The Following S1 Ep01 "Pilot" Directed By: Marcos Siega Written By: Kevin Williamson
The much hyped The Following has finally hit the airwaves. My Initial reaction is apathetic, it would've been better if it had gotten me to dislike it. For all the talk from series creator Kevin Williamson and others, about it being different offering a bit of nuance storytelling to FOX, the first episode doesn't bring it. With a creator like Kevin Williamson you can at least expect all the genre beats to be hit, and they are. There is a bit of that reflexive self-aware quality thanks to Joe Carroll spelling everything out clear as day. Whereas Scream had a bit of fun with the slasher genre The Following doesn't poke fun at the rules. It embraces them. The pilot for Following serves as the prologue to the series proper, Williamson has Carroll literally say it is. It has a lot of ground to cover, foregoing any attempt at characterization beyond surface qualities. The Following is a master plan laid by serial killer Joe Carroll and he is pulling all the strings. Why should any of the other characters stand out or think for themselves?
Joe Carroll(James Purefoy) was a literature professor with an obsession for the works of Edgar Allan Poe. After a failed book, it was too wrapped up in “literary pretense” (kinda like this show), Carroll begins a killing spree in his town. For 18 months FBI agent Ryan Hardy(Kevin Bacon) worked the case with nothing but his gut telling him that it was Carroll. Hardy eventually stops Carroll from killing victim number 15, Sarah Fuller(Maggie Grace). Both walk away from the encounter wounded. Years later Sarah is now a doctor, Hardy is a semi famous author and disgraced FBI agent, Joe Carroll just sits calmly in his cell waiting to be executed. Until Carroll just walks out of his cell, murders five guards, and escapes.
The plotting of premier episode of The Following follows the cat and mouse/manhunt genre to the T. It doesn't do anything you don’t expect, you can guess all of the twists if you think about it. These reveals are handled competently, with the right amount of self imposed tension. Is it all that shocking or engaging? Not at all. Playing everything straight dose lull audiences in so when the as expected jump scares comes you might be affected. They weren’t that affecting since they popped up right when you would expect them to. Other than a extremely gruesome Se7en reference none of these scares really worked.
To spice things up The Following is going for a large amount of body horror, with a legitimate brutal kill. The frame is filled with bloody victims, blood seeps out of everything. Some shots are clearly cut short by the network but The Following gets away with a lot. These images should be affecting to everyone. Except they aren’t, the violence becomes a bit like white noise as things go on. Ryan Hardy switches a water with vodka at the beginning. He chugs it after the tattooed women from the many previews dose what you think she will do. As things go on there isn’t any sort of contemplation at all the death around them. It’s that sort of dissonance that procedural driven shows need but also kills any sort longterm arch. What is the point of having graphic violence if it doesn't serve anything beyond shock and awe?
Through the magic of the internet, Carroll has spent years building a network of loss souls to kill in his name. Viewers only get the tip of this friendship circle iceberg. The possibility of having anyone be a follower sleeper agent does give plenty of story possibilities. It did surprise me with one of the followers, in the end I was only half right. It is these people that most interest me. Hardy is the old wounded veteran who wishes this was all a nightmare. Everyone fits into their archetype nicely. These followers have possibility.
The pilot is cut and dry with not a lot for the actors to really work with. Kevin Bacon is able to do some things but they don’t last that long. He could act his way through the pilot in his sleep and still be engaging. James Purefoy rightly chews scenery as the villainous master planner. Maggie Grace continues to be the go to actress when you have a female character in need of protection. Shawn Ashmore has a particularly stand out line but like most of the cast you only really recognize the face not the character’s name.
The Following ultimately feels hollow, a bad thing if this were a movie. The show has another 14 episodes to make itself whole. Good acting make the whole thing not terribly boring but just barely. Maybe next week when things take a Silence of the Lambs turn it will pick up.
C - Nothing is actually “bad” here, it is just well worn territory by this point. The Following feels like a slightly bloodier version of something you’d find on Criminal Minds or any other cop show. Nothing but the fact it has Kevin Bacon makes it stand out.