Fox’s Kevin Bacon vehicle “The Following” really turned a corner this week. No, the program wasn’t weak, it was full of scares and pain, but this week finally broke into the psychology of the main characters themselves. As well we were given the programs theme by way of a motif that people who believe in things get hurt. Yeah, the power of belief, the valuing of it in our society, is actually a dangerous entity.
Think about cults, which the show is delving into, these are people who are controlled by letting others make up their minds for them, or teachers, like Joe Carroll, who have the goal of getting a room full of people to believe their answers. While at first Bacon’s Ryan Hardy seemed clearly defined as a man who had suffered the trauma of a case where he got too close, tonights episode shows more clearly that Hardy and Carroll became closer during the pursuit, leading to a new understanding of the undertones of Hardy and Claire Matthews, Carroll’s ex-wife, relationship. Whereas they were people connected by tragedy before, they’re really people who have both been fooled by Carroll. Now if only we could find what Parisse and Ashmore’s Parker and Weston are hiding in their pasts.
In the beginning the idea of following the members of Carroll’s cult holding his son Joey seemed a little like too much information about the group too fast, but now the scenes are re-contextualized as a chance to watch beliefs fail in-real-time. Similarly the way the program set up that every scare or answer was going to be followed by a development which would negate the first seemed somewhat cheesy-how many times can the show fake for the audience-though now they’ve done the work enough that theres a sense Joe Carroll’s followers could be anywhere, and that anything that seems to be an accident could be by design, and vice versa.
The sleeper cell quality of the followers is another motif that seemed cheesy at first. I mean this isn’t the era of 24 and BSG, isn’t the contemporary TV audience thinking about more than just terrorism, but once again theres definitely a feeling in these early episodes that Creator Kevin Williamson has built the fabric of this show to be more durable. Each episode runs similarly enough that we aren’t just looking at followers get caught and deal with their beliefs, but their moral code which lead to their symbolically writing a chapter via murder ends up thrashed and that’s just good drama. Look at Jordy Raines, the prison guard who was shot but not fatally after his murders, he listened to Parker and told her what he knew. Once he realized he had failed a second time he committed suicide. Which would win the darkest scene of the episode award if not for the final scene. Matthews invites Hardy to her home, the kidnappers sent her a video where they teach her son to kill, and that by killing something weaker you’re life is more valuable. She doesn’t just feel like her son has been taken, but he’s being indoctrinated and his belief system will never be the same.
Though this episode is definitely the high point if you haven’t seen the first two episodes at least watch the stellar pilot. The pilot somehow captured in it’s DNA what the show is becoming, really traumatized characters trying to deal with a problem that they simply aren’t equipped for.
Yeah, the intro material didn’t really capture what sets the show apart, Bacon saying “I’ll do whatever it takes to catch him” should have been emphasized like “I can’t help it, I’ve just become a total fuck-up and will do whatever it takes to catch him, and most likely end up dead because I don’t have boundaries any more.” Yeah, that’s not good marketing, but it would have been honest of the dramatic material. I think the Fox executives and such should be happy, this is one of the best new shows in a while. Purefoy, Bacon, Parisse, etc. And on Pariesse, I’m so glad to see her in this show, there was a scene where she handed a book off to Carroll at the end of episode two and I would have sworn she was being more devious than helpful. She’s definitely come to the story pretty strong from day one.
Purefoy, just getting to that idea of Romanticism that artists feelings are all that matter, states to his students that if they create their own moral code they will write better. Purefoy says it with a grin, like he does many lines, since so much of the story is controlled by his character. That’s when it hit me that we still don’t know Joe Carroll. I mean the entire series is in orbit around this central figure who broke all these people loose from the bounds of modernity to become by default sociopathic serial killers, and we don’t truly know why this became his choice. Yeah, cultism probably flows through his messianic veins, but when did this path become any more crystalized than his serial killer days, and why?
The only other criticism, presently, is the ease they’ve had bringing characters into the show and getting rid of them. Things are going to have to get more, well, problematic with these characters getting brought on as killers of the week having to have some lasting impact, if not survive for more episodes. Really that’s going to be when the show matures, not necessarily when it starts to accept the mythology of it’s characters but when the agents have to deal with antagonists for multiple episodes. As it is I think the show is trying to solve the problem Fringe brought to television of creating a mythological serialized show with a case of the week vibe.