Warning: If you’re the sort of person to faint when you nick yourself shaving, you may be six degrees of squicked* out by Fox’s new serial killer thriller The Following.
It’s hella bloody. It’s scary. And there are a bunch of pointy things thrust into soft body parts – and not in the fun way. But the show is pretty great, so it’s worth it. Even the gouged-out eyeballs. (And there are a lot of gouged-out eyeballs.) Enough set-up: Let’s review the series’ pilot, and then we want to know what you think.
OUT AND PROUD | At Virginia Central Penitentiary, a man dressed as a guard finishes up his shift and leaves for the night. But the shifty-eyed way he goes about the whole process – as well as the five dead prison staff members he leaves in his wake – clue us in that something’s not quite right. As we’ll later learn, the man is death-row inmate Joe Carroll, an Edgar Allen Poe-obsessed literature professor and failed author-turned-serial killer who stabbed 14 women to death years ago. He’s scheduled to be executed soon, and he’s apparently not down with that plan. As the prison sends up an alarm, Carroll rides away.
BACK IN ACTION | The next morning, we meet former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who – based on the way he sucks down a bottle of water and generally grimaces at the mere state of being awake, not to mention the glass empties in the garbage can — seems to have gotten hot and heavy with some liquor the night before. We’ll later find out this is normal for him. But what’s not normal: The TV reports notifying him of Carroll’s escape. A phone call from Ryan’s former employer leads to him grudgingly donning a suit, filling a water bottle with vodka (planning ahead!) and heading to Virginia to consult the Bureau’s investigation.
Among Carroll’s effects at the prison, Ryan finds a small library that includes works by Poe – “Still the romantic,” he notes – and a copy of Ryan’s own book, The Poetry of a Killer, about his role in bringing Carroll to justice. A note inside reads: “Dear Ryan, I enjoyed your book. Have you ever considered a sequel? Best, Joe.” Ryan’s pissed, and gets even more so when he learns that by virtue of Carroll representing himself for his third appeal, he had Internet access once a week at a legal library.
While Ryan is fretting and getting hero-worshipped by a young agent named Mike Weston, a tweaky chick walks into the FBI’s mobile command center and asks to speak to someone about the escapee. While she’s waiting, she gets a text message – “Do it now” – and then stands up and strips down to a black pair of panties. Her skin is covered with verses from Poe’s The Raven, and she’s wielding an awl. This is not going to end well. Ryan runs over and tries to stop her, to no avail; she utters Poe’s last words (“Lord help my poor soul”) and jabs the weapon into her own eye, killing herself. It’s terrible. Ryan finds out that Sally McOnepeeper was one of Carroll’s many groupies, a collective that includes a prison guard named Jordy who Ryan soon realizes helped the murderer slip out of jail. (Side note: I hope animal lovers averted their eyes during the trip to Jordy’s house. I wish I’d had a wee-wee pad for myself before that German Shepherd lifted its head.)
UNFINISHED BUSINESS | The next stop on Ryan’s terrible tour is to see Claire Matthews, Carroll’s professor ex-wife and the mother of his 8-ish-year-old son, Joey. This pilot is crazy packed with exposition and we’ve got a ways to go, so I’m going to shorthand a little: Claire and Ryan had an affair during the investigation, the FBI found out about it, and she recently got a letter from Joe indicating he knows about the tryst, too. Oops. Ryan’s convinced Carroll is just guessing. As the pair talk, it’s clear there’s something between them; she asks about his heart, which her ex-hubby nearly destroyed as Ryan was trying to save Joe’s final victim, and his drinking. She reminds Ryan that Carroll might be looking to finish off that final stabbing victim, Sarah Fuller, the only one who survived.
Sarah, a former student of Carroll’s, is now a doctor – and she’s been under police guard since his jailbreak. (She’s also played by Maggie Grace, who sadly does not refer to anyone involved in this project as “God’s friggin’ gift to humanity.” RIP, Shannon.) Luckily, she has her two gay guy neighbors to help her cope – or so it seems. When Ryan shows up at her house, though, there’s a dying cop in her bed and Sarah’s MIA, absconded with by her not-as-fabulous-as-they-seemed pals. As creepy as Ryan’s search through the men’s house is, it’s made 100 times worse by the revelation (via a big, bloody “NEVERMORE” painted on the garage wall) that they, too, were Carroll followers… who’d been waiting three years to do their master’s bidding. (Guys, I saw the episode early and have had plenty of time to process it, and I still shudder thinking about that level of duplicity.)
THE END… IS THE BEGINNING | Ryan uses his super sleuthing skills to track Carroll alone (side note: when is that ever a good idea?) to an abandoned B&B, where it sounds like the convict is killing Sarah. Ryan charges up the stairs, his pacemaker-regulated heartbeat (courtesy of the aforementioned Carroll corazón cleaving) knocking loudly over the soundtrack. Ryan’s nemesis is there, but the screams came via a recorder… and before Ryan can process that horror, the killer sends Sarah crashing down from the ceiling, strung up by her ankles, dead and sans eyeballs. (It’s even worse than it sounds.) Ryan corners Carroll and is about to choke him to death when the cavalry rushes in.
The murderer surrenders and is returned to the prison, where Carroll tells Ryan that the lapsed lawman is the “flawed hero” in his next work, which they’re going to create together. As he’s spinning the tale, the camera cuts to his demented disciple Jordy about to kill a young co-ed. Joe’s following has started its work — and nowhere is that more apparent than at the home of Claire Matthews, who suddenly can’t find her son. As we watch, the boy’s babysitter Denise drives her unconscious ward to a random parking lot, where she ditches her car, meets up with Sarah’s gaybors and drives off with Joey. Let the creepiness commence.
Now it’s your turn. Did the flashbacks of Sarah’s attack make you never want to walk into a dark house ever again? Are you suddenly itching to actually read all of that Poe you CliffsNotes’d in high school? And do you think, as the show apparently wants us to, that Ryan might be Joey’s dad? Grade The Following in the poll below, then sound off in the comments!
* “Squicked” also is the sound an eyeball makes when being wrenched from the body, (I assume).Follow @kimroots