We started watching The Following, starring Kevin Bacon, when it started on Sky Atlantic six weeks ago. I wanted to write a review but I had mixed feelings, I just wasn’t sure about it. This week a friend asked me what I thought of it. Strangely enough, this week’s episode was the one that crossed the line personally for me.
The story revolves around serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a failed novelist and literature professor, who has a passion for Edgar Allen Poe. He killed young women, cutting their eyes out, and was put behind bars by FBI agent Ryan Harding (Kevin Bacon) whose suffering resulted in him being fitted with a pacemaker. The Following begins with Carroll escaping from prison, a catalyst for the beginning of his self proclaimed sequel. While in prison, Carroll has developed a cult following and he uses these people to orchestrate murder, kidnap and terror, making sure that Harding is bang at the centre.
This programme promises greatness.
During the first episode I immediately had a gripe about Carroll. I was thrilled to see that he is played, excellently, by James Purefoy (watch A Knights Tale!) and was excited about hearing Purefoy’s American accent. What’s that? Oh, I’m so sorry. I forgot that all truly evil villains must be British!
Kevin Bacon is brilliant. Harding is a character with nothing to live for, other than Carroll’s wife (who he had a relationship with after Carroll’s imprisonment) and Carroll’s son, aptly named Joey. Harding is an intruiging protagonist. He effectively has nothing to lose but is driven to protect the few people he loves in the world who just happen to be directly connected to the man who destroyed him. Not to mention that his pacemaker means that he’s very easy to take down but only in certain imaginative ways – tasers, magnets and running are not his friends.
In fact, all of the acting is brilliant, as is the writing. Yet, I was shocked when I realised that this week is only the sixth episode. Really? Only six episodes? Surely we’re nearing the end of the series?
Let me explain. During two years of imprisonment, Carroll has placed his cult followers in strategic places including the nanny who looks after his son, having someone following his wife and the ‘gay’ neighbours of the victim who got away.
At some point (I’ve obviously lost track of where we are in the series) the nanny, Emma, disappears with Carroll’s son, Joey. They meet up with the two men posing as a gay couple and neighbours to the victim-who-got-away and vanish to a large farmhouse in the country. And they stay there. For what seems like forever. Meanwhile, Joey’s mum, Claire Matthews, is naturally going crazy and Ryan Harding is promising that he will find Joey.
A lot of things happen (although not as much as you would think), but the gist is that by this week we had a show down at the farmhouse between the FBI, local police, SWAT teams and the kidnappers. Meanwhile, Claire has also been kidnapped. Finally, I thought as Ryan made his way into the house and caught sight of little Joey, this bit is going to come to an end, Joey will go home and the next piece of action will begin.
Wrong! Well, sort of.
Despite all of the action, The Following is getting boring. There is a lot of murder, a lot of death, a heightened sense of fear and lots of twists. There is no relief, it is all morbid. Even the loving relationship between Claire and Ryan is fraught and frustrating. It’s exhausting and horrific and, like with poor horrors, I’ve found that I’ve just switched off. I’m caring less and less about who dies. In fact, this week I was a little annoyed that certain people didn’t die.
How on earth did Carroll orchestrate all of this? Why were no guards listening to his conversations with visitors? If just one honest guard had been present, none of this would have been allowed to happen, and while that would mean no programme, this does not give a positive impression of the American prison service.
Even more frustrating is that Joey still isn’t home. Ok, he’s no longer in the farmhouse so at least we’re moving along but this only means that there will be more horror to come and more fraught and high tensions back with Claire and Ryan. This should be an exciting moment, but for me I think it marks the end.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned boundaries. As I’ve just explained, the murders don’t mean anything to me anymore. Murder and death is not my line, I can cope with that because I know it is fiction. I manage to keep a distance so that it doesn’t bother me.
While there are some very interesting elements to The Following, the one that I did quite like was Harding’s boss, Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) who is a specialist in cults. She’s strong, she’s sassy and she’s professional. I love her. This week we got to find out who she is through the wonder that is The Following’s flashback sequences. Debra grew up in a cult. Wonderful, her career choices all make sense now. She grew up in a cult where she was almost raped. I could feel my mind closing down as that scene played out but we were quickly back in the present.
Just when I thought it was safe, we were transported back to Debra’s mother pushing her screaming, crying daughter into the arms of the man who would rape her.
There’s my line.
The young woman with their throats slit, their eyes cut out, hanging upside down with blood everywhere? I can cope with that. It’s make up, it’s setting, it’s fiction. I know it happens in real life but I can distance myself. Perhaps because I find it all a little far fetched, I guess I’m fortunate that it’s not really a real fear of mine. But rape is a completely different story. It’s real, it’s horrific and I know that those scenes will stay with me for a very, very long time. They will be added to all of the other rape scenes I have accidently watched over the years and my mind will choose to bring them up at random and sometimes inappropriate times, leaving me squirming and curling up as I fight to banish them. I just can’t distance myself from rape because it is such a real fear.
The Following is gritty, agonising and brilliant in the way it is told. It is also slow, predictable in some places and painfully unpredictable in others. I don’t understand how they will make it through the whole season and, after this week’s episode, I don’t think I will find out.
Have you been watching The Following? What are your thoughts?