The Following (2013) – Created by Kevin Williamson – Episodes 1-3 – Starring Kevin Bacon, Natalie Zea, Annie Parisse, Shawn Ashmore, Valorie Curry, Nico Tortorella, Adan Canto, Kyle Catlett, and James Purefoy.
In episode 3 of THE FOLLOWING, one member of serial killer Joe Carroll’s cult goes out and kills two professional critics of Carroll (James Purefoy). I bring this up in case someone violently stabs me while wearing a Ghostface mask or pulls me open with a meat hook, you can go question Mr. Williamson. It’s not that I’m going to savage THE FOLLOWING, though, so I’m probably safe.
What I am going to do is express my disappointment in THE FOLLOWING, FOX’s attempt to make an edgy thriller in the shadow of Silence of the Lambs. We’ve got ex-cop Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and Carroll, the serial killer he caught a decade earlier. In the first episode, Carroll escapes from jail but by the end of the episode he’s been caught. That’s all part of his master plan because he’s got a “following” (get it?) out there committing murders to make Papa Smurf happy. Each week we get the cult member of the week doing something gory and awful while Carroll sits in jail and says allegedly clever things.
It’s all a bit disappointing. Carroll isn’t as clever as he thinks, Hardy isn’t as tortured, and all of the gore, which is supposed to be one of the selling points, is pointless.
Let’s start with the gore, as this is clearly supposed to be one of the reasons to watch this show.
I’m not into gore unless there’s a point to it, but the only point to it here seems to be, “We can show gore on FOX.” And if that’s the case, then why are you doing it? Other people can do more gore than a network will ever be able to do, and I thought we got well beyond the “pushing the network boundaries” after Dennis Franz’s showed his ass on NYPD Blue. Honestly, we’ve got Starz not only showing tons of blood, but full frontal fish and sausage on Spartacus, so what’s the point of network edginess?
THE FOLLOWING attempts to offer a bit of rationale for the gore by having Carroll be a Lit professor who has an interest in Edgar Allan Poe. (Which likely means Carroll is a professor of 19th century, which means he has the job I’ll be trying to get. Awesome. For the record, my dissertation was on whales in literature, so you’re probably safe if I lose my mind.) The choice of Poe makes sense, but it’s also lazy and obvious. I’m not suggesting having a serial killer based on Edith Wharton would have made a better choice, but opening it up to all of the 19th century would have allowed for some really interesting cases. Wharton actually did write some ghost stories above and beyond her standard stories of manners, and having the FBI have to figure out which writer was being used could add some drama. Simply being Poe driven, it’s not exactly a challenge.
Not that the stories adhere too closely to Poe anyway. There’s some “oh, Poe blah blah blah eyes removed blah blah blah symbolism blah blah blah” bits, but really the show just wants to show lots of blood and set people on fire. Poe is just the excuse that gets tossed up to justify all the gore, which is pretty simplistic.
The cases don’t exactly involve much police work, either, since all of Carroll’s Cult Members of the Week seem perfectly happy getting caught.
There are three regular cult members: Emma Hill, Jacob Wells, and Paul Torres, and they’re the best part of the show. Well, not totally. The deal with these three is that years earlier, Emma because the nanny to Carroll’s son, and Jacob and Paul pretended to be a gay couple to get close to Carroll’s last victim, who he failed to kill. Now, Emma has stolen Carroll’s kid from his wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), and the three of them are living with the kid in a really nice house that the feds can’t find.
Emma (Valorie Curry) is far and away the best part of the show. A young woman who fell under Carroll’s spell, she’s the smartest member of the followers. Jacob is actually her boyfriend, and now that they’re back together, Paul is jealous because he’s in love with Jacob, too. (They got drunk and hooked up at some point.) Emma is totally psycho badass, though. To the point where – as wrong as this is – she’s really kinda hot. The deranged part of her isn’t sexy, of course, but the way she moves through this story is full-on confidence. More than either Hardy or Carroll, this is really Emma’s story and the more she’s on screen, the better THE FOLLOWING is for it.
One of the big problems with THE FOLLOWING is that there’s no chemistry between the FBI agents. I don’t know who any of these people are supposed to be and there’s no fun chemistry watching them interact. Shawn Ashmore is a quality actor but they’ve cast his character as a guy who idolizes Hardy, so when they sit in a car together, he’s all, “Oh my god, you’re so awesome, do you want to get cake later and braid each other’s hair and get it I’m YOU’RE follower because all the crazies are Carroll’s followers and oh my god it’s just so cool to help you hide your alcoholism and when I finally get sick of doing this and want to go star on a show that knows how to use me I’ll totally be revealed as a super secret double agent working for *squeeee!* Carroll!”
All that being said, I’m not going anywhere. There’s a lot of talent on this show and there are moments where it comes together. At the end of episode 3, Emma sends an email to Claire and Hardy showing her and Jacob teaching Claire and Carroll’s son how to kill. That is chilling. That is a billion billion supergajillion times more chilling that showing one of the feds bleed out from getting stabbed under his chin or lighting a guy on fire.
If I could make a suggestion on how to improve the show, it would be to ditch the sophomoric gore and focus on the middle America creepiness. That’s what THE FOLLOWING does well, but it doesn’t yet do nearly enough of it.