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‘Following’ a lethal path to season finale

This much is known: Jessica Stroup starts the season finale of “The Following.”

Whether she finishes it, though, is up for grabs.

By now, fans of the Fox suspense drama know the life expectancy of its characters is uncertain, and “90210” alum Stroup expectedly isn’t giving up whether her Max Hardy is left standing at the end of the Season 2 wrap-up at 9 p.m. Monday. The NYPD detective surely has had close calls while helping her uncle, ex-FBI man Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), track his archnemesis, cult-leading serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy).

The lively, friendly Stroup said joining the show was “intimidating” at first, “when the cast already had success with it and everybody was in a working groove. It was an interesting world to step into, but everybody embraced me. I was under a contract where I would do seven out of 15 episodes, but I ended up doing quite a few more than that. Working with professionals who really love their jobs, it’s been a blast.”

As well as being her own person who’s developed an interest in Ryan’s former FBI colleague Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Max provides “a deeper connection to Ryan,” Stroup reasoned. “We get to see more of who he is, since he lets himself be more open with her. He trusts her and wants to have that relationship, but she also brings a levity to the show. It’s a fine balance because I know how dark the show can be, but I love the banter and quips we get to have.

“I think Max is also learning her grounding,” Stroup added. “She knows the law enforcement side of things. It’s been in her family forever, but as far as the Joe Carroll case goes, she’s brand-new to all of it. Being a fan of the show myself, I really wanted to portray a character who made sense and added something.”

Stroup allowed that after her five years as Erin Silver on the CW’s “90210,” she didn’t want to do another series at all. “I was actually out of the country on vacation when I got the call that there were auditions (for ‘The Following’), and only because I loved the show the first year, I got on a plane and was in the audition the next day.

“I wanted to embrace this character and experience her,” Stroup noted. “I think (series creator and executive producer) Kevin Williamson is a talented ‘everything man’; to work with him has been an honor, and I’ve always been a huge Kevin Bacon fan. It’s also a shorter season on a new network for me, so everything just pointed to, ‘Definitely … yes,’ for me.”

After guesting on such shows as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “True Blood” and “Reaper,” Stroup said however much longer (or not) her “Following” gig lasts, it’s lived up to her hopes. “It feeds my soul in a way,” she maintained. “I’m such a tomboy – I was raised in the South – and I also really wanted to work in New York, being so different from California, though it was a freezing-cold winter.”

Stroup admitted she spent much of it reading “Following” scripts with trepidation, wondering if Max would survive to be in the next one, “but I look at them as a fan, first and foremost. I’m always waiting for them to trick me, as if something seems to be happening and then doesn’t pan out.”

“Your favorite characters are not safe, and it’s all thrilling,” she said. And I’m able to say that being in the position of making it through to the season finale, at least.”