Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Following

The Following
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

The Following is a show about an FBI Agent who must track down and find a cult of serial killers. I will be covering this show weekly.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Following might very well be one of the most anticipated shows of the season. It has a strong pedigree from Kevin Williamson and it stars Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy.  The premise of the show is also strong: a cat-and-mouse game between a serial killer and the agent that caught him. This is the kind of show that people could easily get excited about but it’s also one that could disappoint easily. It might have good stars and a promising premise but it still has to have a script that holds it all together. So which is it? Is the Following a disappointment or does it meet (or exceed) your expectations? I can’t speak for everyone but the show manages to do a little bit of both. The pilot is a nice thrill ride but it suffers a lot of problems that future episodes are going to have to correct. This is because the Following’s pilot was a little too interested starting the adrenaline-pumping thrill ride that it forgot to actually…start it. The episode begins with Purefoy escaping from prison and it doesn’t really slow down from there. The problem with this is that it doesn’t allow the show to properly establish its characters or really explore anything.  The plot of the Following might be fun to watch but it doesn’t really have any thematic significance. This means that the violence and gore found in the pilot feel empty and some of it might exist for sheer shock value. The Following is in many ways a show that wants to emulate the success of Williamson’s other show, the Vampire Diaries, without putting in any effort on what makes that show actually work.

There is no question that the Vampire Diaries is an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride filled with plot twists. It’s all expertly done as the show is able to deliver a shocking amount of narrative within a season while at the same time delivering great character moments. The thing about the show is that it didn’t necessarily start out that way. It really isn’t until the sixth episode that the show becomes a rollercoaster. What did the show do for the first five episodes? It established the premise slowly, it introduced and developed the characters, and it started exploring the themes. It laid out the groundwork for the rollercoaster to work. The Following is a show that skips all that work because it prefers to start with the thrill ride. This might be great to hook in viewers but the issue becomes that there’s nothing to hook them into. Sure, you have the plot, but it doesn’t have any sort of message. Is it exploring the idea of murder as entertainment or art? Is it exploring how people could follow the serial killer? Is it exploring the emotional cost of capturing serial killers? The show needs to find out what it’s about so that the violence and twists have meaning to them. Not only am I being thrilled, but I’m going to be engaged as well.

The characters in the Following need as much as work as the show needs to find what it’s about. There are two main characters: Ryan and Joe. Ryan is an FBI agent that had caught Joe but he left or was kicked off the agency. There are multiple reasons given for this: he got stabbed in the heart, he went crazy, and he got into a relationship with Joe’s wife.  The truth probably lies in all three. These might explain why he has to be brought back to the FBI but none of them truly form a character. He just exists because the show needs a good guy seeking redemption. So it just gives him reasons to be redeemed and calls it a day. Joe is a much more interesting character but he gets very little actual time to talk until the final act. The character feels a lot more developed than Ryan and he’s the reason that the Following is worth sticking around for. Bacon is a good actor being wasted on a lifeless character but Purefoy is really able to make his dynamic character come to life. It is Purefoy’s acting and his character that really exemplifies the Following’s promise if it sorts itself out.

The other characters aren’t very good.  Joe’s ex-wife is Claire who also slept with Ryan. She basically spends the episode helping Ryan with the case and missing him. Joe seems to think there’s going to be a love triangle between him and Ryan but actually developing one would be very tricky for the show.  She’s largely defined by her relationship with these two men so far. Mike is a young agent who idolizes Ryan and that’s it. Jennifer Mason is a female FBI agent and that’s it. A character we follow in the pilot is the one female Ryan failed to kill, Sarah. Sarah never develops beyond that. The Following has quite a cast of characters but none of them really amount to anything beyond their role in the narrative. They’re going to need to be developed more if we’re supposed to care when they die or do something surprising.

So, the Following needs to actually establish every character outside of Joe Carroll while figuring out what it’s going be really about. So far, it all seems like stuff happens for the sake of it rather than being motivated by who the characters are. So why am I sticking with that show? Because the show managed to capture its promise in the end when Joe gets to give out a whole rant on how he’s going to be in a new story. It’s sort of Meta but it’s the moment when the Following actually comes alive. It’s that scene where he and Ryan talk that really captures what could make the Following a good , or even great show. It just needs to put in the groundwork for the rollercoaster to work.

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