With lukewarm reviews and a polarizing premise, The Following probably does not receive the respect it deserves. After an enthralling 15-episode first season, the show has returned with a vengeance to start its sophomore campaign. I highly recommend catching up with the first season on Netflix. The show’s thrilling nature lends itself to binge without a doubt.
The show follows Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy, FBI agent, as he deals with the cult of serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, dripping with creepiness) wreaking havoc along the East Coast. Carroll, a former professor of literature, and his adoring “followers” kill prolifically, finding art in their Poe-inspired deeds. As I’m sure many people are yet to catch up with the show, I will not get into spoiler territory, but suffice to say Carroll and Hardy have an emotional history that makes their game of cat and mouse extraordinarily fascinating.
As Carroll, Purefoy (good guy in A Knight’s Tale!) fully conveys the insidious intelligence used to create his “art,” always giving the sense he knows more than everyone else in the room. The show’s team takes full advantage of British accents making one sound like a genius, and Purefoy’s pinpoint pace and elocution of speech elevate his evil while grounding him as a professor, as someone who at least used to be a functioning human being.
Kevin Bacon may never contend for an Emmy with this role, but he fits in well. Yes, it does seem a tad like Fox picked out of hats and came up with “alcoholic,” “heart condition,” and “9/11,” as Hardy’s defining character traits, but Bacon makes his baggage and personal contempt for Carroll believable. Bacon puts his grimaces and grunts to good use.
While the show often gets portrayed as a simple gory horror show, there is far more nuance to the terror than a typical horror movie. I do admit to being terrified at times, and the show definitely makes falling asleep a little bit harder, but creator Kevin Williamson has made sure to breathe life into his killers, giving them backstories, albeit haunting ones, that introduce mystery but also depth into their psychopathic activity.
Another plus for the show, at least in my humble opinion, is its lack of fear. Already outcast from mainstream television culture due to its violence, The Following is anything but afraid of shocking its audience with twists, turns, and the murders of likable characters. This reckless courage makes Carroll’s cult even scarier, reminding us that they are immensely powerful, able to strike anyone at any given moment. You could be next.