I was pretty excited for The Following. I’m a fan of creator Kevin Williamson from his work on the Scream movie series and The Vampire Diaries TV show (hey don’t knock it ‘til you try it!). Throw in a great cast including Kevin Bacon as the lead and some good buzz when critics saw the pilot last year and I think there was plenty of reasons to be excited. So I was sort of surprised to see it taking a bit of a critical beating in the days prior to the premiere. But hey I was going to get to judge it for myself when it aired this past Monday night. The pilot is full of surprises so I’d advise watching it before reading on as I don’t shy away from spoilers here at all.
The Following opens with a prison guard leaving his shift. Unless you went into this show completely in the dark you probably know that this is the show’s villain and infamous serial killer, Joe Carroll, making his escape. He has left five guards dead in his wake as he drives away from the prison in disguise. With Carroll (James Purefoy) on the loose again, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is called in by the FBI to help with his capture. It was 10 years ago that Hardy caught Carroll and put him in jail and with a book written on the subject, he is sort of an expert on the killer. The pilot mostly focuses on Hardy and the FBI tracking Carroll down to put him in prison again while he messes with them along the way. Soon it becomes apparent that while in jail Carroll was busy gaining a following (hence the title) that was ready to do his bidding. In the pilot, this includes people stripping down and committing suicide in pretty gruesome fashion right in front of the FBI team trying to track their leader down, helping to procure the one victim who managed to live through Carroll’s last murder spree, and even stealing his child away from his ex-wife. On top of this, he has also been training a prison guard to be a serial killer which leads to probably the most disturbing sequence in the show so far where it is revealed that his apprentice has been practicing on dogs. Given how he manages to get to both his former victim and child despite all the police protection surrounding those homes, you’d think the entire police force in Virginia were also part of his following. But it seems they are just a little (or maybe a lot) incompetent. It still makes for a few good twists when you see who is in fact working for Carroll and a fun game of cat and mouse between him and Hardy as the former FBI agent tries to catch up with him before he does anymore damage.
The pilot also offers a lot of background information on both main characters, their relationship and their past through character conversations in the present as well as flashbacks. For example, we discover that Carroll was a literature professor at the college where the murders took place, had a failed novel of his own, has a thing for Edgar Allen Poe and that Hardy had a relationship with his ex-wife. All this helps to get us more invested in this show’s central conflict though admittedly the Poe stuff doesn’t really work at all. Hardy meanwhile is clearly troubled and not the same man he was before his first go ‘round with Carroll. Bacon and Purefoy do a great job of selling us on the leads and should be well-equipped to carry on this complicated relationship going forward. The rest of the cast of characters was alright if not really remarkable. I actually liked Maggie Grace’s character though she was only a guest star. And I did find the one female FBI agent that was bossing Bacon’s character around pretty annoying. It seems she will be replaced in one way or another by the lovely Annie Parisse (a Whiteboard favorite) going forward, so that issue should be resolved shortly.
The pilot episode was extremely violent and I imagine pushing the limits of what FOX can actually show on their network. This obviously won’t be for everyone nor will the dark subject matter. As a fan of horror movies, it didn’t really phase me much. Though as I mentioned earlier, the dog scene was really messed up and a couple of the more gruesome moments while not scary were definitely shocking. And the things Carroll pulls off in this first episode are a bit ridiculous, but I still found it entertaining.
So I really liked the pilot of The Following. I am a bit more surprised by the critical reaction to the show now that I have seen it. I mean other critics have seen more of this show than I have and I am not saying they are wrong, but I am curious if recent current events or even some painting this as a cable show on network TV colored expectations. But they are welcome to their opinion. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this first look at the show quite a bit and am curious where it goes next.
And that is where I have some questions. The end of this episode finds Carroll back in prison after killing the one victim who got away before. It seems that his following will be the ones doing most of the work going forward with him calling the shots from the inside. Will the show lean more on the procedural side of things with Hardy trying to stop one of Carroll’s followers each week? Will Carroll’s involvement give it a stronger serialized element than most network shows? Will the show delve into the psychological side of these crimes or just try and go for more shock value with its extreme violence? Would the show’s premise be able to sustain multiple seasons without getting tired? I think the answers to these questions could definitely help decide how good the show will ultimately be. But I think based on what I saw in the pilot, what we will get is something worth watching going forward. A dark drama with fast-paced plotting littered with shocking moments and surprising twists. It feels unique in the television landscape so far especially it’s horror elements. It certainly seems like an acquired taste, but personally I’m in.