Sometimes I wonder what The Following would be like without Kevin Bacon.
There's such a strong presence whenever he appears on screen, delivers a line, gives a steely stare or shoots a bad guy. Bacon brings that gravitas to the character, helping me believe in every rogue move that Ryan Hardy makes or gritty edge during an interrogation scene.
Sure, sometimes it baffles me that Ryan has such spot-on hunches (seriously, how did he spot the cult mansion on that map?), but I'm more able to go along with it because it's Bacon.
Even now with 14 episodes down, I still enjoy watching Ryan hunt down his enemies, although I do wish we got to see some more of his cocky attitude like when he was all tied up in "The Fall."
But if Bacon wasn't commanding the lead character like he does in every episode, I'm not sure that the regular routine of hunting followers every week would be as entertaining.
You'd think that as the penultimate episode, "The End is Near" would get past that repetitive fighting of the random one act followers and really gear up for Joe - master cult leader - and his ultimate plan.
Granted, there were some major moments towards the end of the hour, and I've got some suspicions about "The Final Chapter," but the rest felt like a drawn out way to get rid of Joe's faceless cult, while doing a lot of running around amidst killers and trying to let the FBI not be that step behind.
Of course, even with Ryan's intuition and skill, Joe and his massive group were able to disappear just in the nick of time. Well, at least the FBI found that one guy who I don't know.
And even with the creepy blonde spouting out book quotes while Ryan took a page out of the Batman interrogation manual - practically manhandling her across the room - she was still just another random follower to get in the way.
Much like the many that led the violently bloody attack. It was creepy and graphic, but if it's not one of the main characters, I've got a feeling somebody is going to shoot and kill them.
We've seen for the most part all this before, although it was Parker that managed to get captured this go around. Will Ryan have to make a hero's choice: Debra or Claire?
As for Joe, Jacob, Emma and Claire, they joined in on a random feast with a random couple (what is it with serial killers and food?) to discuss the power of love. Or perhaps as it has become for Joe, a sense of hate.
I'm not exactly surprised his marriage to Claire didn't last.
I was surprised that Claire was able to knock Joe over the head with the wine and then stab him again... but, alas, she was captured. Funny how the couple got away and Jacob and Emma didn't really care. Probably because they weren't important to the story.
Yet, through all the running, Joe was able to use that diversion of his followers attacking (that's clearly not his big plan even if they feel that's their chapter) to escape with Claire. It's not going to end happily ever after, but I think the idea is to bring it back to Ryan and Joe facing off. Just the two. The yin and the yang. Nothing else in between.
I wonder if Joe will die by season's end, leaving either another character to take his place; or some new cult to spring up to go after Ryan.
When it comes down to it, Joe really has been practically driven mad to write this story. It's all he's cared about and I've come to think that everything, at least for him, was all about that novel and, of course, Ryan. Maybe there really wasn't a bigger plan.
While Joe escaping by boat with Claire and the disturbing shouts for help from Debra buried alive took me aback, the big shocker was Emma slitting Jacob's throat.
Jacob continued to juggle the possibility with getting out of the killing game and running away with Emma. Sure, she betrayed him, but for him, forgiveness and love seemed to be where it was at.
Yet, the psycho chick still had a thing for Joe, and that choice seemed to come pretty easy to her. So long, Jacob.
I was shocked but disappointed. Once again, another interesting character got killed off. And maybe we'd exhausted Jacob's possibilities, but it was far more intriguing to watch him amidst all the crazies, trying to find his place, trying to fit in, all the while contemplating the other side of the coin.
Really, I still think we barely scratched the surface of who Jacob was and even his motivations for joining or his hinted relationship with his father.
So now, all we really have left is Joe and Emma - and I'm not sure both will make it past the season finale.
Overall, the scary and dark tone was consistent as it has been all season, as was the fighting of followers. I'm hoping it really just comes down to Joe and Ryan for the finale and that the series gets away from what's become a tedious battle with those random cult members. I still want to know how it all ends, so I'm looking forward to seeing it really focus in and close out the final chapter on a high note.
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.