RECAP: 'The Following' Series Premiere Hunts A Serial Murderer
The Following, the new serial killer-focused crime show starring Kevin Bacon, premiered last night on FOX.
The premiere episode, "A Game of You," follows an Edgar Allan Poe-appreciating serial killer as he escapes from prison, finishes an incomplete murder and then surrenders because he's managed to create a "following" who will carry on killing in his place. It's improbable, gratuitous and sometimes predictable, yet still feels like something that might be worth watching again. The Following screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, also wrote the Scream movies, which allows for the acknowledgement that maybe not everything in the series is meant to be taken completely seriously. With that in mind, the series premiere becomes slightly easier to swallow.
In the opening scenes, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is seen rather leisurely escaping from prison disguised as a security guard, leaving dead jailers strewn about the maximum-security prison in his wake. Then it's time to meet Ryan Hardy (Bacon), who wakes to the ringing of his iPhone and the realization that Carroll, the serial killer he'd caught 9 years ago, has escaped from the bars he put him behind. The phone call that woke him was from the FBI, who he no longer works for, and they need him to come help them find Carroll.
Hardy is paired up with a couple of current agents who make it clear that his reputation precedes him – he doesn't play well with others and the Carroll case put him way over the edge. He also meets young agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), who wrote his thesis on Carroll while idolizing the man who took him down. Hardy, after striking down Mike's simplistic analysis of Carroll, takes over to explain who this serial killer is and why he does what he does. As it turns out, Carroll was a Romantic Literature professor who had dreams of making it as a writer. His novel The Gothic Sea was both a critical and commercial flop. His particular reverence to Poe and his haggard attempts at literary success transformed his medium from paper to young women. In order to create beauty, he stole it (particularly the eyes) from these young women. Feeding off the imagination of Carroll and his experience in chasing him, Hardy had written a book titled The Poetry of a Killer – which Carroll had gotten his hands on and had left in his prison cell with the note, "Enjoyed your book. Have you ever considered a sequel? Best, Joe."
After Hardy has a freak-out about how Carroll could have gotten his hands on the book, he learns that the serial killer had been given access to not just a library, but a library computer. Checking out his search history and the log listing the guards who had supervised him, Hardy deduces that one of the prison guards was helping him. The wait to meet another one of Carroll's accomplices is short. The Bureau is holding for questioning a roomful of people who had visited Carroll in prison. Just as Hardy enters the room, a pale young woman with mousy hair rises from her chair and disrobes, revealing a body covered in inked-on lines of Edgar Allan Poe. She then takes an icepick and utters, "Lord, help my poor soul," (Poe's famous last words) before plunging the object directly through her eye. Hardy, an alcoholic due to his work with the force, sees this as an appropriate time to take a swig from his water bottle filled with vodka.
When the team gets back on task, they take a visit to the house of the suspected accomplice security guard, Jordan Raines. It turns out that while he'd been working at the prison for four years, he'd also been training his killer instincts – on the neighborhood dogs. Practicing the "art" of Carroll, Raines had also been removing the eyes of his K9 victims. The bare eye sockets of a nearly-dead German Sheperd stare out blankly as Hardy and company make the grizzly discovery.
The next stop is the house of Joe Carroll's ex-wife, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea). A professor of literature herself, she is now raising a son in the dark shadow of his killer father. Hardy is the only one she'll speak to, as the pair slept with one another after Carroll's capture – an affair to which the escaped con tells Claire he's aware of in a note. It's quickly learned that the dalliance was short-lived. Claire inquires over would-be-dead Sarah Fuller, the former student of Carroll's whom Hardy had saved from his knife. Another character mentioned, of course, means another hop in the car.
Sarah Fuller lives in a quiet development next door to a charming gay couple who seem to double as her best friends and protectors. Sarah had testified against Carroll in court and is now a doctor, having more or less successfully moved on from the trauma that all started when she raised her hand in her literature class and said, "Art was about beauty, and nothing was more beautiful than the death of a beautiful woman." When the alert had gone out that Carroll had escaped, security was set up all around Sarah's apartment. Hardy and the other agents arrive at the apartment to meet the lead on her security, who assures them that everything is great. However, when they get to her room, one of the guards who was supposed to be guarding her door is wrapped up in her bed, dead.
A trail of blood leads them to Sarah's closet, where a section has been cut out of the wall. What's on the other side? Nothing, but the apartment of the gay couple that had been so close to their victimized neighbor. The two men were not dating after all, and were nothing close to being protectors of Sarah. They were all a part of Carroll's elaborate plan – living a lie for over three years just to catch his unfinished work. The other agent that was supposed to be on guard was found dead in their garage.
Distressed, Hardy begins to lose his temper and throw lawn chairs against the sides of houses, which leads to him losing his breath; when he saved Sarah, Carroll had gotten a jab at him in the chest, necessitating the installation of a pacemaker. Once he settles down, he learns that the neighbors, second grade teacher Will Wilson and computer technician Billy Thomas, had visited Carroll four times. Hardy glimpses a picture of Billy and Will in the front of a bed and breakfast called The Lighthouse – which sets off an Edgar Allan Poe lightbulb. He hops in an FBI SUV and flies solo to the location.
Hardy arrives at the vacant and dilapidated B&B and enters unarmed. While trying to lure Carroll out, he hears the screams of who could only be Sarah. Before he finds her, he meets her captor. Carroll slams Hardy with a 2×4 in the head and in the side. He then stops in order to brag about the mechanics of eye removal, "You know, the human eye is connected by several muscles," he says. "I removed each one individually. You know how hard that is to do?" Then he reveals that the cries Hardy was hearing were being emitted from a recording device, and he cuts a rope. A lifeless Sarah falls from the ceiling and dangles above the ground head first – her eye sockets vacant. And just when you'd expect Carroll to finish the job with Hardy, he asserts that he is turning himself in to the authorities. Before Hardy can answer Carroll's calls for surrender with a successful chokehold, his backup arrives and saves not his life, but Carroll's.
The final moments of the episode square off Carroll and Hardy in an investigation room. Carroll commands the exchange, demeaning Hardy's book and clarifying that Sarah Fuller's death was for him. "You are my flawed hero. I ensured that by killing Sarah. She was the inciting incident. The hero’s call to action!” This time around, Carroll is not after the subtlety of avant-garde "art," he's after a mainstream following. Already, the FBI knows of three recent murders with the corpses missing their eyes in three separate cities, and the viewer of the episode catches a glimpse of Jordan Raines entering a sorority house with sinister intent. The episode wraps with all of that, and the kidnapping of Carroll's son from his ex-wife by the child's nanny – another one of Carroll's followers.
Catch next week's episode "Chapter 2" on Monday at 9/8c. Check out the video "Inside The Following" below: