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“The Following”

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FOX’s “The Following” starts season with a bang
Sarah Whitten

FOX’s newest pilot, “The Following,” is a serial killer drama, starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. It is a slick, tense, and grisly new series from creator Kevin Williamson. The set-up involves an imprisoned serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who was brought down by a troubled FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon). When Carroll escapes from prison, Hardy is brought back from disability to recapture him. Hardy teams up with FBI agents Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), and Jennifer Mason (Jeananne Goossen) in order to track down the prison guard that aided Carroll’s escape.

When a young woman commits suicide in front of the FBI team, Hardy begins to suspect that Carroll has used the internet in order to create a cult of disciples to carry out his whims. The plot is thickened when it is revealed that the sole surviving victim of Carroll’s has been kidnapped by a collection of the killer’s “followers”. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience is privy to Carroll’s gruesome methods, including the removal of their eyes muscle by muscle. The violence is not at the same caliber as “The Walking Dead”, but it certainly exceeds normal television standards of gore.

While “The Following” is able to grip its audience, its writing and character development does leave a little to be desired. Enter into the mix, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), the ex-wife of Carroll and the ex-lover of Hardy. This romantic plot twist is not new or even exciting. Instead, it feels contrived and predictable. Only in episode four and this relationship feels forced and fails to add any dynamic to the overall plot. Hardy and Claire simply ogle each other from across the room for the majority of their screen time and have shallow, seemingly insignificant dialogue.

Kevin Bacon does a commendable job in a role that has little character development and follows along with traditional broken-hero-trying-to-redeem-himself storyline. Hardy is an alcoholic, hiding vodka in his water bottles, and constantly keeps his fellow agents uninformed. He also follows the stereotypical lone-gunslinger motif as he rushes off into danger without backup and nearly gets himself killed. What’s more, Special Agent Hardy is surprisingly inept for a man who has devoted himself to learning everything about Carroll. He even wrote a book about him and the investigation. It takes him nearly the whole first episode to realize that Carroll would want to go after the only woman whom he wasn’t able to kill, whereas, the audience is able to figure that out within the first five minutes. It’s just common sense.

James Purefoy as serial killer Joe Carroll is mesmerizing at first. However, as the pilot continues, he becomes just another black-and-white villain. Purefoy has a menacing, and yet charming, disposition. He is an intelligent sort, having based his murders off of Edgar Allen Poe and his stories, and had once been a professor of English. However, his “villain speech” in the final moments of the episode destroys any potential mystery about his motivations. In the first few episodes he sits in a holding cell taunting Hardy with some-what coherent riddles and jibes about their past encounters. Joe Carroll is the character that had the most allure in all of the promotional material for this series; however, he has faded into the background in favor of a collection of his “followers”. Hopefully, as the series continues, we will see more development in his character beyond a singular desire for carnage.

The followers we meet in the pilot, Emma (Valorie Curry), Paul (Adan Canto), and Joey (Kyle Catlett) are not simple pawns in the hands of Carroll. They are living, breathing psychotic masterminds in their own right. The series has spent more time with these individuals than their cult leader in the first four episodes. The writers have done a decent job with their characterization, giving them backgrounds and showing them interacting with Carroll while he was in prison. However, the only follower that the audience gets solid information on is that of Emma, who was placed in Carroll’s wife’s house as a nanny to get close to Carroll’s son. We learn about her family, her attraction to Carroll, and get a solid grip on why it is that she joined this cult in the first place.

The writers have thickened the followers plot by introducing a love-triangle between Emma, Paul, and Joey. Joey and Paul spent the last three years pretending to be a gay couple in order to get close to Carroll’s last victim, Sarah, and have actually developed feelings for each other. However, prior to their stint as Sarah’s homosexual neighbors, Joey was in a romantic relationship with Emma. Now that they have reunited the pair has continued their relationship. This has thrown a wrench in the dynamic between Joey and Paul and has created some tension between the three followers.

At the FBI headquarters the agents have their own issues with relationships. After episode one the character of Jennifer Mason has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from the show. Replacing her is Agent Debra Parker, a specialist on cult activity. Parker has a strange demeanor with her staff and especially with Joe Carroll. In the second episode she delivers a book to the serial killer without consulting any other agents. Within “The Following” several characters that we believe are “good” or “trustworthy” turn out to be part of Carroll’s cult. Therefore, as a viewer you are constantly doubting character’s motives and if what they are saying is really the truth.

Agent Mike Weston, whom idolizes Agent Hardy, begins the series as Hardy’s personal Boy Scout. Weston is quiet about Hardy’s drinking at work and covers for him when he disappears without informing the agency. However, by the fourth episode it is clear that his patience is waning with his mentor. Weston and Hardy could have a great dynamic if Hardy actually attempted to bond with anyone at the FBI. The tension between all of the agents makes the audience feel uncomfortable. These characters do not connect or even work in the way that we expect them to. Little is known about their backstories or their idiosyncrasies either. Ultimately, the agents are forgettable. Several have died since the series began and the audience strains to remember a single one of their names.

“The Following” is certainly a fast-paced thriller. The audience is thrust into a gritty and unyielding world – dealing with death, mutilation, kidnapping, and deceit. After four episodes there are obvious kinks for the writers to sift through; however, overall, “The Following” is a compelling new show.