By Stefanie Lee on 2/12/2013
I’m not really sure what it was that prompted me to give The Following a shot; I barely knew anything about it going in, other than that it stars Kevin Bacon, and that its marketing team embraces On-Demand culture by encouraging viewers to set their DVRs. (How realistic of them.) In any case, I did watch it, and I was hooked almost immediately. I’m now three episodes in, and I can safely say bravo to FOX for filling the briefly empty hole that Fringe‘s ending had left.
Admittedly, this show is up my alley. It’s about an FBI guy and a serial killer. I like Dexter a whole lot, and The Following is like Dexter-lite, since it’s on a major network and thus can’t have as much foul language or gratuitous violence. But FOX manages to get away with quite startling visuals on this show anyway, and it’s for the better. Network television is so uniform these days, and The Following‘s gruesome depictions are sort of morbidly refreshing. But the grisly murder scenes, shocking though they may be, are not the main source of the show’s inherent tension. The real suspense comes from the editing. The Following employs a lot of stark, quick jumps, so that the viewer never has to linger so uncomfortably on, say, the face of a killer who’s about to harm an innocent. There are also copious flashbacks, all of which fit seamlessly into the story. The actors never look like they’re wearing wigs, or packing on the makeup. The flashbacks give exactly the right information at the right time and enhance the story just so.
Perhaps I should flash back, too, and give you a bit of plot background. Those two aforementioned characters, the FBI guy and the serial killer, are Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll, respectively. Kevin Bacon injects a stone-coldness into Hardy (an alcoholic, no less), softened and warmed only by the handful of people who can stump him and by Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), Carroll’s ex-wife and Hardy’s former lover. The love triangle between the three of them is bizarre and intriguing, to say the very least. And whereas Bacon and Zea’s characters are likable for being on the side of the noble good guys, James Purefoy twists himself into our minds in a way that I’m sort of scared to understand fully. As Carroll, he exemplifies the charismatic cult leader; he is charming, intelligent, friendly, and attractive. He’s also got a warped obsession with Edgar Allen Poe, and subsequently an obsession with Poe’s obsession with death, and he’s managed to convince several of his former students (he was a literature professor) to join him in all this killing. He is Dexter without the code, but with a very, very dark passenger and a loyal following of others with the same affliction.
The supporting cast is great, too, and understated. Shawn Ashmore plays Mike Weston, a younger agent assigned to the case with less clout than Hardy but much more stability. Ashmore knows when to let Bacon be Bacon, which is to say he lets Bacon steal the scenes with his quiet, reserved dignity. He makes a fine sidekick. And Annie Parisse, as Debra Parker, the agent in charge of the investigation, gives Hardy a run for his money in basically every way. She is smart, quick, responsible, and unfolds small layers of her intelligence, rather than slobbering all over everyone with it; Hardy only shares the “smart” adjective among those. Though Hardy’s love interest is supposed to be Claire, there is an ever-so-slight tension between him and Debra, as her exertion of power probably turns him both on and off, depending on his mood. The real standout of the supporting cast, however, is Valorie Curry as Emma Hill, one of Carroll’s most devoted followers. Her scenes are truly the eeriest, because her pixie look contrasts so starkly with her demonic behavior. I hate to use the term “break-out star,” but this show could be as much hers as it is Bacon’s or Purefoy’s.
With each passing episode, the FBI team grows more frustrated, because even though Carroll himself is behind bars, he’s devised such an intricate web of minions that his serial killings will continue even if the blood is no longer on his hands. The stress is already taking its toll on each of the good guys, but it makes for some truly meaty television, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. I’m not even embarrassed to admit that I watch this show with the lights on. (It’s worth every minute of being creeped out.) Δ