The new Fox TV series The Following had its premiere last night. Kevin Bacon has the lead role as Ryan Hardy – a former FBI agent and the one who managed to capture the serial killer, Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy. Carroll was a professor of English Lit at the fictional Winslow College whose specialty was the American writer Edgar Allen Poe and one who was hellbent to raising the serial killing of beautiful women to an art form.
The series opens with what we will learn is serial killer Joe Carroll escaping from prison just 17 days before his scheduled execution. How he managed to kill four prison guards in the prison security control room without any of them being tied up defies logic – but we only see the bodies when they are discovered, so we will move on.
The second thing we see is Bacon’s Hardy – alone in his Brooklyn loft. He’s kind of a wreck – as he’s no longer working for the FBI due to a) being stabbed by Carroll and can longer function as a field agent, and b) he’s got more than a bit of quirky orneriness to him, c) because of that he isn’t able to work nicely with his fellow agents. One more thing, he’s now currently an alcoholic.
Haven’t we seen alcoholic detectives and cops far too often. Let’s see – this is how we met Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes, and Richard Gere as Eddie the cop who awoke every day and would have a shot of whiskey before even getting out of bed in Brooklyn’s Finest (2009). Okay, so Ryan Hardy is no longer working for the FBI but almost as soon as Carroll has escaped – the head of the FBI is on the phone to Hardy asking him to get down to Virginia asap and consult on the case.
Moments later, Hardy is climbing out of a helicopter that has ferried him to the Virginia prison that Carroll has just escaped from. There, almost instantly, he will meet resentment and resistance from the two FBI agents and Federal Marshal Turner played by John Lafayette, currently handling the case. When Billy Brown (Agent Reilly) introduces Hardy to Marshall Turner, Turner says, I know Hardy. We worked together on capturing Carroll nine years ago. He’s your problem now.
By the way, actor Billy Brown, who you may not recognize visually, is also the voice of those US Marine commercials – the few, the proud, the Marines.
Why do these agents loathe him? We don’t know yet, but for sure, but maybe they resent the fact that Hardy wrote a book about the case. Either way, there will be ample flashbacks to bring us up to speed. There’s a reason why this will be the case. Spoiler coming.
Here’s why. Within hours of his escape, Carroll has managed to arrange to have himself re-captured (and re-incarcerated) by the very same man (Hardy) who solved the case originally. Huh?
Does this seem a bit strange to you? You break out of prison in order to kill the survivor of your last attempted murder 9 years ago (Carroll was foiled by Hardy) in a location that you are sure Hardy would be able to figure out and go right to that very place. And then you kill the girl but you don’t kill Hardy – instead you surrender to him. I think this isn’t the least bit logical.
But there’s an explanation for this as well. The show’s creator and writer, Kevin Williamson, chose not to make this a continuing search for the killer because that was done 50 years ago in a TV series called The Fugitive which ran from 1963 to 1967. Then that series was done in a 1993 film called The Fugitive which starred Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. So Williamson wanted a new twist.
Carroll has a following. Yeah, like a cult leader. One of the show’s taglines reads – Even serial killers have friends. People so deranged and so eager for his approval that they would kill others for him, or even kill themselves for him. Hence the title of the series: The Following.
We learn that Carroll had developed fans, groupies, and followers via the internet blogs, chat rooms, and email. Carroll was defending himself so he was able to get internet access via a computer in the college’s law library. When one of the agents asked about this – If he only had access to the college’s digital law library, how did he get around that limitation and get on the net? The answer we got was – You don’t think that was enough to stop him do you?
Well, yeah, it should have been. Even if Carroll’s guard wasn’t able to look over his shoulder, the trail of visited URL’s could have been looked at. Or they could have given him a computer terminal without outside access.
Spoiler: Then a woman is able to show up at the FBI mobile headquarters ostensibly to be interviewed because she visited Carroll at least a few times in prison, and the FBI was interested in what she might know. Once inside, she waits for a few moments, then publicly disrobes, revealing tattooed quotes from Poe’s works, and kills herself by stabbing herself in the eye with a huge ice pick. How did she get through security to enter the FBI facility with a six-inch ice pick in her handbag?
Anyway – there’s the format for the show. Others will kill, maim, and commit mayhem – all in Carroll’s name. Surely they won’t give him net access again will they – so it won’t be on his direct orders. He has no appointed attorney so any lawyer that shows up will be suspected won’t he? But there’s more that is either so insidious or so deeply implanted/embedded to make you scratch your head as you are asked to suspend disbelief. Spoilers alert:
Like one of Carroll’s acolytes turns out to be the nanny to his son employed by his ex-wife. And Carroll’s ex-wife is also the former lover of Ryan Hardy. And the gay male neighbors of the one woman who survived the attempt to kill her 9 years ago turn out to be Carroll’s men. Marshall Turner, questions Hardy about this. I find it hard to believe that two men would pose as gay lovers to keep watch on Sarah for three years. Hardy’s response – Oh yeah, embedded for three years until they were needed. Does the Marshal believe Hardy now? Of course not. He’s going to be a meddlesome, annoying, and dumb Marshal for the foreseeable future.
There’s more, Purefoy is from the UK, and while teaching his Lit Course at the college his accent is decidedly British, and yet, when he is talking with Hardy in the interrogation room in the police lockup near the end of the pilot, his British-ness is mostly gone.
While I like Bacon, I’m not sure I’ll like him as the tormented hero. And how can Carroll continue to direct the events from inside of the jail for the next 9 episodes? Will he break out again? Don’t laugh – it could happen.
Spoiler Alert: Annie Parissi who did a number years as the ADA on Law & Order, will join the cast next week as FBI Specialist Agent Debra Parker. She will head up the FBI’s investigation to get inside of Carroll’s head.
Finally – why did Hardy have to steal one of the FBI cars to go to The Lighthouse location where he figured Carroll would be. Okay – they didn’t like him, and he didn’t trust them – but as a former FBI agent – surely he should have known they would be able to track him in this car via the radio in the FBI SUV, as well as via his own cell phone. No matter, they show up a scant few minutes behind him at The Lighthouse.
I won’t be recapping this show, as I found the pilot to be severely lacking in logic, and I think that Kevin Williamson will have to do a lot better to avoid having this show’s ratings sink. The show had far too many moments of stretching its credulity. A little bit of stuff like and you can love with it, but I thought there were far too many and far too obvious head scratching moments.
By the way, this show is on broadcast TV so you can count on the fact that a) the violence and gore, b) the language, and c) the sexual content will all have to be tempered down or scrubbed for public broadcast consumption. I’ll check out next week’s 2nd episode rather than just rush to judgement based on the pilot.
But for sure, I’ll need to see an uptick in order to stay with this one. While I do admit that the hook (serial killer with a cult) is intriguing, I’ll leave the discussion of the larger topic: television and tv viewers’ fascination with serial killers – check out this piece in Vogue: The Following and The Allure of the Serial Killer by John Powers – for others to ponder and discuss.