The new Fox series ,The Following, stars Kevin Bacon as an alcoholic, loner FBI agent, Ryan Hardy, responsible for capturing serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) after he murdered fourteen women.The pilot opens with Carroll escaping from prison, just a month before his death row execution date. Hardy is drawn out of retirement to help find the escaped prisoner and stop him before more innocent lives are taken by Carroll, whether it be by murder or brainwashing.
*SPOILER ALERT* Below is a recap of last night’s pilot, read at your own discretion.
We know from the get go that Carroll is a crafty and clever criminal. After he stages a particularly gory escape from a maximum security prison, we see him casually drive away seeming relaxed and more confident than ever. A flashback reveals Joe Carroll was a professor of literature before his incarceration and his earlier victims were his own students. He’s deeply dedicated to the romantic period authors, his prison cell is lined with novels by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his personal favorite author, Edgar Allen Poe. Carroll pays homage to Poe’s works The Raven and The Black Cat by carving out his victim’s eyes which are the “windows to the soul” and a person’s true identity. His lunacy is further confirmed when we learn Carroll considers his grisly murders to be his own form of deeply haunting art.
To make matters worse, Carroll was married and even fathered a son before being put away for murder. His wife and fellow professor, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), seems perfectly normal and intelligent, aside from some understandable emotional scarring. As of now it seems as though she was duped by the charismatic serial killer, and doesn’t support her ex-husband’s so-called “art,” but we quickly learn that plenty of others still do.
A makeshift HQ is set up to find Carroll’s whereabouts, where we meet another agent on the case, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore). Weston is a young rookie who idolizes Hardy’s work. The agents discover that Carroll has had quite a few female visitors in prison, and those woman are asked to come in for questioning. We see one mousy and anxious looking woman in a floor length dress and long sleeve cardigan check in and take her seat with the other women for questioning. From the get go something is up with her, she’s unnervingly tense. As the FBI agents are debriefing, the mysterious woman receives a text and walks to the middle of the security lobby. She then kneels down, removes her clothes, and takes out an ice pick. Of course, Hardy is the first one to reach her and tries to calm the terrified woman down before she hurts herself or anyone else. Her naked body reveals that she’s covered from the neck down in cursive writing. She mutters “Lord help my poor soul” before stabbing herself in the eye, the trademark of Carroll’s past murders. Her last words were the same as Edgar Allen Poe’s and the script covering her body was straight from Poe’s work. Clearly, Carroll’s obsession with Poe has spun a bit out of control.
Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace) is the one surviving victim of Carroll’s serial killing spree back in 2004. Her testimony helped convict him, so naturally she’s at grave danger when her attempted murderer is suddenly on the loose. She’s slightly comforted by her doting neighbors, a gay couple living next door.
The plot thickens as Hardy figures out a prison guard was responsible for helping Carroll communicate with his cult followers and escape from prison. This prison guard, Jordy (Steven Monroe), not only helps Carroll, but has become his protege for serial killing. Hardy and the other agents find that Jordy was practicing his serial killing skills on local dogs before moving on to humans. Jordy emulated his teacher to a T by removing the eyes of his canine victims.
The episode is peppered with flashbacks from 2002 to today to help set up adequate character background. I one of the flashback sequences we see Sarah Fuller watch as her roommate is murdered before Joe turns the knife on her. In another flashback we see the ex-Mrs. Carroll, now Miss Matthew, and Hardy flirt upon their first meeting. The flirtation clearly lead to more as an intense romantic history is revealed. Claire insists that she speak with Hardy alone where she reveals a mysterious letter sent by Joe from prison. The contents of the letter aren’t disclosed, but it clearly upsets Claire and Ryan. In an added romantic element, Hardy timidly declares he never called because she “deserved better”. Yea, I’ve heard that before…
Anyway, it’s clear that Joe Carroll wants to finish what he started with his escaped victim, Sarah Fuller. In spite of her house swarming with armed protection, Sarah and her two armed guards somehow disappear. Hardy finds one cop with his throat slit in Sarah’s bed and a blood trail leading in to Sarah’s closet. That closet shares a wall with the apartment next door, the home of her friendly gay neighbors. Hardy follows the blood trail through the neighbor’s house and into their garage, where the second cop is propped up in front of the words “Nevermore” written on the wall in his own blood (see photo below.) These “friendly” neighbors aren’t who they claimed to be. Not only are they both straight, but had both previously visited Carroll in jail. It seems like no character can be trusted and the length of Carroll’s brainwashing knows no bounds.
Hardy’s previous 18-month investigation helps him understand the inner-workings of Carroll’s mind and he believes Sarah is being held in a lighthouse. He goes alone and unarmed to the abandoned lighthouse and hears Sarah screaming for help. Ryan walks into a room clearly being used as a hideout and turns to face Joe Carroll. Carroll knocks Ryan down, having a physical advantage over the ailing FBI agent. Hardy has a bad heart thanks to Carroll previously stabbing him. Carroll chastises Hardy and his weak heart as he beats Ryan into submission.
The Poe theme magnifies at this point with an echoing background sound of the “lub dub” of a heart, straight from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s poetically perfect that Hardy has a bad heart and we hear it sputter and quicken during Carroll’s beat down. With Ryan incapacitated on the floor, Carroll reveals Sarah’s screams were recorded to lure Hardy in. Joe has already killed Sarah and removed her eyes. Upon seeing Sarah’s mutilated body, Hardy leaps up with a surge of adrenaline and strangles Carroll. The serial killer manages to squeak out “I surrender,’ right as the other FBI agents storm in.
Carroll is back in custody, but his story has only just begun. As Hardy is questioning his old foe, Claire realizes her son with Carroll, Joey, is missing. We see the once trusted babysitter meeting up with the supposed gay couple as the three take Joey into hiding. The babysitter, Sarah’s neighbor, and prison guard are all cohorts of Carroll’s and this was the plan all along. As Hardy questions Carroll in custody, we learn Carroll wants to write another story, this time with Hardy as his new protagonist.
The episode closes with the haunting sound of Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams cover which fades into the “lub dub” of a weak and aching heart, and a closeup of an angst ridden Ryan Hardy as he begins a new chapter of this horror story certain to have one hell of an ending.
Every minute of the pilot is gripping and exciting. The show smoothly sets up the back story for Ryan Hardy, Joe Carroll, and Claire Matthews. After a mere 60 minutes I felt invested in all of the characters, my anxiety palpable in the room. The Edgar Allan Poe inspired undertones and incorporation into the plot line were especially thought provoking and intelligent.
Previews for the rest of the season promise more gore and deceit stemming from the mind of the brilliant, charismatic, and utterly deranged Joe Carroll. There’s also foreshadowing of a rekindling romance between Ryan Hardy and Claire Matthews. I am a little disappointed Carroll and his twisted tendencies will be behind bars for the remainder of the season. Hopefully Carroll can be just as menacing in an orange jumpsuit as Anthony Hopkins was as the infamous Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. I suppose the show is called The Following so it will focus on those tasked with carrying out Carroll’s psychotic philosophy, while he plays a behind the scenes role as the calm, calculated, and utterly deranged cult leader.
Tune in Monday’s at 9pm on Fox and see for yourself what The Following is all about.