Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Following Review

The Following is the best thriller on television at the moment and I am about to tell you why.

The show stars Kevin Bacon as FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is on a downward spiral after suffering horrendous injuries in tracking and catching serial killer and university Professor Joe Carol, played by James Purefoy.

When Carol escapes a maximum-security prison, the FBI call Ryan back into the fold to try to bring him back into custody. It becomes clear however that Carol has escaped with the aid of a cult of followers that he has gathered on the Internet and together they have a plan to make Ryan’s life a living hell.

The Following has an unrelenting pace that literally keeps you teetering on the edge of your seat for the whole season. The story moves effortlessly between flashbacks to previous events and the constantly ratcheting stakes for the characters.

Follow me under the cut for more on the show! I will warn before any major spoilers.

Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy are simply superb as Ryan Hardy and Joe Carol. I have never seen Kevin Bacon be that compelling in anything. He's perfect as the downtrodden, alcoholic and depressed Ryan Hardy and seeing him flash back to life, back into the game and back to who he was is fantastic to watch. James Purefoy’s performance is spine tingling and gut clenching. He plays Carol as a nuanced psychopath with feelings of frustration over his inability to be a literary success, remorse over losing the love and respect of his wife and child and sheer ecstasy at performing acts that he believes are making him a more holistic human being. His obsession with literature and Edgar Allan Poe lead to an interesting analysis of what motivates him and his followers. His charisma is a petrifying asset to his cause.

The cult itself is pretty terrifying, consisting of a group of largely everyday people. Some are babysitters, medical students and even cops. Many are highly educated and even had good upbringings. The way that some of the characters are roped into the cult and their motivations for being there are what makes The Following more intriguing than a simple murder mystery show. We see the machinations of humanity at work, which for a sociologist like myself is deeply engaging. Jacob Wells is particularly interesting as he skirts between wanting to belong to something, falling in love with the wrong people and then learning what the nature of the cult is actually about and what he is willing to sacrifice in order to continue. He’s much more than a two-dimensional devoted puppet with a psychotic tendency, although the show has plenty of them as well.

The strength of The Following is the attention to detail paid to the characters and how well thought out their development is. Shawn Ashmore's Mike Weston is Ryan's protégé and is incredibly important because he provides a point of reference for the audience to understand what Ryan Hardy must have been like in the past. He is also crucial to the plot development and as more is divulged of his character he becomes increasingly important; he is one of the very few that the audience can trust aside from Ryan. As he too begins to unravel, we can track the moments where he rises above what Ryan himself could not.

Special agent Debra Parker is also fantastic and her reasons for becoming a cult expert are terrifying and interesting. She is what keeps the FBI team honest and focused and what stops them from spiralling out of control. This character was a late addition to the team after the replacing a different character from the pilot episode and is a great asset. This is another indication of the commitment that the show’s writing team have made to ensure that they have the right characters and the right cast to drive the plot forward.

Spoilers below of the end of season one!

The final couple of episodes see agent Debra Parker buried alive and dying before Ryan and Weston can get to her. A sniper tries to take Weston out of the picture but is thwarted which gives the FBI an advantage; Weston is alive which Joe Carol will not be expecting. Ultimately, this seems to become a red herring as Ryan decides not to use Weston in his plan to follow Carol and save Claire.

The final showdown happens at a lighthouse where a lot of Carol’s motivations come to a head. He wants the perfect ending, he wants to be loved and remembered and successful; all things that seem normal enough and would ordinarily take away from the menace of the character. In this case, reverting Carol to the most basic of human desires makes him more threatening and irrational but at the same time more able to be beaten.

Carol allegedly perishes in a fire at the lighthouse while Ryan and Claire escape. The remains are not recovered however, which makes everyone concerned and nervous that Carol has somehow escaped both his injuries and the fire. Traditional horror or thriller films/shows use this very device for one last shot at the heroes, often with the affect of breaking the realism of the story and leaving the viewer feeling like it was all a little overplayed and fake. In this case, it is not Carol that comes for Ryan and Claire, but a woman who lives next door to Ryan, has dated him and is one of his most trusted friends. She is set up as a mole earlier in the show and indicates her desire to be the one to kill Ryan. This makes Carol’s apparent death even more interesting if it was planned all along or if he was never intending to be the one to kill Ryan.

Regardless, in the final scenes of the final episode, Molly (Ryan’s neighbour) enters his house and stabs him before savagely lashing out at Claire and stabbing her as well. The episode ends in a flurry of violence and chaos that leaves the viewer holding their breath. Are Ryan and/or Claire alive? Was this all part of Joe Carol’s plan? Did he survive? This would perhaps be one of the best endings to a series ever if the show was not renewed. That ultimately, the bad guy won and did so from beyond the grave. It’s a daring thing to do and relies on networks investing in stories rather than on-going ratings. Unfortunately, The Following has been picked up for a second season. I don’t often find myself saying this but I think this show should have stopped right there. How the second season will stand up and whether it can be as good as the first with a concept that has a limited shelf life remains to be seen. However, this first season is damn good and definitely worth a look.

No comments:

Post a Comment