Anyone who’s watched FOX since September has seen the slick previews for The Following – shit, seeing Kevin Bacon’s face was enough for me to put it in my top 5 list at the beginning of January. But the pilot is really just everything wrong with network dramas today: poor characterization, eye-roll worthy dialogue, and an empty sense of morality that’s furthered by the show’s fetish with scene after scene of brutal violence that rest its laurels on its questionable shock factor.
Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is the alcoholic former agent we all expected him to be. He “doesn’t play nice with others” (yes, they actually say that line in the episode), he banged the ex-wife of the serial killer he was chasing, and he’s just about the most bitter man in the world. 18 months tracking a serial killer will do that, I suppose, but an eight-year spiral downwards is halted by the re-emergence of Joe Carroll, a genius lit professor turned obsessive serial killer who Ryan finally catches when he happens to be in the area walking around Sarah Fuller’s (Maggie Grace from LOST) sorority when she gets attacked.
Although his character is pretty stock material (when he gets the call from the FBI, he tops off his water bottle with a healthy dose of vodka), Bacon does what he can to try and glean some kind of meaning from the scenes. He’s no more than an informed patsy in Carroll’s short escape, which involves an elaborate internet plan (because nobody monitors convict activity on the internet) and a cult group of followers, led by a woman who stabs herself in the brain with an ice pick, covered in quotes from Poe written on ink in her body.
Bacon does a great job expressing his frustrations with his failures, his best moments coming when face to face with Carroll and the girl he thought he saved – who gets kidnapped by two maybe-fake gay guys who were devoted enough to Carroll’s “cause” to pretend to be Sarah’s friend long enough to kidnap her (under the eyes of two cops outside her bedroom, who they murder) and hand her over to the guy who likes to gouge out his victim’s eyes one by one.
See where I’m going here? The Following isn’t as concerned with making three-dimensional characters as it is with its violence: there are about a dozen bodies scattered about in grisly fashion (not to mention a number of animals) before Carroll turns himself in to police near the end. Creator Kevin Williamson has shown his knack for tongue-in-cheek humor and violence before with the Scream series and Dawson’s Creek, but there’s no attempt at any kind of intelligent or satirical humor here: no, this is SERIOUS.
If there was something to latch onto with the serial killer’s character, there may be some potential to the show. But Carroll’s reasons for killing stem from an obsession with Poe and the idea of morbid beauty being found in death – particularly those of beautiful women. All misogynistic tones aside (which I could write a thousand words about – this show DEFINITELY hates its women), it’s just stupid to try and fool the audience into thinking hundreds of people are going to follow a man who has no morality, or sense of purpose on the show beyond a smiling tease in the face of Ryan. I mean, he’s inspired a group of people to kill for him, what’s the point of his character on the show at this point except to taunt him?
There’s a definite sense the show is trying to emulate The Silence of the Lambs – but there’s no nuance to its characters, and nothing interesting in the dynamic between Ryan and Joe: Joe hates Ryan for killing people and fucking up his life (and his heart – he’s got a pacemaker from a personal stabbing by Joe) and Ryan is just sitting, silently orchestrating a mindless plan to have a bunch of people go out and kill a bunch of girls. There isn’t even any compassion in Joe for his son, who he uses as a pawn to get back at his ex-wife for sleeping with Ryan (one of the worst tropes of police thrillers: the grateful, damaged woman sleeping with the same cop who busted her husband).
It’s all very empty, and the show kills off Sarah – it’s only interesting character, male or female – with no regard for anything except serving the plot, which demands bloody murders occur over and over and over, in what is going to be a long 15 episodes of woman-killing, Kevin Bacon glaring, and James Purefoy grinning and spewing bullshit from behind his chains about his master plan for a ‘sequel’ that isn’t ‘avant garde’ and has a strong ‘protagonist’ (I’m not kidding… the show literally spells out every single fucking piece of motivation for the audience, which they must all assume possess the intelligence of 12 year olds).
The Following is a forgettable, over-hyped bucket of violence against women, that tries to set itself up as a big conspiracy – that’s not really a conspiracy at all. If you’re looking forward to a new face murdering a bunch of females every week, this is definitely your show. If you like your crime thrillers to have some depth, however… I’d look elsewhere.
- the way the writers treat Sarah’s character is beyond cruel… its darkness just for the sake of darkness, and does the opposite of add “shock” factor to the show: it just makes it all seem that much more pointless.
- speaking of her character, two other thoughts on Sarah: 1) would a stabbed person try to push a knife further in to kill themselves? Probably not, and 2) a woman who survives such an event would be stronger for it, no? Apparently not – she’s just weak willed, searching for men to protect her.
- if Ryan’s book is called “The Poetry of a Killer”, doesn’t that suggest in some way, Hardy admires what he did? I’m sorry, but murder isn’t poetic, in any way, shape, or form.
- don’t get me wrong: I want Kevin Bacon on a weekly TV show badly, just not on this shit pile.
- Bitchy female agent? Check. Young, knowledgeable-but-green upstart male agent? Check. Corrupt prison guard? Check. Original ideas for characters? Not on this show.
- I still don’t understand – no matter how mentally unstable someone might be – why they’d decide to kill themselves with a ice pick through the eye ball. Again, unnecessary gory violence… and again, featuring a woman, who is just conveniently mentally “unstable”.
- “I can handle dead people, but if you kill a dog, I go crazy.” This is The Following‘s reality. I wish I was kidding.