show," Purefoy said. "I'd like to see more about other characters, too. Why do these people do these things? Even if Joe does die, because let's face it he is in pretty bad shape at this point, I feel like that isn't the end of his following's story. We have only explored the Eastern Seaboard following, but he had a big presence on the Internet so I imagine he has a global following that could still carry out plans in his name. I imagine there are people bound to want revenge if he gets killed."
[Related: The Secret to Kyra and Kevin's Marriage]
Like Emma Hill (Valorie Curry), who was last seen running out of a bar crying in a bad wig. "Everything Emma did, she did out of love for Joe, and if something happened to him, she'd probably feel like she'd lost her compass. The season ends on a cliffhanger of course, and we're all kind of in the dark about where things are going," Curry explained. "I like having a job, even one that makes strangers hate you and tell you they want to kill you in elevators, and there's so much story to be told about Emma. I hope I get to come back."
Natalie Zea (Carroll's ex Claire), on the other hand, seemed on the fence about her character's future, which made more sense after the viewing party. "This is the hardest job I have ever had, this carpet. It's hurting my hair because I don't know how to answer things without ruining things," Zea said. "I just don't know how much more there is to explore with her. Would people accept her being able to just move on with Ryan after all the terrible stuff that happened to her? Does she need to be sacrificed to better the story? That's been the struggle for lots of people for several weeks now, and that's why we shot multiple endings."
Williamson admitted they shot three endings -- the one that made the cut, one that stopped just before the now-final scene, and one that went a bit further. They all weighed in and agreed the one they used best said, "Come back next year."
Executive producer and director Marcos Siega let it slip during the postviewing panel that they've already shot some footage for possible use in the next installment. "It was thought out ahead of time, so we filmed and banked some stuff in case some things happen." (He didn't clarify what those things might be, but a good guess might be other flashbacks or dream sequences.)
Bacon joked, "First episode [back] we're only gonna work for one day."
NEXT: What did Bacon pick as his favorite scene of the season?
No matter who lives, dies, or returns in flashback, no one can take away the quality thrill ride that was the first 15 episodes. In celebration of that, we asked the stars and Williamson to reveal their picks for standout scene of Season 1.
Kevin Bacon: "In the finale, there are a series of scenes where we are trying desperately to get to the Parker character to save her as she was buried alive in the previous episode. It is normally difficult to make connections with people when they are in totally different locations shooting different scenes. It makes the actors and the audience feel disconnected, but because of the skill of director Marcos Siega, those scenes really work. You really feel the deep connection between Shawn Ashmore's character, my character, and Annie Parisse's character. There is an intense moment, and you realize how close they have become in the short time they've been working on this case together, and now they fear they're going to lose her. Annie is amazing in those coffin scenes."
Valorie Curry: "There were so many great moments for me, like when she is reunited with Joe for the first time or when I first heard the deep complicated backstory about her and her mom. The most intense scene to shoot was when Emma killed Jacob. We were in claustrophobic proximity in the car, and then the fake blood spurted out of his neck and landed on me. Fake blood is so gross. The scene where he imagined killing me and I was covered in fake guts in the bathtub was the only one that really creeped me out. It was the first time I had to fake my death."
Natalie Zea: "I loved the fight scene between me and Valorie. It got cut down. It was longer and much more violent on the day that we shot it. There was hair pulling and head bashing. It's so much fun when you get to do physical work like that, especially when you are doing it with someone who knows what she's doing. It's a real adrenaline rush. The stunt girls were amazing, but we were like, 'Stand down. We got this.'"
Kevin Williamson: "There are so many. You are asking the person who had the headache of being part of every part of the process, but I would say my favorite scene would be in Episode 12 in the basement, where Joe and Ryan bond with the bulletproof glass between them. We learn about Ryan's past and the traumatic event that shaped him. We'd sit in the writers' room thinking, 'How can we put them together this week?' They can't always talk to each other on that untraceable sat phone. We had to find other believable ways for Kevin and James to share scenes, because they play so well off each other."
James Purefoy: "The s'mores scene for me is the creepiest scene in the entire season. Everything about that scene is wrong in such a horrible way. The audience knows what he's doing and he knows what he is doing, which is manipulating a child, his own son at that, to worm his way back into his heart despite being a killer and a kidnapper. That is just wrong on so many counts. Sometimes when he is slick and sweet, it is far more disturbing than when he is being badass."
What did you think of the first-season finale of "The Following"? Tell us in the comments.
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- James Purefoy