This review contains spoilers.
In the halls of a maximum-security prison in Waverly, Virginia, sits Dr. Joe Carroll, an English professor and fanatical Edgar Allen Poe fan turned serial killer. He’s a very dangerous man, and when he ends up missing and half-a-dozen guards are found slashed to death, he proves just how dangerous he is. Now Carroll is free from justice, on the prowl for Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace) aka the one that got away.
Ten years ago, there was only one man able to stop Carroll’s killing spree, and that’s Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), a brilliant FBI agent. In the course of stopping Carroll, Hardy suffered a stab wound into his heart which damaged the muscle and ended Hardy’s career as a field agent. Now he’s an author with a true crime book and a healthy disability pension from the government as a result of his injuries, and he’s still the only one who can stop Joe Carroll. Hence, Hardy is called in as an adviser to a collection of field agents, including hero-worshiper Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), who are looking to stop Carroll before he kills again.
Unfortunately, things are different this time around. All serial killers attract a certain amount of personal followers, either during their crimes like Charles Manson or after the fact. And Joe Carroll has himself quite a following (pardon the pun) thanks to the internet and his incredible presence on social media, blogs, chat rooms, and whatnot. Carroll is the mastermind; turns out he’s got a whole bunch of puppets at his disposal and that makes things much, much trickier.
The Following‘s debut episode seems to shoehorn a few episodes’ worth of character introductions into an hour. I spent a great deal of time this episode simply typing character names and vague descriptions of the actors (Asian girl, black guy, Maggie Grace, dude who looks like fake Justin Timberlake) to look them up on the IMDb later. For the first half of the episode, a new character seems to show up every other scene and introduce himself to Hardy, and that makes the show a little too hard to follow at first. However, once the introductions slow down, the serial killer action really starts to kick up.
Plot-wise, The Following has a great set-up for a television series. You’ve got your hero in the form of Kevin Bacon and his followers/FBI agents and your big-bad serial killer in James Purefoy and his followers/monsters of the week. That leads you to have the potential for both season-wide arcs and smaller multi-story or single-story episodes that serve to progress the plot along without making the villain too central. The show uses a lot of tropes and stock characters, but there’s a trickling undercurrent of awareness that you’d expect from Kevin Williamson and the premise’s literary back story. Hardy knows he’s the tragic hero in Joe Carroll’s literary masterwork; Carroll knows he’s the villain and puppet master.
That’s a pretty good base for a television show, and it has the benefit of having two really solid leads in Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. This is definitely Bacon’s show, and he really embraces the role. For all the Six Degrees stuff, he’s a really good actor when given material, and while this show isn’t exactly the best stuff he’s ever had to work with, it’s interesting enough and he’s able to make some hay with it. The other characters on both sides haven’t really been explored, since you need to hook your viewers with the lead early and then flesh the others out when you have time. Kevin Bacon is really good at balancing tough and terrified at the same time, and giving him the physical limitation of a bad heart is a great way to keep him from becoming another Jack Bauer-type Superman.
The show also feels very big, at least as the first episode goes. Having a bankable star and what appears to be a big budget definitely helps, and director Marcos Siega helps make The Following look slick and moody from his position behind the camera.It’s definitely not afraid of gore and there are some very clever, disturbing set pieces. Some of it is simple shock value, but I am not opposed to that (after all, I watch The Walking Dead). I don’t think it’s tenable over the long term, but I think the show will find its feet in the coming weeks.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is always glad to see Kevin Bacon, and it appears that he’s picked a pretty good project if he wants to be the best thing about his new show. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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