The Following, Episode 101 “Pilot”
Directed by Marcos Siega
Written by Kevin Williamson
Original Airdate: 21 January 2013
In Scream, writer Kevin Williamson created slasher characters that were self-aware and often built their own suspense and stuck to the rules of storytelling. It was inventive for its time, but produced diminishing returns in its sequels—the joke was already perfected. In the pilot to The Following, Williamson takes one more stab at this idea, but this time creates a madman who was in the past more literate with his murders, and who now wants to go “main-stream” and use a social network and Hollywood rules. In this pilot episode, not only are Screenwriting 101 terms like “protagonist,” “flawed hero,” and “inciting incident,” spoken gleefully, but so is modern internet vernacular. This popular serial killer doesn’t have “fans,” he has internet “friends.”
But first, we need the back-story, which is a lot. In fact, it’s more in line with Scream 2 than Scream, because these characters share a history of slayings and trauma which we missed out on entirely. Flashbacks are used heavily to compensate, but the gist is Detective Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) tracked down a serial killer for a long time, until he finally caught him mid-act on a college campus. While in pursuit, Hardy was stabbed as well, but at least he was able to save one victim. Years later, the killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), escapes from prison with the help of his serial killer network, but it is soon made clear he is intent on attending to unfinished business with Hardy. Basically, Carroll wants to use Hardy to write the greatest horror story ever told, and do it in blood.
Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if this series will be a meta-textual masterpiece, or if Carroll’s plan is a convenient tool to put the story on auto-pilot, driven by a maniac’s whims. The Following’s set-up has all it needs to recapture the tension and “smart-horror” of Scream for a television audience, but considering the cliché-laden hour, it seems unlikely. Between the opening shots of the empty vodka bottles in Hardy’s trashcan, the constant spelling out of exactly what is happening at all times, and the seemingly random picking of terms from the rolodex of detective investigation dialogue, there is nothing that feels as sharp as it did way back when Williamson first found his niche.
Even worse, from a character standpoint, Hardy and Carroll simply don’t feel like the powerhouses that they are presented as. A lot of their posturing rings falsely, and we are constantly told things about them, such as that Hardy doesn’t “get along with others,” without ever getting a chance to learn it for ourselves. Also, the Carroll-described “love interest,” Claire (Natalie Zea), is profoundly enigmatic, in a bad way. She is supposed to be Carroll’s ex-wife and also the object of affection for Hardy, but right now she is more believable as a walking sweater.
If the characters are fleshed out soon (maybe Claire can be revealed to also be one of Carroll’s followers), perhaps the show can prove its errors are more purposeful than messy. After all, Carroll notes to Hardy at the end of the episode that this was all but a prologue. Could the clichés have all been to disarm us? Hopefully Williamson and Carroll can prove to be true masterminds.
– Michael J Narkunski