‘The Following’ Pilot Recap: “Lord Help My Poor Soul”

Let’s be frank; the fall 2012 TV season was pretty much a bust. Few of the new series lived up to expectations, and many have already been canceled. With the beginning of 2013, the networks attempt to make amends with a host of mid-season replacements, a few of which may even look somewhat promising. Last week, Fox premiered its heavily-promoted serial killer drama ‘The Following’. Is the show worth… umm… following, or is it a lost cause?

Have you seen movies like ‘Manhunter’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Se7en’, ‘Copycat’, ‘The Watcher’, ‘Kiss the Girls’, ‘Taking Lives’, etc.? Of course you have. These things proliferated in Hollywood, especially during the ’80s and ’90s. Writer/producer Kevin Williamson has seen all of them. He parodied the genre in his ‘Scream’ franchise and parroted it in ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. Based on the first episode, ‘The Following’ appears to be his attempt to combine every serial killer cliché into one TV series, without any hint of sarcasm or irony.

Kevin Bacon stars as a former FBI agent named Ryan Hardy, whose career flamed out after he was injured during the capture of notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Wait a second, isn’t that the plot of ‘Manhunter’ (later remade as ‘Red Dragon’)? Yes, it is.

In the ‘Pilot’ episode, Carroll breaks out of prison, killing five guards in the process. The Bureau drags Hardy back into service to consult. He explains that Carroll is a brilliant psychopath. (Is there any other kind in Hollywood?) Once a charismatic college professor, he became obsessed with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and took up killing people in imitation of Poe’s stories. Wait a sec, isn’t that basically the plot of last year’s silly John Cusack vehicle ‘The Raven’? Yes, it is.

Carroll doesn’t murder people for thrill. He believes that he’s making art, and that he needs to follow through with his plan to complete his masterpiece. Wait, isn’t that just like ‘Se7en’? Yup.

Because Hardy had interrupted him before he could claim his final victim, a college girl named Sarah (perpetual kidnappee Maggie Grace), Carroll arranges for her to be kidnapped (perhaps ‘Taken’ isn’t a serial killer movie, but c’mon…) in order to both finish his work and lure Hardy to him. You see, Carroll takes Hardy’s involvement very personally. Not only did Hardy arrest him and stop him from killing the girl, he slept with Carroll’s wife (Natalie Zea). Honestly, that may have been a step too far.

Hardy gets there too late this time. Carroll has gouged out Sarah’s eyes and killed her. Upon Hardy’s arrival, Carroll just up and surrenders himself, his work completed. Oh, also, we learn that during his time in prison, Carroll surreptitiously used the internet to recruit disciples that he brainwashed and trained to become serial killers who would help his cause. (That’s one hell of an online instructional course.) Over the course of the first episode, we discover that a prison guard, a crazy lady who stabs herself in the eye with an icepick, and Sarah’s two gay neighbors (who aren’t actually gay) are among Carroll’s followers. A Bureau techie/computer hacker nerd claims that Carroll set up literally thousands of blogs (ooooh, blogs…), and somehow no one at all noticed him doing this. Apparently, every single person who reads his blogs will instantly turn into a serial killer, because he’s just that brilliant. There’s serial killers to the left, serial killers to the right, serial killers everywhere!!! OMG, everybody’s a serial killer!!!!!

That’s the twist. Anybody can be a serial killer. Everybody can be a serial killer. The young FBI agent who turns all fanboy-ish in Hardy’s presence is definitely a serial killer, but we’ll have to wait for that shocking reveal in a later episode.

With his devious master plan unveiled, Carroll next offers to help Hardy catch the serial killers. Why? Because he’s obviously seen ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and thought it was pretty cool the way Lecter toyed with Clarice, so he wants a piece of that action.

Despite my mocking of it, ‘The Following’ is never overtly awful. The pilot episode is slickly-directed and competently put-together. Purefoy is suitably creepy. Kevin Bacon is… well, he’s Kevin Bacon. He spends the episode doing a withdrawn hangdog thing that leaves his character a total void of personality. Regardless, the show is watchable enough. Maybe it could evolve into something interesting over time. Unfortunately, right now it’s so derivative and so predictable that I have a hard time mustering up much interest in watching further. I might try another episode or two just to see if it gets any better.

1 comment

  1. Great write-up Josh,

    Though I think that two more silly yet crucial aspects of the show may have been omitted. Kevin Bacon’s character apparently only drinks vodka, yet only people who knew him ten years ago can pick up on this. Also, each character in the show has to take turns either praising the Bacon character’s masterful insight into the notorious serial killer, or being needlessly hostile and obstructive- especially his two partners, the super hostile and grimacy woman, and the obvious serial killer wannabe guy.

    Beyond Bacon’s apparent ability to sweat alcohol without anyone noticing, the most far-fetched aspect is how each serial killer, blog-reading cult member is a perfect con artist/sleeper cell type.

    Then there is the bad guy saying “Listen the only I thing I want is to make you, Kevin Bacon, jump through hoops and try to save various innocent people, which I think I’ve proven you will fail at endlessly.” To which, Bacon acquiesces as though he had just been asked to help move a heavy couch.

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