A Fox television drama series starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy (the British actor who brilliantly played Marc Antony in the “Rome” series), “The Following” premiered two weeks ago (January 21). It is already gaining a fervent, mostly young audience.
A furloughed FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), responsible for the imprisonment of the brutal serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), is brought back into action when Carroll masterminds a series of copycat murders perpetrated by a cult following (think Charles Manson meets Silence of the Lambs). But Carroll is no ordinary psychopath. He is a brilliant college professor who knows the power of his charisma and attracts a bevy of young college women to his seductive interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe. The cult he creates becomes devotees of a perverted, distorted religion, a version of Gothic romanticism Carroll has authored to encourage the belief that the only way to truly live is to kill. With obvious references to the “Black Cat”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, “Telltale Heart”, and “Nevermore”, the viewer may have a renewed interest in Poe as reflected in the depraved mind of Ryan.
What follows is a battle between the psychologically wounded (Bacon) and the malevolent psychopath (Purefoy) who inflicts unimaginable horrors on his victims. Ryan is damaged by the affair he had with Claire Matthews, Carroll’s ex-wife (Natalie Zea–the weak link in the superb cast). Because he had a romantic connection with the criminal’s ex-wife, Ryan is dismissed from the FBI. Now the pursuit of not only Carroll but also of his lapsed romance with Claire forces Ryan to deal with his unhealed wounds.
One of the most violent shows currently on broadcast TV, “The Following” is definitely not for the squeamish. (The series “Dexter” looks edited and censored by comparison). The horror/suspense nature of the series is underscored by the fact that all the victims in the first episode are young women. The cult of killers or wannabe killers is made plausible by the quality of the writing and the acting, so that the violence is definitely gory and frightening (I closed my eyes in some scenes), but the psychology of manipulation, betrayal, and exploitation prevents the story from becoming ridiculous. More back story of the principals (Ryan, Carroll, and even Claire) is required for this program to continue to maintain its fans, however.
“The Following” is a ferocious alloy of psychology and violence, redemption and deceit. I can’t wait to see where it’s going next.