After three episodes earned solid ratings, The Following seems to have already gained an increasingly large one of its own but the serial killer series is as frustrating as it is entertaining. The Fox program has more than a few great performances, some thrilling sequences and enough blood to satisfy the thirstiest of horror fans, however, the writing in Kevin Williamson's return to the slasher is often also the bad kind of cringe-worthy with the constant references to the cult mastermind's literary motive not to mention the melodramatic love triangle(s) at the heart of the story.
Williamson first carved his name in the horror genre with Scream, the funny and self-reflexive yet still scary slasher flick from the mid-90s, before turning to television with the equally terrifying Dawson's Creek. After three more Screams, all less successful at subverting conventions and creating scares than the original, and a few more 'scary' series (supernatural anyway, The Vampire Diaries being one of them), I wasn't sure what to expect from Williamson with The Following, his deadly serious take on serial killers that still tries to be ultra-clever, this time by linking the cult-based murders to the works of Edgar Allen Poe.
Serialized television is trying hard to be novelistic but the connection is a lot less successful and fun to play with than the movie banter in Scream. Poe wasn't just an author and poet whose work focused on the macabre but also one of the first to write (if not the inventor of) detective fiction, so all the allusions to the Romantic artist in The Following are certainly apt, they just become a bit draining. And that's upon seeing only three chapters. The pilot does a pretty great job of introducing Kevin Bacon’s former FBI agent and current alcoholic, Ryan Hardy who is brought back into the investigation after James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll, a literature professor turned murderer, escapes from prison in a blood soaked opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the gripping instalment and also includes Carroll's quick capture.
But behind bars or not, it doesn’t matter because a bunch of Carroll’s serial killing students come out of the woodwork to help him continue his masterpiece, which includes hunting down the girl that got away (Maggie Grace) and going after the family the newly crowned cult leader had while masquerading as, well, someone who's not a complete psycho. This includes his son as well as his wife Claire (Natalie Zea), who engages in a brief but passionate fling with Hardy while the FBI Agent is bringing her husband to justice. And while this love triangle isn't perfect, isn't nearly as bothersome as the relationship dynamics that start to unfold between members of Carroll's ever expanding number of disciples. I mean, there seems like a lot of feelings for a bunch of sociopaths.
Sure, they're supposed to all love the leader but the level of in-loving / fighting seems anathema to the kind of people capable of the acts portrayed, not to mention not really all that interesting. We don't care for the psychotic characters, so their threats and/or romantic exchanges with each other are lacking in effect. However, after sounding really down on the series for the most of this, I must say that The Following does have lot going for it if it can play down the Poe 'it's all a novel' stuff a little (at least in the dialogue) and the serial killer relationship woes. For starters, it doesn't pull many punches when it comes to the kills, and that's in terms of both the high level of gore (for network TV) and its willingness to lose some core characters. Yes, people will die.
There have been some genuinely gruesome and scary scenes worthy of the first Scream and the episode cliffhangers are particularly well written to keep audiences coming back as long as they can stand the aforementioned more grating aspects set up in the pilot and littered throughout "Chapter 2" and "The Poet's Fire." Another reason to keep tuning into The Following is Purefoy's performance as Joe Carroll, the Thomas Harris-like villain whose charisma puts everyone under his spell. Speaking of people under Purefoy's spell, the fact that 'anyone could be a follower' not only instills an atmosphere of paranoia but also provides the audience with a fun guessing game. Who else has he turned? Surely some of the investigators are actually on the other team. These few things will keep me from putting down the 'novel' for now but I'm not sure I'll be part of The Following for too much longer.
The Following airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET on FOX. And, like the above picture says, if you want to catch up the series is also On Demand and eventually coming to Netflix. That might not be a bad place to catch it. Created by Kevin Williamson, The Following stars Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, Natalie Zea, Annie Parisse, Shawn Ashmore and Maggie Grace.
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