Over the past couple of months we’ve been inundated with adverts, both on the TV and at the cinema, for phone network EE fronted by Kevin Bacon in which he references several elements of British pop culture. These adverts have been so ubiquitous that it’s hard to remember that Bacon is actually a proper actor thankfully then he reminds us what he’s famous for by starring in the new series The Following which started tonight on Sky Atlantic. Bacon plays Ryan Hardy a former FBI Agent who was taken off the force after being stabbed in the heart by serial killer Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy, an English Professor who murdered fourteen women. The show sees Ryan, who has since written a book on the case entitled ‘The Poetry of A Killing’, called back to help the FBI after Joe escapes from prison after slaying a number of guards.
When Ryan arrives at the prison he is horrified to see that Joe has left a message for him in which he instructs Ryan to write a sequel presumably based on the new murders he plans to commit. It doesn’t take the FBI long to figure out that Joe had help on the inside and that he used the legal library, where he was supposedly preparing for his third appeal, to recruit followers and in particular prison guard Jordan Raines who he charms by telling him that he’s capable of great things. Jordan isn’t the only person taken in by Joe’s charms and indeed the title of The Following refers to the fact that Joe’s poetic nature has found him a legion of fans a number of whom have visited him in prison. As we see at the prison a large number of his female fans have turned up to view the scene, under the story that they have evidence to share, with one revealing a body covered in tattoos relating to Joe’s work before shouting the line ‘Lord Help My Poor Soul’ and then stabbing herself in the eye. Both of these actions relate to Edgar Allen Poe, who we learn is Joe’s hero, as the last words of the woman were the same as Poe’s and the fact that she stabbed herself in the eye is a tribute both to Poe and the way in which Joe killed his victims. Indeed as Ryan tells us Joe’s killing were related to the insanity of art and as Poe believed the eyes were the window into the soul Joe’s killings were almost his tribute to Poe. It is also insinuated that Joe’s murders grew out of a frustration that he couldn’t create a literary masterpiece of his own after his only novel ‘The Gothic Sea’ was a commercial and critical failure.
As well as trying to solve the case Ryan is instantly worried about two women the first being Sarah Fuller, Joe’s final victim who survived the stabbing thanks to Ryan arriving at her house and shooting Joe. Sarah, who is now a medical student, is glad that Ryan is on the case but is also rightly afraid that Joe is out to get her and seeks solace in her two gay neighbours. Ryan’s other concern his Joe’s ex-wife Claire who is also the mother of Joe’s son Joey while in addition she also had an affair with Ryan when he was on the case. Claire believes that Ryan ended the relationship after the FBI became aware of it but in actuality he wanted to be part of her past and realised she couldn’t move on until he was out of her life. As we see via flashback Claire also helped Ryan put the pieces together after telling him about Poe’s obsession with the eyes which was a theory he claimed was his own when he wrote his book. As the FBI continues to find a number of Joe’s followers who could’ve possibly assisted him, the episode slowly becomes a race against time to track down Joe before he kills again however after Ryan finds another clue it could be too late.
The first thing to say about The Following is that it draws you in straight away with the opening scene concerning Joe’s escape from prison perfectly illustrating the tone of the programme. Indeed writer Kevin Williamson, best known for his work on the first two Scream films, provides a number of tense and shocking scenes featuring a lot of bloody violence. The problem I had was that, despite a gripping story, The Following is incredibly badly written featuring a number of expositional scenes and a lot of clunky dialogue. For example, on meeting him for the first time, one of Ryan’s new colleagues actually says to him ‘I know you don’t work well with others’ something we could’ve probably assumed by ourselves without it having to spelt out for us. The character of Mike Weston, who hero-worships Ryan, is also on hand to fill in any plot details about Ryan’s heart and what he’s been doing since leaving the police force. I think for now though I will reserve judgment on the expositional dialogue as to be fair The Following had to get through a lot of plot in this first episode. Despite my issues with the script I enjoyed the fact that you didn’t know which characters were actually working for Joe rather than just part of the scenery, one in particular surprised me, and I’m assuming this will be a common theme throughout the series. I also enjoyed the performances namely from Purefoy, who is rightly kept off screen for most of this episode with us instead hearing of his awful deeds, who when he does appear is as menacing as he rightfully should be. Bacon meanwhile puts his edgy style to good use as the once great agent who has fallen off the radar and has since become a damaged with Joe’s case clearly having an impact on his personal relationships.
Overall there was enough to enjoy in this first episode of The Following to convince me that it will be a success. The performances from both Bacon and Purefoy are spot on and the one scene in which they meet face to face perfectly sets up what we have to look forward to over the coming weeks. Williamson perfectly constructs a lot of decent set pieces and layers on the shocks quite thick though I think The Following could do with a bit of the humour that he employed in the Scream films. I still have some issues with the dialogue and the overall scripting however I get the impression that they will be ironed out as the series progresses but for now I believe I have enough reasons to keep following The Following.
What did you think to the Following? Did you enjoy it? Leave Your Comments Below.
Tonight, 10pm, Sky Atlantic