Kevin Bacon plays a retired/disgraced FBI agent in the new series “The Following” about a vicious serial Killer that Bacon’s character caught years before and who escapes from prison one month before he’s set to be executed.
You find out early on that, like most protagonists on TV, they have to have flaws that tell you how much they have paid for their devotion to justice. Dead spouses, divorced spouses, mental disease, or in this case, alcoholism. But when the serial killer starts his rampage again, the FBI brings back the agent that caught him. Purely as a consultant of course.
I’ve read a bunch of the experts’ reviews on line, and while I don’t disagree with them that many of the elements of the pilot are a bit cliche, there are still some shining moments that will bring me back for weeks 2-8 before the network decides to continue or not. First, the cliches.
I’ve already mentioned the agent is retired and disgraced. Plus he’s an alcoholic. Not too long in, we also find out that he was a lone wolf, little evidence, just a gut feeling about someone that led him to save the day. A tortured soul who stared into the mental abyss of the serial killer and didn’t come back entirely complete. He even has physical scars, gasp!
At a second level down, there are some glaring neon signs that are not quite cliches, but certainly bad writing. Over-exposition to explain how the serial killer likes Edgar Allan Poe — not the deep analysis that would go with a full psych profile, but rather a basic overview of pop culture’s understanding of serial killers. There are also giant CLUES that show up — tertiary characters that have way too much dialogue or screen time (which makes them future victims or future bad guys to justify why they got the time in the first place). I met the first one and thought, “Yep, she’s dead soon” — less than two minutes later. Second one, “Yep, she’s not making it through the episode”, and she didn’t. Third time, they introduce a supposed gay couple who are so innocuous you know they are going to be part of the cult (non-spoiler — they are!).
But, there are the bright spots. Natalie Zea plays a strong-willed ex-wife of the serial killer who had an affair with the agent after the arrest of her husband, so there is some fodder there for both sparks and history. Jimmy Olsen from Smallville plays a techno/psych/jack of all trades for the police, and is the only one to spot that the ex-agent is drinking on the job, even offering him a breath mint to help cover it up. The serial killer isn’t as deviously chilling as Heath Ledger’s The Joker, but the final speech by the serial killer to the agent is quite strong acting.
Lots of plot holes for the future…for example, Bacon is expert but sees the word “Nevermore” written on a wall and takes several scenes before he reveals its from The Raven (like that was news? the most well-known Poe verse ever?). The serial killer now has a following, cult members ready to do his bidding, yet his recruitment of them was all supposedly online, which seems a pretty strong hold over someone without more personal / face-to-face contact, so I’m interested to see what comes later in terms of more depth.
Finally, while I hate to say this, there is a scene where one of the followers kills themself, and it is very well done. Graphic without being over the top, and very startling. A good way to show that the serial killer is truly evil — she dies for no real benefit.
I’m seriously hoping they start to just focus on the charisma of the cult leader (which the ex-wife is strangely immune to?) vs. the re-emergence of Kevin Bacon as agent-extraordinaire.
I’ll give it a few more weeks and then decide. If it goes only into cliches, pass.