The Following is one of the shows that I have most been looking forward to this season. It has a great cast (Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy), comes from a great writer/producer (Kevin Williamson), and has a great premise (cult of serial killers.) How could that combo go wrong?
Well, it can’t - it hasn’t. The Following completely lived up to my high expectations.
Kevin Bacon plays former FBI agent Ryan Hardy. He is former for many reasons: he is an alcoholic; he has a pacemaker after being stabbed in the heart by serial killer Joe Carroll; and he had a brief relationship with Carroll’s ex-wife after the trial was over. Carroll was literature professor with a hard-on for Poe, and killed over a dozen coeds in the manner of many victims from Poe’s stories. Hardy is brought back to the FBI when Carroll escapes, leaving a bloody path of victims in his wake. A cat-and-mouse chase like that can sustain an entire season, but Carroll is captured by the end of the pilot episode - he just had some unfinished business to attend to.
What unfolds after Carroll’s capture is a cult that he has created, years in the making, laying in wait until they are signaled into service. They kill, they kidnap, they lie, and it appears to be a widespread cult - similar murders pop up all across the country by the pilot’s end. For the first four episodes that I saw, we stick with a small, local “sect” of this cult. I am hesitant to say much more, for I don’t want to give anything away. The Following doesn’t really have any jaw-dropping twists (at least, not in these first four episodes) but there are several moments that turn things around and make you go, “Nice!” It’s a Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Scream) trait.
As a tortured anti-hero, Ryan is nothing special. He has a troubled - but not uncommon - past, and the alcoholic FBI agent is far beyond cliche. But what you don’t get to see very often is an FBI agent and a brutal serial killer interacting on a level playing field like this. Ryan and Joe’s relationship is reminiscent of the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice. Purefoy’s character certainly isn’t likable, but he is relatable. The relationship between Ryan and the former Mrs. Carroll is surprisingly genuine, if occasionally frustrating.
Much has been said of the violence in The Following. True, it is probably the most graphically violent show on network television (with past seasons of Williamson’s The Vampire Diaries coming in a close second) and it certainly has nothing on True Blood or The Walking Dead. Some of the bodies are shown more graphically: a body with the eyes gouged out, or a pile of bodies in pools of blood. Very, very little of the actual killing takes place on screen - it is just the aftermath you see. It is much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that respect: your mind’s eye fills in the really horrible stuff.
I think Fox has a real winner here. It is dark, it is layered, but still completely accessible. If you haven’t already, make sure The Following is at the top of your DVR.
The Following airs Monday nights at 9pm on Fox beginning January 21st.