I didn’t really know what to expect. I follow Shawn Ashmore (most notably Iceman from the X-Men films) on Twitter and he’s been promoting his show for awhile now but I never really understood it. So finally, I see it on Netflix and I decide, “Hey, I have a free weekend, why not give it a shot?”
Flashback to Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) as he’s trying to find a serial killer on the loose. He finds and arrests Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who is a professor at a nearby college, who is also a novelist and obsessed over Edgar Allen Poe. Hardy has since written a book, trying to understand Joe Carroll and is seen as some sort of expert on the man.
Now, cut to current day. It’s been a few years, I don’t remember how many offhand, and Carroll manages to elaborately escape from prison, leaving a path of dead bodies in his wake. The FBI calls in Ryan Hardy, back from retirement, to help find and re-arrest Carroll.
But here comes the unique spin. As episodes progress, you start to learn how Carroll was able to escape, and it comes to light that he’s managed to gather up lost and confused individuals and he has built somewhat of a cult. Every episode, you uncover more and more cultists and you learn about their obsessions with Joe Carroll, what they’re willing to do for him, and how terrifying this makes our heroes’ world.
Supporting cast include Shawn Ashmore (X-Men, Animorphs) and Annie Parisse (Law & Order) act as Hardy’s assistance in the FBI, while a trio of disturbed youth assist Joe Carroll (Adan Canto, Nico Tortorella, and Valorie Curry).
I really didn’t know what to expect but The Following had an effect on me that I didn’t imagine. I can only really relate it to two shows. It reminded me mostly of 24. If you’ve seen 24, it has very reminiscent feelings of action, mixed with intense mental games, and nearly every episode ends with a huge twist, or reveal, or betrayal. The other show that it reminded me of (in terms of format) was Lost. Flashbacks would often reveal keys to understanding our characters and giving these tragic incidents context.
The show is nonstop. I haven’t felt this sense of urgency in watching the next episode in a long time. Even the greats, like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, were easier to leave and wait for the next week. Luckily, this whole first season is on Netflix, so I didn’t have to wait a week. With this aspect of there being of a cult following Joe Carroll, you can’t know who is and who isn’t a member of it (you learn that the hard way in the first episode).
Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy have an incredible chemistry and they both deliver stellar performances. Shawn Ashmore also delivers a great performance, growing up a lot since his X-Men days (even though those days are about to continue as he reprises Iceman this summer).
The highlight though for me… is the dynamic and horrifying trio of Adan Canto, Nico Tortorella, and Valorie Curry. They all give incredible performances, though it can be bonechilling how realistic they play these characters. Hopefully big things for these three young actors. Interestingly enough, Adan Canto (Paul) is joining Ashmore in the upcoming X-Men film.
As a self-contained first season, this was a stellar choice. Dark, gritty, and twists at every turn. While the main story may have seemed predictable, the road that it took to get there was a bumpy one for most of our characters. It’s only 15 episodes and some of the best television I’ve seen recently. But…
What didn’t work?
You have to suspend your disbelief here. Incredibly so. It would appear that the FBI are idiots. There are some decisions that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny. I didn’t mind but it definitely is outside the realm of reality.
The main problem here though is the ability for this show to continue. I haven’t started season two so I don’t know what arc they’re starting. But I feel like confining the show to Carroll’s cult inherently limits the scope of the show. If it was really focused on Hardy as an agent, it could bring in new killers, but even the title The Following is limited to Carroll as a villain and I don’t know how long that will keep viewers enticed.
I enjoyed The Following much more than I expected. It’s only 15 episodes and is fairly self-contained. You can pretend that this is the end of the story and it’s satisfactory. Spend a weekend, binge the whole thing with someone you can gasp with, and you’ll have a great time. It’s a little dark, a little gritty, but has some incredible character work by some young talent, as well as some of the best twists I’ve seen in recent memory. I highly recommend it. I worry about the sustainability of the show long term and the poor writing of the FBI team on the show may eventually allude to incompetence and ruin any credibility our characters have. But as a self-contained season, there is incredible stuff here.