In February I reviewed and recommended “The Following”, a Fox television drama series starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. There have been a total of nine episodes so far, but this past week’s episode has made me recant my earlier review. How disappointed I am in this series!
The story is focused on two main characters: an FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and a brutal serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who has a cult following of wannabe killers, mostly young outliers trying to find a place to belong. But the last episode has overstepped the boundaries for even the psychologically wounded law-enforcement officer and the psychopath: excessive: gratuitously violent scenes that take attention away from the story.
In February I acknowledged that this is one of the most violent shows currently on broadcast TV (and the series has received negative press because of the extreme scenes), I also found the story compelling enough as well as fearlessly acted by Bacon and Purefoy to justify the violence as necessary for understanding the ferocious nature of a psychopath. However, with the last episode I fear that the long, bloody narrative has taken a backseat to violence for its own sake–a titillating, visceral thrill at seeing pain and torture. The difference, I think, between violence which supports the story’s plot and “pornographic” violence” is the degree to which the violent acts give a better understanding of the characters and the consequences of their actions. However, the story has become formulaic and has not moved forward in development of character or plot. At its extreme, which this last episode demonstrated, “The Following” has bordered on computer-game violence–visual images for their own horrific impact, appealing to an addictive fascination for some (especially young) viewers.. In this last episode the serial killer appears to have an orgasm after the kill. Enough is enough! Take this off the air. Too bad– not even Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy can resurrect this sickening and exploitative violence, a malignant chemistry that does not belong on either mainstream television or in cinema.
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.