Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five things THE FOLLOWING needs to fix

Remember a few weeks ago when I noted my concern about The Following becoming a one-tricky pony?  It's safe to say those fears haven't abated in the ensuing weeks.  If anything, they've grown.  Considering this was one of my favorite pilots from this season, I'm quite dismayed and concerned.

This is my list of things that need to be fixed immediately:

The sheer preponderance of cult members. I touched on this a bit in my earlier entry, noting that the show kept trying to shock the audience by revealing each episode that a character we thought we trusted was actually "one of them."  While the scripts have dialed back on using that as an episode's climactic twist, every episode we're meeting more and more cult members.  This most recent episode not only introduced a small-town cop who was basically a charter member of Carroll's cult, but it revealed he's been recruiting others to "the cause."  At this point, serial killer Joe Carroll probably has more devoted followers than Community.  (And they're probably slightly less zealous than Dan Harmon fans in trying to recruit others to the cause.)  Why is this so crazy? Because....

The cult members are poorly motivated.  I don't understand why anyone would be so devoted to Carroll.  He's handsome and he has an accent.  In some circles, that passes for seductive, and why not, let's spot him a few impressionable co-eds who passed the time in his class on Edgar Allen Poe by writing "Mrs. Joe Carroll" in their notebooks.  But falling for someone and killing for them are two entirely different things.  Not to mention we've seen a lot of male cult members who likely aren't there for Carroll's dashing good looks.

This might be what disappoints me most about the show because when the series started, I really was interested in hearing what creator Kevin Williamson had to say about the psychology of serial killers.  This is the guy who wrote the line "Movies don't create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative" in Scream.  Considering the meta nature of the premise, I was eager to see Williamson explore this territory in more depth.  Eight episodes in, I'm starting to doubt that we'll get much below the surface.  This also leads to my next point, which is...

Joe isn't as compelling as the shows wants us to believe he is.  Despite the best efforts of James Purefoy, Joe isn't especially charismatic, nor does he seem to be espousing any kind of philosophy that I buy as reaching these lost people and convincing them to hand over all agency.  I'm sure there are people out there with lurid, perhaps unhealthy fascinations with serial killers, but to date, I haven't seen anything that really shows me Carroll is capable of weaving a spell that completely overtakes one's moral code.  I buy him converting one or two damaged people and reshaping their psyches.  But as the cult membership gets larger and larger, I'm less willing to cut slack on that particular point.

The FBI is deeply stupid.  We've been shown that just about every cult member Carroll personally groomed (not an insubstantial number) paid him a visit in jail, right?  So why have the FBI not combed the visitor's logs and detained everyone who saw Carroll until they can clear those people?  I think some lip service was paid to this in the pilot, but it's ridiculous that half a season in, the show is still bringing in Carroll's visitors and playing it like the FBI doesn't have them on their radar.

Last week, Carroll contrived a prison transfer.  As soon as this was announced, every viewer knew this was going to end with Carroll's escape, and had it been done right it could have been as thrilling as Hannibal Lector's escape in Silence of the Lambs.  Instead, the show merely revealed that Carroll's people had the warden's daughter kidnapped and forced him to facilitate an escape.  It was far too easy.  Given how resourceful Carroll had been up to that point, I don't buy that there weren't double or triple redundant security procedures.

Time and time again, Carroll's plans only seem to succeed because the good guys are stupid and the bad guys have the deck stacked in their favor.  It's too easy for the cult, so no victory feels earned.  Instead, it's contrived.

The show needs to reign in the bouts of pretension.  One of this week's final scenes was so overwrought that it was ridiculous.  A cult member believes he's failed Carroll, so he hands Joe a blade and essentially puts his life in Joe's hands. And well, observe....

There's a lot I could say about this scene.  However, I'm a big fan of Williamson's other work, so I'll reign in the adjectives that would ensure I'll never get a meeting with the man.  I'll just say that I hope this was an anomaly.  Every writer has an off-day, no one bats a thousand.  I genuinely hope that this isn't a signpost of what to expect from the show.

There are still seven episodes left in this season and the show's already been picked up for season two.  I plan on sticking through the rest of this season at least, with my fingers crossed that the remaining episodes right the ship.  The Vampire Diaries got off to a rocky start in its first half-dozen episodes before finding its voice and improving in a major way.  I've still got faith that Williamson can work the same magic here.


  1. Excellent evisceration of a failed concept. The logline promised vast potential, but the execution of the story's cumulative details has been less than engaging. I'll add my voice to the echo chamber on a few points:

    1) There is a ton of territory to explore regarding the psychology of serial killers. However, no new angles have been explored thus far. Essentially, The Following is the Scream concept writ large: anyone could be the killer...suspect everyone! Isn't this crazy and fun? Maybe for 90 minutes every couple years, but stretched over the course of a season EVERY WEEK is a redundant and ridiculous exercise. The wink and smirk are gone. The mask has been removed and beneath it is a harmless skeleton.

    As you noted, we're missing essential investigative beats by the FBI, unless of course the big season 1 climax will reveal that Joe possesses a super-secret shadow army lurking within law enforcement, capable of manipulating data collection.

    2) Another thing to note (in the clip you included): most of these cult members are straight out of central casting. They're too clean, like clones awaiting their makeover. Sure, there's the occasional clean-cut Ted Bundy, but the majority of serial killers (and potential murderers) have serious issues and look...well, average. They are tortured and driven by deep dark demons -- volatile and diverse issues that Carroll should struggle to manipulate and control.

    In my opinion, Season 1 should have concluded with the formation of the cult, NOT begin with it in full marching order. Making it all so master-planny-easy-peasy has provided zero arc for Carroll.

  2. I agree with Snyder on the "straight outta central casting" comment.

    Time to reel this catfish into the boat. I suggest a mid-series genre change. Oh, the warden's daughter has been kidnapped? TWIST! SHE VICIOUSLY KILLS HER CAPTORS AND ESCAPES, BENT ON TAKING DOWN CARROLL HERSELF!


  3. Thanks for eviscerating the omnipotent enigma as villain that all too many screenwriters have fallen back onto these days. Another example is Abu Nazir in Homeland, but the show mitigates that blemish enough to stay somewhat compelling.

    Do you watch Homeland, Bitter? I'd be interested in your thoughts on how it has transpired so far.