By Carol Tacker December 12 2012
“Disaster followed fast and followed faster”
The above quote from Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven,” describes The Following, a new series on FOX that springs from the diabolical mind of Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries). Disaster follows disaster at top speed in this thriller. The Following is an hour of tense terror, proving the scariest monsters are not supernatural, rather they are the beasts that some among us conceal beneath an affable, even attractive, veneer of civility.
Meet Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a handsome, married, baby-on-the-way professor of literature, with a passion for Edgar Allan Poe. Oh yeah, Joe has murdered fourteen young women. The fifteenth victim survives because FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) interrupted Carroll’s brutal assault. Carroll stabs Hardy in the chest during the rescue of the girl. The wound he suffers causes heart damage that takes Hardy out of the field, but the intended victim lives and her testimony seals a death sentence for Carroll.
Nine years later, Carroll is due to be executed in two weeks. Hardy has written a best seller about the murderer, but his life is not going well. He has an alcohol problem and is mentally, as well as physically, scarred by the ordeal of the investigation and the final confrontation that resulted in Carroll’s arrest. However, when Carroll escapes from prison by killing several guards and drives off the prison grounds in a car belonging to a guard he has under his thrall, the FBI asks Hardy to consult on the case since he is such an expert on the killer.
Hardy’s reluctance and the depth of his downward spiral are poignantly portrayed as he empties a water bottle and fills it with vodka that he places in his back-pack before leaving home. Hardy’s first concerns are for the fifteenth victim who got away and is now a doctor, as well as for Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea) and Joey (Kyle Catlett), the son Carroll has never met. The FBI team, led by Agent Jennifer Mason (Jeananne Goossen), in charge of recapturing Carroll is reluctant to have Hardy join their effort. However, the youngest agent, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) appreciates the insights he read in Hardy’s book.
The investigation follows an unpredictable path that keeps viewers questioning pre-conceived notions about police procedurals. No one watching this series can feel comfortable that certain sympathetic characters are truly good guys rather than part of Carroll’s vast following that he created from prison using his access to a computer. Shock follows shock at a blinding pace, but none of the surprises are just for effect. Everything ties back to the theme of unknown devoted and surprising followers captured by a truly evil man’s mesmerizing control.
No one is safe, least of all Hardy, Carroll’s nemesis, or those innocents we come to care about through empathetic and genuine performances, along with tight, clever writing. The chase is surprising and the conclusion is terrifying. As Hardy closes in on Carroll the resolution is less than satisfying for him because he has confirmed that Carroll controls a following of serial killers that transcends the limitations of crimes he can commit on his own.
All of the acting is superb. Bacon’s melancholy, reluctant hero is perfectly modulated between regret and determination. Purefoy manages to make a serial killer insanely repellant but at the same time brilliant and inscrutable. His chilling brutality is on display mostly during the act of killing. Otherwise, he hides behind a mask that is handsome, composed and even charming, which explains how he could amass a following of such devoted if demented people.
Anyone on this series can be a follower, and anyone can die. This unpredictability makes The Following a most unsettling and therefore exciting television hour, on par with the best of cable.
Catch the season premiere Monday, Jan. 21 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.