Abigail Raney writes for Bleeding Cool:
Or, as Kevin Bacon explained it, the smoother a lake is, the more ripples you can cause by throwing a giant rock into it.
The lake is apparently Ryan Hardy, one year after the arrest of Joe Carroll, having learned from his past mistakes, having put Joe behind bars instead of killing him, and making good on his promise from the season finale to let Joe go and move on. He's living with someone named Gwen, who is revealed to be a doctor and to have a daughter, and is trying to maintain that domesticity and that normalcy. Which, newly appointed showrunner Jennifer Johnson admits, he's "terrible at it, but he really, really tries."
And the rock? Well, that's a bit more of a mystery. Sam is definitely coming back, and apparently in a very unexpected way. Johnson advises viewers to keep their eyes glued to the screen, because Sam has transformed himself, and is hiding in plain sight. As for the unknown driver of the truck that picked Sam up? Executive producer Kevin Williamson confirms that this is a new character, someone we haven't seen before.
On a larger scale, New York will play a big role in the upcoming season, functioning as a character in some ways, and setting the backdrop for a sense of "urban paranoia" that will play into the season's arc. Johnson suggests this season will play up the psychology thriller aspects of the show, that it will be very Hitchcock-like, and that they're taking it back to the idea of never knowing who was bad, and where the danger was hiding.
The progression of the show may seem to be going away from Joe Carroll, but that doesn't mean the show is done with him. The story will continue to reveal more about Carroll, and it seems like this information may come not so much from direct interactions or flashbacks, but from how Carroll's story ties into the new threats Hardy and his team will face. And Johnson, somewhat balefully, suggests that the very thing that Ryan's been working so hard with – his new life, his "happy ending" – may end up tying his hands at a crucial moment.
It sounds to me as though this new season may be setting up an impossible choice for Ryan, designed to pull him from domestic bliss and back towards the guarded, twisted soul he was when we first met him. These scenarios are often set up to represent the happy option as mundane and unsatisfying to a hero who just can't help but pursue the more dangerous (and more exciting) path. But if The Following can manage to give us something different, in which Hardy – and by extension, we – are genuinely invested in his new life and truly conflicted about which choice is the right choice, that would make for an even more interesting and daring season of television.