The Following Pilot Episode
Fox’s new series, “The Following”, debuted Monday, January 21. Labeled as a drama, it also incorporates elements of horror and suspense with a storyline revolving around a serial killer. This is not your run of the mill serial killer, though. Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy) is quite prolific and just happens to be an ex college professor with the ability to use his astonishing speaking skills and good looks to lure his victims and, later while in prison, gain a massive following to carry on his work.
Carroll killed fourteen girls before FBI agent Jack Hardy caught him. Kevin Bacon portrays Hardy with just enough past trauma and hardened edges to balance out his boyish good looks. Brilliantly. But do we expect less from Mr. Bacon? I think not. Hardy studied Carroll when he was actively killing in order to catch him. His studies brought forth an eventual book penned by Hardy titled, “The Poetry of a Killer”, a tome about his experience with Carroll. Many years after Carroll’s capture, Hardy is now out of the bureau, an alcoholic who stashes his vodka in a water bottle and is on disability for the injuries he sustained at the hands of Carroll. When Carroll escapes from Virginia Central Penitentiary in Waverly, Virginia, Hardy is called back to catch him once again.
During Carroll’s killing spree before, only one person survived. Her name was Sarah Fuller. She’s now a doctor living in Norfolk, Virginia, and bears the scars of her terrible experience. Hardy makes a visit to the prison and sees the gruesome scene where Carroll killed five prison guards in less than two minutes when he escaped. A trip to Carroll’s cell shows his obsession with Edgar Allan Poe along with a poster of a lighthouse. Poe had an unfinished novel called, “The Lighthouse”.
Carroll also has an ex-wife that lives in Richmond, Virginia. Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) was married to him before he was imprisoned, and together they have a son, Joey.
At a mobile command center near the prison, the FBI is being briefed on Carroll. He had written a novel called, “The Gothic Sea”, another nod to Poe. It is theorized that Carroll practices piquerism – the act of stabbing flesh for arousal, but Hardy disagrees, saying that Carroll was obsessed with the Romantic period and that he was making art. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and Carroll cuts them out of his victims. We also meet Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), an FBI agent who makes Hardy out to be his hero. It is also revealed that when Hardy caught Carroll, Carroll stabbed him in the left ventricle, forcing him to wear a pacemaker in order to keep his heart beating. It turns out that Carroll had been given “restricted” internet access at the prison because he refused a lawyer and represented himself, but Hardy instinctually knows that Carroll would have found his way to access anything he wanted, leaving them wondering what all Carroll had been able to achieve. In the meanwhile, the FBI has called all of Carroll’s prison visitors, who they call groupies, to come in for an interview. Hardy notices that one lady in particular seems a little strange. The woman stands up after receiving a text message, undresses and grips an ice pick. Her body is covered in black writing. She utters the phrase, “Lord help my poor soul” before she stabs herself in the eye. The words written on the woman are all from Poe’s work, “The Raven”, and they can tell that someone else helped her to write them. Her last words were also Poe’s last words that he spoke, delirious on the streets of Baltimore. They now believe that this was the work of Carroll.
Now we see Sarah, the survivor. Police have secured her home, and her friends and neighbors, two homosexual men; have come over to comfort her. Her and Hardy have spoken on the phone, and he promised to keep her safe. She remembers being a student in Carroll’s class and his sway over the students with his speaking skills and sexual tension.
A prison guard, Jordy Raines, helped Carroll orchestrate his escape. When Hardy and the team go to Raines’ home, it’s empty, but they find a disturbing scene. Raines had been taking local pets and mutilating their bodies. When they go into a gore filled room, a mutilated large dog lay on a table and when Hardy approaches, it is very much alive and lurches up.
It’s apparent that Carroll has a gift. He can inspire people and get them to do his bidding. Now it seems that he has gained a following of people, a cult, who are all becoming serial killers, like him.
Claire says she will only speak to Hardy. When he arrives, she tells him that she received a letter a week ago from Carroll. After Hardy reads it, the two of them exchange a knowing but troubled glance. Claire understands what’s going on, in a way. She says that Carroll was always a teacher, and now he is teaching people to do the evil he does. Also, when Carroll published his gothic novel, it was his way of finishing Poe’s last novel. Carroll will now finish what he started those years ago now that he’s escaped.
Hardy runs to Sarah’s house where he finds that she is gone. Despite having all of the police protection, they find out that her neighbor friends were not as they seem. With an opening in Sarah’s closet to the men’s apartment next door, they follow a trail of blood to the basement where the body of a police is hanging and the word ‘Nevermore’ is written in blood on the wall. Hardy believes that the neighbors had been under the influence of Carroll and placed there to watch Sarah. Hardy sees a picture of the men with a bed and breakfast in the background containing an image of a lighthouse. He follows it to Lake Whitehurst, Virginia.
The bed and breakfast is locked up and abandoned. Hardy finds a way in and hears a woman screaming. Following the noise, he finds himself in a large room. Carroll shows up and begins beating Hardy with a piece of wood. Sarah’s dead body is dropped from above and hangs upside down, her eyes cut out. Carroll surrenders as the FBI shows up.
Back in Richmond, Virginia, at the Federal Detention Center, Hardy and the team have discovered that Carroll has tons of websites, blogs, chat rooms and forums. This gives him an immeasurable number of followers. Carroll will only speak to Hardy, and when he does, he says that Sarah had to die, and that him and Hardy will write the sequel to his novel. As he mentions that there are over three hundred serial killers active in the United States every day, we see Jordy in his prison guard uniform approach a young woman and go into her home. His plan is being acted out as they speak. Carroll also admits that he knows Hardy slept with Claire, but he makes her the love interest in their story. Now we see that back at Claire’s home, Joey has disappeared. Joey’s babysitter, Denise, has taken the child and goes to meet Sarah’s neighbors, confirming their role in Carroll’s plan. Carroll says he plans for Hardy to be the protagonist, his flawed hero. Hardy breaks his finger and tells him if the book ends with anything other than Carroll’s death he had better plan on a rewrite. The episode ends with Carroll being led away as he yells for Hardy to call Claire.
In a good versus evil theme, Carroll and Hardy go head to head, but the lines between the two extremes may not be as clear as they seem. This case will give Hardy the chance to redeem himself in the field, a second chance. I was glad to see that they didn’t have Sarah as their main plot point to revolve around this entire season, like “The Killing” did. Finishing off her character in the pilot was shocking, but it was a great move to advance the story, show us that there will probably be a number of deaths instead of the one and make us wonder what will happen next. They led us to believe that Carroll was finishing what he started so many years ago, but it’s beginning to feel like a just blossomed flower, only beginning to open up with numerous petals unfurling to present a complex and in-depth plot that will easily stretch through this season. I’m wondering about Weston. His high energy and almost idolization of Hardy makes me wonder if he’s not gaining Hardy’s trust and getting close because he’s another one of Carroll’s cult followers. If not, then they’ve given Hardy his own following, albeit a much smaller one.
I think this show has real potential to go up from here. There were a lot of Poe references. I’m teetering on whether there were too many, but I was able to let that go for the sake of the bigger picture and in the hopes that maybe they can work in some other kickass Romantic writers eventually. The at times gritty and realistic feel along with some of the more gruesome matter somewhat reminded me of the film, “Seven”. Creator Kevin Williamson has said he knew the show would be controversial. He wasn’t wrong in saying that. It pushes boundaries, without a doubt, leaving the question is broadcast television ready for this kind of premise and gore? I am surprised it hasn’t happened before now, and I have no problem with it, but I certainly do not represent all viewers. I watch a lot of horror movies, and I’ve been somewhat desensitized to things of this nature. In my eyes it’s not that bad. I also want to point out that there are other shows on broadcast network TV, such as CSI, that can have pretty graphic and shocking material. Having a show that revolves around a serial killer doesn’t seem so shocking, but one that is able to program people to follow him and do his work, may be a little iffy. Only time will tell how it will be received in the long run. And I have to wonder, what would Mr. Poe think of it.
Tags: drama, edgar allan poe, fox, horror, jack hardy, james purefoy, joe carroll, kevin bacon, natalie zea, sarah fuller, serial killer, suspense, the raven, thriller