January 21, 2013



THE FOLLOWING:  Monday 9PM on FOX – DVR Alert

We’ve been here before, perhaps most memorably in Red Dragon aka Manhunter:  the burned-out, injured, brilliantly intuitive FBI agent, called back to the field to go after his nemesis, a savage but erudite serial killer.  But even Thomas Harris didn’t invent that archetype, and Kevin Williamson, who knows his way around brutal murders, has come up with some vicious twists in FOX’s THE FOLLOWING, perhaps the only drama pilot so far this season that makes one impatient for the next episode.

The biggest surprise of The Following may be that Williamson, who practically coined the concept of smirky meta-horror with the Scream series, and who’s made The Vampire Diaries an enthralling mix of thrills and wit, is playing it completely straight this time.  The Following doesn’t have any laughs, and it tests the limits for bloody violence on primetime broadcast network TV.  Our flawed hero (as even the killer describes him) is ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), stabbed in the chest by murderer/English Literature professor Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) 9 years ago when Hardy was rescuing Carroll’s last of 14 victims, medical student Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace).  Hardy now has a pacemaker and a drinking problem, and he was thrown out of the Bureau when his bosses discovered that Hardy also had an affair with the killer’s own wife, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), a romance whose details we don’t yet fully know.

Carroll was sentenced to death and Hardy wrote a book, but 9 years later, when Carroll manages to escape from his maximum security prison, the Bureau, of course, decides they can’t catch the man without Hardy’s help.  This brings him into contact with disagreeable but extremely hot agent Mason (Jeananne Goossen), eager newbie agent Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and some more anonymous vessels of the law.  Carroll, who’s obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and the idea of violent death as the pinnacle of romantic art (he removes his victims’ eyeballs, those being the windows to their souls), is after the woman Hardy saved.  But by the end of the pilot, written by Williamson and directed by frequent Vampire Diaries helmer Marcos Siega, it’s clear that much worse is in store:  throughout his years of imprisonment, Carroll has established contact via internet with a galaxy of other crazies, and he’s been recruiting them to commit murders and other crimes in his name, whether he’s behind bars or not.

The Following walks its familiar path so expertly that even as one sees the nasty twists coming, there’s a queasy need to watch them play out (a piece of advice when watching:  trust no one).  The pilot makes it clear that the show is very much playing for keeps, and although its extreme darkness may push some viewers away, the show tells a compelling story.  For such a pulpy genre piece, the casting is very strong.  Bacon is one of the most reliable actors of his generation, and while we know little about Hardy apart from his history with Carroll, Bacon convinces us there’s plenty left to find out.  Natalie Zea will be missed on Justified, but her presence here can’t help but elevate her character.  And for British actors, there’s nothing quite like a well-educated serial killer to keep the bills paid, and Purefoy conveys both the intelligence and boundless madness that’s required.

As with Lecter in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, it appears from the pilot that Carroll will mostly be an evil force behind bars, at least early in the series, taunting Hardy with what may or may not be clues as Hardy pursues Carroll’s nutjobs of the week.  It’s a clever way to extend the series beyond what would be a feature film’s worth of Hardy vs. Carroll story, but the show’s test, which can’t really be measured in the pilot, is how well the individual stories will play out.  If, and that’s not a small “if,” they’re up to the level of the central plotline, Following is a show viewers with strong stomachs will be eager to keep in sight.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."