FOX’s serial killer thriller “The Following” — which was just picked up for a second season — is really doing a number on our trust issues. Cult leader and murderer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) has the powers of persuasion to woo even the most mild-mannered people into conspiring with him, so as we come to know and love the characters, we’ve got our guard up. Anyone could flip the switch and turn out to be a follower at any moment.
Currently, we’re feeling pretty skeptical of Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore). Sure, he took a bullet for the good guys in last week’s episode, but we’re not entirely convinced that his hero worship of Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) isn’t an elaborate scheme.
Like we said. Trust issues.
“People keep asking me about that,” Ashmore says, laughing. “It makes me feel like I’m creepy. Am I, like, unintentionally giving off a creepy vibe?”
He promises that if Mike is about to be revealed as a follower, the writers haven’t let him in on the secret. As far as Ashmore is concerned, Mike is loyal to Ryan. “The whole idea was to have him be very eager and excited, and I think honestly it comes off a little much at the beginning, so we reel that in a bit,” he says.
There’s a certain degree of hero-worship to their partnership, but Ashmore says that Mike’s admiration for Ryan isn’t about to get weird. “Mike really has that worship for Ryan because Ryan captured Joe. Now, in this situation, he’s like ‘Ryan had the instinct to do it. Let’s listen to this guy. He did it before, he can do it again,'” he says. “Mike respects him and he just wants to be respected back. He wants to be part of it. I look at it as a healthy admiration, but obviously, the other side of the coin, the unhealthy admiration, is what we’re exploring with Joe. Mike’s obsession isn’t Ryan; Mike’s obsession is ‘Stop this s***.'”
In last week’s episode, we learned a lot about Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) and her formative years as part of a cult. Ashmore tells us that while we’ll soon get more insight into Mike’s backstory, it won’t be through flashbacks.
“It’s just peppered little things,” he says. “Around mid-season you find out a little more about his character and his background. It’s not necessarily something Mike tells you, it’s something you discover through his actions, which I love. As Ryan starts to trust Mike a little more, some of the discussions we have go deeper. Instead of Mike trying to talk to Ryan and Ryan going ‘Leave me alone, kid,’ they start to have more real conversations. You learn a little more about Mike’s background, where he comes from.”
In order for a show like “The Following” to continue, the bad guys always have to be one step ahead of the FBI pursuit. Fans have already grown a little tired of the cops’ continued failure to apprehend the followers — or, at the very least, to get Joey home safe to Claire (Natalie Zea). There’s certainly a fine line to walk, with the concern being that after a few episodes, Mike, Ryan, and their team might begin to look incompetent.
It’s something that starts to weigh on the characters, too.
“It’s a pride issue,” Ashmore says. “They start to question whether they’re good at their jobs. It’s a frustration. Also, ultimately, the brass starts to come down on us. They’re saying, ‘Guys, you’re f***ing up.’ The problem is getting bigger and bigger, and not only do we have to catch a guy, but we also have to wrap our heads around his motives and how far this reaches.”
If you think you’ve got Joe’s game figured out at this point, think again. “Up until Episode 6, we think we know his motive, his game, and then in Episode 7, it shifts,” he teases. “Episode 8 it shifts again. We’re constantly two steps behind, and every time we get close to what we think is the answer, it totally changes. The show isn’t ‘When are they going to catch this guy?’ He’s caught. The show is about a much greater problem.”
Tune in to “The Following” Monday nights at 9 p.m. EST on FOX.