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James Purefoy mesmerized audiences last year on "The Following" with his Svengali-like villain, Joe Carroll, who collected equally dark souls to do his nasty bidding. Carroll was so charismatic, the character is back for the second season of Fox’s drama even though it looked like he was blown up in a boat house as Kevin Bacon’s dogged Ryan Hardy watched grimly.
“It would obviously be a very short TV series if I wasn’t (back). That’s the trouble,” Purefoy told TODAY about his not-so-unexpected return. “You want it to almost feel like he’s going to get caught, or he’s going to die, or something is going to happen. But the viewers like that he gets away.”
With Carroll back and the killer and Hardy doing their dance of mutual loathing, "The Following" might seem like the same show, but creator and executive producer Kevin Williamson said otherwise. During a conference call with reporters, he said he thinks season two returns as a "different" show.
“The entire show has reset, but it’s also pushed forward a year. I think the biggest difference is it’s not such an FBI chase, in the sense that Ryan Hardy’s not a consultant smack in the center of an FBI task force," Williamson said. "This story is told from a different starting place. It’s a little bit more of a character thriller and a relationship thriller.”
Purefoy teased that when the show picks up, Carroll is back in the position of waiting to toy with Hardy. And it's not going to be a pleasant season for the former FBI agent who took away everything Carroll was working toward.
“Joe’s already spent 10 years in prison hatching the plan to begin with, so he’s quite capable of seeing the long game," Purefoy said of his character's past. "He’ll wait until Ryan really thinks he’s back on the straight and narrow and his life is falling into place for once before hammering him with the news (Joe) is alive. In a way, it’s even more vicious."
Could Carroll really be more diabolical than he was in the show's freshman season? Perhaps. After all, as the actor points out, the character isn't exactly the same guy anymore.
"Joe's used this time this year to reevaluate himself," Purefoy said of the period between seasons when the world thought Carroll was dead. "In the first few episodes, he’s gone into a chrysalis stage of his life. But he will get born again and the butterfly will come out."
Some of the change will include figuring out how to move on from his previous misguided goals. Obviously, writing wasn't his strong suit, and there was no loving family to reunite with. So what's left?
"He’s good at teaching. He’s good at manipulating people. He’s quite an expert at killing people. With all those three things put together, he’s got to try and find a way to use those skills to move himself on," Purefoy said.
Carroll also has to reassert his presence with his leftover followers, and Purefoy said audiences may be surprised at his character’s strategy.
“Joe is a really smart man but he takes a certain amount of pleasure living off his wits. It’s one of the things you will see him doing. He’ll be evaluating these other (followers) and working out ways to quietly manipulate them. Some of the people on the set say to me, 'I don’t like the way Joe plays his status.' Or, 'It seems like he’s being bullied.'”
But Joe Carroll is too devious for that.
"Don’t ever think Joe is being bullied because if he’s being bullied, he allowing himself to be bullied by others for a reason,” the actor said. With that signature, wicked tone in his voice, Purefoy purred in conclusion, “He makes it seem like he has no power to gain ultimate power.”
Season two of "The Following" premieres Sunday, Jan. 19 at 9 p.m. on Fox.