Given that this is the finale, we naturally start with our main character, Tech Lady, hot on the trail of her newest lead. It took her all season, but she finally found a friend with an iPhone who’s agreed to share her Vine feed. She calls the friend on Skype and suggests user names for her to type in, “Fat Cats! Fat Cats Wearing Hats! Fat Drunk Babies! Parking Lot Surveillance Footage!” That last one works, and the friend holds her iPhone up the screen so Tech Lady can watch. It’s a video of Parker being put in the trunk of a car by two followers. “Oh, snap,” says Hardy. “That sucks. But real quick, go back to the video of the guy holding a photo of himself holding a photo. I want to watch that one again. And then after that, let’s watch every video on here. How long will that take?” “A month,” says Tech Lady. “Cool,” says Hardy. “We have time, then.”
Weston says, “Joe’s handing us the clues, we just need to see them,” as a tiny Edgar Allan Poe walks by outside. Don’t think I didn’t expect Hardy to not register this. Also, how badly am I hoping for this to be Joey? This show is doing a pretty good job already of not making any sense, but revealing that Joey has been the mastermind all along would just take it to the next level. Mini Poe approaches the sheriff station and Weston’s all, I got this, meaning it’s his turn to approach a dangerous person without his weapon drawn or any plan, defensive or offensive, whatsoever. “Hey, buddy, what’s up?” he asks, which is enough to get mini Poe to take off his mask and show us that he’s just some random, non-Joey kid. Another wasted opportunity. The kid says that some lady name Emma gave him the mask. “Did she have short hair?” asks Hardy, “And an attitude that was acting inexplicably confident, as though she just assumed that you’d be into her?” The boy nods. “That’s her, all right,” says Hardy. “Okay, I want this neighborhood wheat-pasted with posters of the movie adaptation of Emma. If I don’t see Gwyneth Paltrow’s face everywhere I look by this afternoon, you’re going to have me to answer to. Unless I’m taking a shower with my special vodka water filtered showerhead, then you’re going to have to answer to someone else.” The kid pulls on Hardy’s sleeve and hands him the mask, where inside is a seven-digit number with appropriately placed dashes. “A phone number,” says Hardy, because nothing gets past this guy.
They call the number, and Parker answers from the grave where she’s been buried alive. He asks her if she remembers anything about the ride over, and she says that she tried to keep count while in the trunk and made it to 700. Hardy points to Tech Lady and she answers, “That’s ten minutes,” and he gives her a thumbs-up, like they’re a team. But then he asks Weston how long Parker has before she runs out of air and Weston answers, “Three to five hours,” and Tech Lady feels betrayed. She’s the go-to person for all number-related queries! I’ve gathered so much surveillance footage, she thinks, yet I remain unseen.
The car that took Parker is found in the woods. Its tires are slashed. Hardy and Weston go along with all of the other agents to check the car out in person, because Hardy skipped the class on how to delegate responsibility in order to audit Joe’s “Telltale Heart” lecture. In the woods, some of Joe’s heavily armed followers appear and start shooting. The one who kidnapped Parker is captured and Hardy says he’s going to bring him into the station for questioning, which is code for “he’s about to go all 24 on him.” His boss, not Call Me Nick but the original one who’s only sometimes there, looks at him and says, “Do what you have to do. But just make sure you waste a few more precious minutes of Parker’s dwindling oxygen supply by driving to an abandoned car wash instead of doing whatever it is right here.”
At the car wash, Hardy and Weston torture the dude. Hardy gouges out his eye, or nearly does, and the guy tells him where he buried Parker. At the time, it seemed strange that this would make the guy talk considering he’s a member of a cult devoted to pain and death, but I should’ve figured that this was all part of Joe’s plan. Joe is not a good cult leader, but Hardy is a much worse unofficial FBI agent, and so of course he ends up doing everything Joe wants him to. He and Weston drive with the follower guy to Parker’s grave. They call headquarters, and there’s a scramble as the boss guy says the location where she’s buried is 45 minutes away. No one suggests enlisting the help of someone who might be closer. Like, isn’t there a traffic cop whose beat is just highways next to endless stretches of woods? Tech Lady patches him through to Parker’s grave extension. Tech Lady’s been on the phone with her this whole time. It’s the longest she’s had anyone’s undivided attention for weeks, and it’s been a pretty great conversation, even the parts where Parker kept lecturing her about how to tell the difference between a cult and just a run-of-the-mill orgy. Hardy gets on the line and Parker says she wants him to get a hold of her parents and her sister after she dies, that they are her only regret. “Do you mean you regret leaving their cult after they forced you to be a child bride?” asks Hardy. “Or that you regret introducing that whole story line to us in the first place since it really just confused us more than clarified?” “That second one,” she says, her voice growing fainter. She tells him that he shouldn’t blame himself for her death, that it’s not part of his death curse. “You’re not going to die. We’re almost there,” he says, while looking over at Weston, who appears to be driving the speed limit, if not under it. It occurs to Hardy that he should suggest they put the siren out, but maybe the noise would stress Parker out even more than she already is. Those things are loud.
They arrive at the grave and start digging. They find Parker’s coffin and pull her out, but she’s unconscious. The follower guy watches while Hardy gives her mouth to mouth. If she does wake up, she’s going to be drunk. But of course she doesn’t; she’s dead. Hardy got there too late. This scene might as well come with a card that reads, “One last little present to our viewers from all of us at The Following.” The follower guy laughs, and Hardy shoots him in the head. Weston pulls a manuscript out of the coffin. It’s Joe’s novel! I pause the episode, run down the street to the store, buy a pack of birthday candles and a cake, return to my house, light the candles, and blow them out just so I can make a wish that the rest of the hour is going to be spent with Joe reading his book out loud to us in voice-over while Hardy turns the pages one by one.
No such luck. Hardy turns to the end of the book and skims. He sees that Joe’s written about everything that just happened, about Parker in the grave and how Hardy failed to get there in time. “How did he know that?!!” asks Weston, incredulous. Hardy says the book doesn’t get everything right, though. The follower guy was supposed to kill Weston, but Hardy shot him first. Hardy keeps reading. It says he has to go rescue Claire alone. “You don’t need to listen to the book,” says Weston. “We can change the story.” “Nope,” says Hardy. “I mean, it would appear that we could given that we just did, but I’m going to choose to believe that was an anomaly. Gotta go!” And then he gets into his car and heads to the lighthouse where Joe is keeping Claire.
Claire wakes up on a couch. She momentarily disoriented because it’s not quite as comfortable as the ones in Ravenclaw. It’s probably from CB2. Joe’s there, telling her that he’s going to kill her later on, once Ryan gets there. “Waiting for Ryan,” says Claire. “That’s what the play based on my life should be called. Get it, Joe? I just made a Beckett joke.” “Who is this Beckett person?” asks Joe, “I don’t recall Poe ever writing a book about a Beckett.”
He locks Claire in a bedroom with the owner of the house, Neil, whose ankle Joe broke. Neil tries to get the window open, but Claire tells him he needs to rest. He’s like, “Lady, we need to get you out of here so you can go get help.” Welcome to our world, Neil. You’re going to be very tired here. Joe comes in and brings Claire back to the living room, even though he just told her he didn’t want to talk to her anymore. That knife wound is making him indecisive. Good thing it’s magically healing at a nice pace.
Joe asks Claire if she always knew he was a killer. She says no because she was blinded by brilliance. She calls him a bad writer but maintains that he was an amazing teacher. What is with this show and its agenda when it comes to convincing us that Joe’s a natural leader? Has the staff only seen the movie Dead Poet’s Society? He tells her that he doesn’t want her to feel guilty because of all the women he killed, that there was nothing she could’ve done to stop it. It’s basically the same speech Parker gave Hardy, except in this case Joe has a stronger case. Claire starts to sob and says she does feel guilty. Joe is mortified. He’s pissed that Claire is trying to take credit for the stuff that he did. He drags Neil from the bedroom and stabs him to death.
Hardy shows up to where the book tells him. Emma is there, looking way too pleased with herself considering everything has gone to hell. Hardy tosses his gun and cell phone and gets into Emma’s car. They drive to the lighthouse, where Joe promptly props up Hardy and sits him opposite Claire. How these two are able to still be attracted to each other is beyond me. The number of times and extent to which both of them have botched this whole situation up is staggering. I mean, half an hour before, Hardy was surrounded by cops with guns. Now he’s willingly allowed himself to become disarmed and captured. I guess he’s relying on his quick wit to get him out of this one. If only he’s able to withstand Joe’s charisma, the greatest weapon of them all.
All season long, Joe’s been rambling about his final chapter, and now it’s here. Everything he’s done — the recruiting, the kidnapping of Joey, the jail break, the home furnishing, the pool playing, the formulating of a plan that involved heterosexual men pretending to be gay for three years — has been so he could ask Hardy a single question: When did he fall in love with Claire? Hardy shrugs and is like, “All right.” I mean, it’s not exactly the greatest “how we met” story ever told. Hardy suspected Joe of being the killer, so he started following Claire in order to get to Joe. “And then you fell in love with her,” says Joe. Well, if you already knew the answer, why did you put us all through this? This show!
Joe grabs an ice pick and is about to kill Claire. Hardy says he doesn’t have to do it, but then Joe starts going on about the death curse thing again. Hardy says it’s too predictable for Joe to kill Claire, and I agree, except the word he should be using is repetitive. If Joe’s trying to convince us that Hardy causes everyone around him to die, we already got that message. It came in a text that the Tech Lady sent us that said, “Hardy’s death curse is real. Wanna hang out later? YOLO! (unless you’re friends with Hardy, in which case you only die once. LOL.)”
Joe says he isn’t going to fall for Hardy’s mind games, and so Hardy is forced to pull out the big guns. He calls Poe a hack too. Yep, he goes there. Joe freaks out and goes after Hardy. Hardy grabs Joe’s gun but stops to untie Claire, giving Joe enough time to run out of the room and find a secure hiding spot in the garage. “Attempt to kill him!” shouts Claire. “Nearly finish the job!”
Hardy goes after Joe. A scuffle breaks out. Shots are fired. The bullets hit some barrels containing highly explosive fluid, and the garage goes up in flames. We see a lot of fire, Joe’s face sort of behind and inside the flames, and we hear him screaming, but it doesn’t look like his mouth is moving. This is either because the show’s special-effects supervisor’s wife went into labor during this scene and he had to finish it in a rush or because Joe managed to survive the blast. A body is found in the water, and even though the teeth records match, the way this news is phrased makes it seem like they really don’t. Emma learns about his death while watching the news at a bar. She’s wearing a wig and glasses. She’s going to try her hand at sketch comedy next, where she’ll then successfully convince her teammates to all be serial killers.
Hardy and Claire go back to his place. Finally, it’s just the two of them. Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that her son was kidnapped and is now sequestered in a different state with strangers. At least they get some alone time. They kiss but don’t go any further than that. Maybe this is because Hardy’s hungry, like he says. Or maybe it’s because he’s gotten used to having sex by the glow of a laptop screen.
He orders food, and one of the security guys on watch brings it up to him. Something else has to happen since we’ve already been cheated of finding out that one of our main characters is a follower. Hardy brings the takeout food into the kitchen, where he fails to open the plastic bag with his bare hands. Is there anything this guy can do competently? Maybe the big cliffhanger is what type of meal Hardy and Claire were in the mood for. Or maybe it’s that Molly is in the apartment. Yeah, it’s that one. She stabs Hardy, who falls to the ground. Claire steps out of the bathroom, and he looks at her but doesn’t shout, you know, “Hey, Claire, watch out for the woman with a knife!” Instead he just grunts forlornly, so sad about his death curse. If he survives this, he’s definitely going to go back to that boardwalk where the unplugged fortune-telling machine was and try and reverse this thing. Molly stabs Claire. Down she goes, and that’s it until next season. Oh, The Following. You’re like watching a bird with a broken wing fill out an SAT exam. You’re the messiest, most chaotic show I’ve ever seen, and I sort of love you for it.