by Gustavo Magnani *
10, 20, 30, 50... I've never received so many requests for so long to talk about a subject in particular. Even before the series was on, several readers were suggesting the topic. When The Following premiered then, these messages came pouring down. And they didn't stop coming. I had a couple of tough weeks, when I was in a hurry and couldn't stop to watch the episodes that had already aired so that I could think about what to write. After all, I made it through them and here I am.
First of all, I must go on record to say how amazing I think it is that Poe is being brought to other media and awakening so much curiosity in new readers. Everybody knows that he is the avatar of Literatortura. That fact, in and of itself, would already be enough to explain why so many people kept suggesting the topic for discussion on the website, but that's not all. What else made them do it? This series is the sh*t!
It is undoubtedly on the Top 3 new dramas that premiered this season. Produced by FOX, the series first aired in January in the USA and in February in Brazil (it's on the Warner Channel). It reached 10 million U.S. viewers, an excellent figure for the current standards, and 15 episodes have already been filmed for this first season. Contracts with the actors and employees shows that the channel is investing in about seven seasons. From this outlook, it means that The Following may have a long life on TV.
On the synopsis: Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is a former FBI agent who, ten years ago, was able to capture Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a serial killer and professor of Literature. Awating execution in jail, Joe finally breaks out and leaves a violent blood trail behind him―he is responsible for the murder of 14 co-eds, whose deaths were inpired by the work of Poe. Now, Hardy is called back as an FBI consultant, because he knows the mind of the killer like no one else. While working on the case, which doesn't follow any pattern, the agents find out that Joe has designed a plan that was larger than they had originally expected, involving several people who are fascinated by his work. A cult.
The 2012 movie "The Raven" was based on Poe's work and had a serial killer acting the deaths depicted in the author's short stories, while Edgar himself was the detective. The Following goes into another direction, which is thought out a lot better. Yes, there are some similarities: the genius of short stories inspires serial killers. But that's about it. The interesting thing is noticing that, where the movie shamefully fails, the series hits the bullseye.
Joe Carroll | Serial Killer: He is a sublime killer. Charismatic, deliberate, intelligent, strategic, and charming, he executes his deaths and he would execute his novel. It is wonderful to watch his exchanges with Ryan and hear him talk about narrative structure, since the series resorts to metalanguage without being predictable.
Everything that Joe says to Ryan, he's saying to us, the viewers. And that is a beautiful decision that the producers and screenwriters have made, to the point that this professor-turned-killer expressly says what will happen in his "novel" while explaining what will happen in the series as well. If this isn't a good example of using narrative structure to your advantage, then I have no idea what I'm talking about.
This villain is a rare specimen of complexity and duality. How deep is Joe Carroll? Murderer, professor, expert in Edgar Allan Poe, lover, father, inmate, sincere human being, reader, passionate man. What paths will he take and what motivations will drive him there? That's always a surprise. Besides, the character has a noteworthy ability: affecting Ryan Hardy not only physically, but psychologically as well. And that's SOOOOO Edgar Allan Poe, ladies and gentlemen!
Ryan Hardy | Former FBI Agent: Kevin Bacon is an eccentric character. He has the profile of a leading man, but there's something weird about his face that becomes an obstacle to it. I don't know if it's his nose or lips... Anyway, despite that, he's good. Really good, actually.
The actor has a unique gravitas that fits like a glove for the detective he's playing. Like Joe, the complexity of the character would be enough―yet, there's still so much more to explore―and Kevin is so measured and talented that he avoids the commonplace and cliches we see in the genre. He is, definitely, the highlight of this cast and carries most of the weight of series and his scenes on his very shoulders.
His character has a strong connection with Joe Carroll and that is why he was selected as the "hero of the novel" that this psychopath writes in blood... And this is not a cheesy metaphor!
Edgar Allan Poe: The work of Poe creates a rich universe that ranges from the technical to the emotional. Edgar is one of the writers that revolutionized literature and dedicated his work to out-of-the-ordinary subjects, death, love, revenge, desire. These are universal themes that get a different take in the mind of the author: horror. His work actually reaches stratospheric proportions. And that's exactly what the series clings to: Using his work as the backdrop for the creation of a cult whose members would only need one motive to do what they do, while Poe gives them plenty.
Well, the series doesn't talk that much about the author. Of course, knowing the life and work of Poe is not a requirement to be interested in and excited about the show, but this knowledge would make the experience even more complete. Literatortura has featured several special editions on the author, and his work was even highlighted in the 2nd Issue of the Digital Literatortura magazine.
What to expect from The Following? You can expect an air-tight script, with complex characters and a very controversial theme, but it is never preachy or mediocre. The plot development throughout the episodes is very, very interesting. The show isn't set out to just tell another serial killer story; it goes beyond death for the sake of death. There's always a motive behind everything that is being done.
In a nutshell:
- Kevin Bacon: As I said, the highlight of the series.
- Edgar Allan Poe: The show takes ownership of his plots and concepts, which indicates that the people behind it know what they're talking about.
- Charismatic villain: Joe Carroll goes beyond the restraints of a killer and is not only likable, intelligent, and charming. He's human too.
- Cults: Watching the birth and development of a cult is always intriguing. There's a very interesting "case study" here in the works.
- Quality: The show has already proved its virtues. However, it has sort of a long way to go to catch up with the best series out there right now: Homeland, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Sons Of Anarchy, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead (yeah, why not?). Still, it's on the right path and this is only the first season, which plays in its favor. It has a solid viewership for a channel that is in search of a flagship show, and The Following has all the ingredients to become just that.
For Those Who Are Already Watching The Following: (possible) SPOILERS (up to S1E08)
It is very interesting to see how many people, because of the so-called "emptiness of the soul," can hold on to something that, oftentimes, isn't very well defined. That's the issue that The Following has at the moment: What does Joe Carroll offer his followers?
The question has even been asked by one of the detectives in the show, so I believe it will soon be answered. Still, it is an issue, because this answer shouldn't come to us objectively, all at one shot. It is something that we should start to put together piece by piece. Okay, some may say that the purpose is to have each member write a "chapter" of the novel, or maybe just "kill," but that's not enough. Joe Carroll's message isn't clear yet. Is it just revenge? Rivalry? Pleasure?
It would be upsetting to realize that this is all about "not being bored" because, considering all the above, the series will have quite a long run. And, if we think about what's going on right now, the cult will only get bigger and take gigantic proportions. How will scriptwriters deal with it is yet another mystery.
Well, the show has a good rhythm to it, but thinking about the future, I believe some decisions were a little hasty. Some situations could have been developed better before Joe broke out of prison. I don't know, maybe he should have escaped at the season finale. Really, it's hard to make comments based on assumptions, but I'm definitely curious to see what comes next.
GUSTAVO MAGNANI is working on his Bachelor's in Languages and Literature at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) in Brazil. He is the owner and content curator of Literatortura, an electronic magazine that not only talks about literature, but culture and entertainment in general as well. He is currently proofreading his first book, but he has to make an Herculean effort just to write a short biography―and, as you may have noticed, he's crazy about metalanguage.