Please be advised this review contains FULL SPOILERS for this episode! If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens, go watch it and come back for the review.
With the pilot of The Following, FOX is taking yet another swing at the primetime drama genre, one they have had multiple attempts at with very few successes and a laundry list of first season cancellations to show for them. However, this time up to the plate, they’re bringing quite the large bat in casting Kevin Bacon as the show’s lead character. This tactic worked for them with Kiefer Sutherland in 24, so it looks like they’re hoping for the same result. If we skip ahead to the preview for the next episode, FOX displayed a graphic advertising 14 episodes for 14 weeks in a row so, although any FOX show in its first season is in a strict probationary period, we’ll at least get to see a solid, full season. So, let’s get to the “Pilot”.
The episode opens with an attention grabber in the form of a rather violent prison escape. The juxtaposition of the escapee’s calm demeanor with the vicious scene of dead bodies he left behind sets the tone for the type of antagonist we’re dealing with in this show. He’s calculating, calm, and terribly violent. We find out that this man is Joe Carroll, former literary professor and serial killer. His escape prompts our hero detective, well… former hero detective, Ryan Hardy (the other Hardy boy), to get called in by the force to help re-capture the newly escaped Carroll, since he was the only one who was able to do it before.
Hardy is a broken man, both physically and mentally from his past altercation with Carroll. He carries a scar on the left side of his chest and a water bottle full of vodka everywhere he goes. While Hardy’s falling out with the FBI and descent into alcoholism isn’t explained outright in the first episode, and if it is just a result of his being stabbed by Carroll during his apprehension it’s weak but understandable, it’s a character aspect that’s incredibly cliche. How many movies and TV shows have we all seen that involve a discharged or disgraced cop turned alcoholic? Thankfully, even though it’s included to give insight to Hardy’s character, it isn’t dwelled upon.
The show also introduces us early on to Sarah Fuller, Carroll’s last victim that survived his assault. When it’s discovered that Carroll has escaped, Fuller’s house is surrounded by police and FBI in case he comes back for her, as well as being in the company of her gay neighbors. Several flashbacks throughout the episode give us more insight into the connection between Carroll and Fuller. She was a literature student of his, and a rather exceptional one at that it appears. We also learn that the reason his attack on her failed was because Hardy was nearby that night (why is still unclear) and that was the night Hardy was stabbed by but ultimately got the better of Carroll, leading to his arrest.
We get to learn a little more about Carroll and what drives his murders when Hardy returns to assist the FBI. As a literary professor, and a failed writer, he idolized Edgar Allan Poe. It is quickly explained that Poe saw beauty in death, especially that of a beautiful woman, and this causes Carroll to make art out of insanity (his killings). I could write forever about how wrong I feel they twisted the “beauty in death of a beautiful woman” sentiment. Poe didn’t revel in that, nor did make him happy the way the show makes it seem. But I digress, if you want a take on Poe from a huge fan, let me know in the comments and I’ll do that separate from here. Not much is discussed about Carroll’s kills before Fuller, which is important because it shows the audience that this show isn’t going to be about him, per se, it’s going to be about the title… his following.
While in prison Carroll managed to use the library’s internet access to amass a cult-like following of disciples that idolize him the way he does Poe. This gives him an outlet to basically teach an online class of “Serial Killing 101” to a class eager to please their mentor. The first student does drop out a little early on in the term though, apparently she had a habit of writing the answers to the Poe test on her hand… and the rest of her body. Stabbing herself in the eye in the style of Joe Carroll’s kills, signifying his return and the start of his following’s work, sends quite a lengthy message to the FBI and Hardy.
While I watch a lot of horror and can handle most anything shown to me on a screen (except clowns), the only problem I had was with the next member of the following. A police officer, “Jordy”, the show apparently needed to give the cliche serial-killer-in-training trait of killing small animals to. I don’t know many viewers that can sit through a movie or show where dogs and cats are murdered, especially as viciously as in this show, and that dog moved! For a second there, Following, you crossed a line. Not just with the animal, but because of how typical that trait is to use.
We find out that one aspect that Carroll knows about Poe is that he died with an unfinished manuscript and Carroll’s attempt at writing a book was also an attempt at finishing Poe’s work. I did like how this led to the revelation that Sarah Fuller is Carroll’s unfinished work and now that he is free, he plans to finish it. That big reveal was a great way to reconnect Carroll’s actions to his obsession with Poe, instead of just relying on his love of his “insanity as art” theory. This is where the show took a turn toward greatness. Just when we thought Fuller was safe, surrounded by cops and in the company of her friends, that’s where the truly frightening aspect of The Following comes into play: you never know who is part of the following. A simple broken piece of wall is enough to reveal that Fuller’s “friends” and neighbors are followers of Carroll’s and are able to kidnap her. However, I didn’t appreciate having my hand held in the garage. A dead police man with the word “NEVERMORE” written in blood on the wall greets Hardy and the show felt the need to tell us the significance of using that word to mean Carroll was planning to kill Fuller. Gee, thanks!
A clue in a picture in the neighbors house leads Hardy to a lighthouse (a running theme connecting Poe and Carroll) where Hardy and Carroll have a final showdown. I’ll give you a second spoiler warning here because it is HUGE! This is where the show made my heart sink and gave me hope for it all at the same time. Hardy was too late! Fuller’s dead body is revealed, gruesomely butchered by Carroll. That’s right… the bad guy won. The FBI arrive in time to prevent Hardy from killing Carroll and take the killer back to jail for a final interview with Hardy. This is where things get a little too familiar. Joe Carroll is portrayed as Hannibal Lecter pretty much to a T. He is the genius, charismatic, killer that is now captured and willing to help the police stop those of his following, while playing a game of his own. In fact a lot of Hardy and Carroll’s interactions throughout felt like a combination of Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. We also find out here that Carroll knows Hardy slept with his wife, so his intentions for Hardy’s future can only be sinister. In the final moments of the show we get another bombshell that Carroll’s wife’s babysitter is also part of the following and has kidnapped their son setting up some insurance for future endeavors.
Despite a lot of cop drama, serial killer, and horror genre cliches, The Following started off on a extremely strong note. Hopefully now that Carroll is back behind bars and his role in the show is strictly an FBI consultant *cough, Lecter, cough* the pace won’t slow down. I think the best thing for this show would be a continuously running storyline from one episode to the next, as if it was a movie just broken into 14 1-hour parts. The last thing this show needs is to become a cop drama where there is a new victim and a new killer each week that procedural police work brings to justice before moving on to the next completely unrelated murder the following week. If it can succeed there, this may be another rare yet fantastic hit for FOX.