Despite the network’s protestations otherwise, there are many things about The Following that feel specifically like network television. At the same time, it has some genuine twists and jumps and set ups that certainly lend one to believe the show may be more than initially meets the eye (if you still have yours). The series comes from Kevin Williamson, who has had a hand in so many cultural touchstones, from Dawson’s Creek to Scream to the Vampire Diaries, it’s nearly unfathomable to figure how he could not have a hit with this one, particularly with Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy (Rome) as acting anchors. Plus, the formula combines some of our biggest cultural fascinations – serial killers, cults and, well, Kevin Bacon. Hit the jump for a recap of the series’ premiere episode, which seems promising.
It’s hard to know with new series whether they will be worth reviewing week to week or not, so mostly it’s a gamble. I’m planning on giving The Following a few weeks to establish itself before figuring out if it’s worth commenting on or just watching for fun when I remember it’s on the DV-R. It had an impressive pilot episode though, that threw in huge amounts of forward progress and backstory, which is a great sign. There’s clearly one main trajectory: FBI Special Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) vs serial killer Dr. Joseph Carroll (James Purefoy) — Hardy tries to figure out Carroll’s tricks, and Carroll gets to write the ultimate story: one that plays with real lives.
I thought it was a great twist to have Carroll break out only to be captured, willingly, to end the episode. It was unexpected, the twist being that it wasn’t Carroll following Hardy for revenge, per say, but that he himself has amassed a following who will do anything for him. If I had to pick just one reason to watch the show it would be this element, which so perfectly and satirically shows our obsession with serial killers, and the weak-willed’s easy manipulation by a seductively brilliant, but deranged, man. It’s a kind of zombie-ism — Carroll has created an army of insidious killers. Their work is deeply methodical, and shown by the kidnapping babysitter and Sarah Fuller’s (Maggie Grace) next door neighbors. Even the woman who ice-picked herself was willing to commit suicide for an idea. It’s fantastically creepy.
The actual execution of the story isn’t quite so suave, as Ryan Hardy is a textbook hard-boiled, rogue-but-brilliant kind of investigator whose personal life is a shambles. There’s the affair with Carroll’s ex-wife (Claire Matthews, played by Natalie Zea) to complicate things emotionally, as Carroll notes in a very meta-way, and a wary female agent — Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) — who is there to challenge Hardy and probably slowly grow to love / trust him. The main characters aren’t anything new (even Carroll is a pastiche of other fictional and real killers), but that is one huge weakness of pilots — they tend to paint things in black and white, and in broad strokes. There’s hope the characters may become more nuanced as time goes on.
There is one element that I thought makes The Following better than the procedural it looks to possibly turn into, and that’s the fact that there are actual stakes. Named characters actually die – Maggie Grace dies in the pilot! How unexpected is that? The one person Hardy needs to save gets her eyes cut out while she’s still alive, and her corpse is dropped on him. That’s how you freak out an audience, people. Come out of left field! This breaking of convention gives me hope that the show may be less predictable than it initially seems.
It was a great idea to make Carroll play an elaborate game that keeps him from being killed (because Hardy will need to use the clues to find out who the other killers-in-training are, and how to stop them), and also provides great twists and weekly fodder regarding these other rogue killers. As for the Edgar Allen Poe stuff, it seems a bit forced (does no one remember his comedies? He was a great comedy writer! Seriously, Google it) and the explanations of things like ‘”Nevermore!’ … The Raven!” seem really simplistic and pointedly explained for people who didn’t pay attention in English class. Still, again, I give a lot of allowances for pilot episodes so maybe they’ll find a way to work the Poe stuff in a little less awkwardly as time goes on.
Williamson, who wrote the episode, still knows how to pull out a good fright though, and the creep factor for the series is certainly high. So are the grotesqueness and gruesomeness of the murders (somehow it’s so much worse that it’s the eyes … the eyes! … that get cut out). But The Following is giving us a lot to work with here, and I have decent hopes for it.
Episode Rating: Tough for a pilot. B, I guess, to give room to grow.
Musings and Miscellanea:
– A puppy killer? I can handle Maggie Grace getting her eyes gouged out but puppies? Y’all have gone too far!
– For my fellow ATLiens, the pilot was shot in our fair city (there are a few bits that look familiar, including a local Fox newsman)
– I think the casting of both Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy are absolutely, spot-on perfect. The rest will be judged later. Shawn Ashmore is looking like a good addition too though.
– I just have to share the flow of my notes regarding Hardy: “stabbed by him. boinked his wife. stab—->pacemaker.” Yep, that about sums it up.
– “Get him out of here!” – every supervisor ever to every rogue cop ever.
– Sarah as unfinished work and actually killing her, which I can’t get over, was a nice touch.
– There were a few subtleties, like saying Carroll killed five guards in under two minutes. The professor bit shows us he’s smart, but that really raises the stakes. Killing machine.