It’s that time when some of the television shows that survived the axe last year are returning for another season, and among them is “The Following,” a taut police drama about one of the creepiest serial killers you’ve ever encountered.
Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) was a brilliant literature professor at Winslow University, where he was able to make his subject matter come alive for his students. His specialty was the romantic period, and he is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line something short-circuited in his brain, and he began believing in Poe’s idea of insanity in art. He became so demented he began acting out Poe’s art by murdering his female students and then eviscerating them. Oddly enough, before he went on his murderous spree, he actually married one of his students named Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), and they had a child, Joey (Kyle Catlett), together. But then something must’ve snapped because he killed 14 coeds before finally being captured by FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon).
When “The Following” began last year, Carroll already had been caught and sentenced to spend his remaining days on death row in the Virginia Central Penitentiary in Waverly, Va., and Hardy was forced to retire from active duty because of a disability. Carroll managed to stab Hardy in the heart, a wound that required Hardy to have a pacemaker installed. As we meet him for the first time, we find that Hardy is dealing with his mandatory retirement by drinking. And to complicate matters even more, Hardy and Claire had an affair after Carroll’s incarceration. Even though Claire divorced him when she learned what a monster he had turned into, Carroll still thinks he can win her back, and he is fully aware of the relationship she had with Hardy.
While he is prison, Carroll manages to build up a cult following comprising people who buy into his perverted view of art, and they are willing to do literally anything (including killing) for him. Yes, the whole idea smacks of Charles Manson and his “Family.”
Carroll’s disciples devise an ingenious plan to help him escape from prison, and as soon as he is out, he begins plotting his revenge against Claire and Hardy. In the meantime the FBI has asked Hardy for assistance in hunting Carroll down. Thus the first season chronicles Hardy’s attempt to find Carroll, who has kidnapped Joey from Claire.
I will admit to being completely addicted to “The Following,” and waiting a week for each new episode was agonizing because the ending of each show was tantalizing tease for the next one. I looked forward to joining Hardy his search for Carroll in much the same way I did years ago when Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) was searching for the mysterious one-armed man on “The Fugitive.” And in keeping with the tradition it established, “The Following” ended its first season with a monumental cliffhanger between Hardy and Carroll that raised many more questions than it answered.
Both Bacon and Carroll are perfect in their respective roles. Bacon makes us feel Kirby’s mental anguish throughout the series, and we come to share in his obsession with putting Carroll back behind bars. These two guys really hate each other, and the tension between them is nothing short of electric. Carroll is the very embodiment of evil, and Purefoy imbues his character with the same kind of disturbing creepiness Hannibal Lecter possesses. In an online interview, Purefoy offered the following analysis of Carroll.
“Joe Carroll is an ex-college professor. He specializes in Edgar Allan Poe to give you some idea of the kind of macabre mind he has. I don’t know if you’re aware of Moriarty, who is the great villain in the Sherlock Holmes books and movies. He is somebody who is so crazy, so mad, but knows exactly what he’s doing not just today, tomorrow, next week, next month, but years down the line. He has a massive master plan, so he is kind of the Moriarty of serial killers, and that’s what kind of makes him so spine-chilling.”
In the same interview, Bacon revealed how his character will be a bit different in season two.
“One of the interesting things about this second season is seemingly I’ve lost my obsession with Joe. I’ve stepped into a different place in my life, and he is no longer burning inside my heart like he was in season one. But like everything on ‘The Following,’ nothing is what it seems. You find out in season two that a lot of us have these masks that we’re living. The truth is that he is incredibly important to me. Sadly, the most important thing in my life.”
In addition to Bacon and Purefoy, the series also boasts a stellar supporting cast including Valorie Curry as Emma Hill, aka Denise Harris, who is Carroll’s most devoted follower. Her blind loyalty to him knows no bounds, and she will do absolutely anything to please him. Curry’s portrayal of Emma makes your skin crawl.
“The Following” is not a series for the faint of heart because some of the scenes are fairly graphic, but if you like edge-of-your-seat police dramas with nice splash of horror thrown in, you won’t want to miss this great show, which earns a thrilling, chilling, horrifying 10. “The Following” returns on Monday, Jan. 27, with back-to-back episodes on Fox at 8 and 9 p.m. It’s your loss if you don’t start following it.