Ginger Pop: The Following
When I first heard about Fox’s new serial killer drama, The Following, I was intrigued. Starring Kevin Bacon, the show centers around his busted ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy who is called back to duty when his nemesis, former literature professor Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), escapes from prison as the first move in a series of games designed for Hardy and utilizing his network of followers. Throw in the complication of Hardy’s unresolved feeling for Carroll’s ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea), alcoholism, and constant references to Poe and you have the bones of the show.
That the concept comes from Scream writer Kevin Williamson was the first point of interest for me. I love the Scream series for being meta, humorous, and still scary. As a literary professor myself (albeit paling in comparison to the fictional mojo they’ve given Carroll), I was intrigued on how Williamson would approach the literary elements and use them within the greater plot structure.
Now having watched the first three episodes, I feel like the show has potential. The aesthetic is strong and there certainly are a number of possible directions for the narrative. The addition of the wife as a game piece for the two men is interesting as well. Usually our serial killers are seen as removed from society and romance. The Following makes a point of showing us some sort of real human connection between both men and the former Mrs. Carroll. Aside from tracking down the converts to the house of Carroll, the story hints that it has a bigger human consideration. Is it about redemption or revenge (for Caroll and/or Hardy)?
My concerns, however, stem from this same element. With so many directions, the show currently feels too predictable. Williamson has set things up for a Silence of the Lambs protagonist/antagonist dynamic with the possibility of a Seven twist. It’s as if he expects the viewer to tap into that same level of fear and suspense without recognizing that they’ve seen many of these elements before. The show is essentially repeating what we the viewers already know without bringing anything new to the conversation (with the exception of the “They met on the internet!” spin).
Whereas Scream was clever–it knew we had watched the same movies–The Following lacks that winking awareness. Likewise, the literary elements infused throughout lack real depth or insight. Thus far all the Poe references have circled around “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Raven.” Granted, these are some of Poe’s most famous works, but by relying almost solely on one or two themes and a handful of lines for these works, the show is ignoring a multitude of opportunities. For example, yes “The Tell-Tale Heart” focuses on eyes, death, and people buried in houses. It also looks at madness, chaos, motive, guilt, and perception of relationships.
I will also venture to say that Williamson has mis-measured Poe himself (or at least Carroll has). While it is certainly possible that Carroll might only take the elements of Poe that suit his purpose, Williamson sells this as fact by having other characters parrot it. Poe certainly grappled with the darker side of human nature; however, his life saw the death of many women he loved and he was, above all, deeply sensitive. The Following instead presents him as a madman who craved the beauty of death. The writer was actually far from it. Certainly he deals with the darker side of life, but much of his work is questioning human nature and dealing with loss and mourning.
Watching the characters on this show spout superficial lit theory tells me that someone needs to actually read more than a few Poe stories and some Cliffnotes. My first suggestion would be “The Philosophy of Composition” in which Poe talks about his actual feelings on beauty–death, art, and beauty are not, as The Following would have us believe,synonymous. Rather, art should elevate the human spirit.
(I’ll leave out some of the literary errors because I wonder if they are intentional or not. We’ll see.)
Despite all my complaints, I’m going to continue watching because I feel there could be something there. The show currently lacks the originality or intelligence of American Horror Story, but perhaps with a little studying and some brainstorming, it could do great things.