The Following – Chapter Two
The early reaction to this show was as polarized as I’ve seen for a pilot in quite some time; critics either adored or abhorred it and all felt that this extremity of emotion would be commonplace when it aired to the public. Serial Killers and the crime/thriller procedurals produced around them are almost as safe a bet for TV as Charlie Sheen but I’ve never really warmed to any of the In Cold Blood wannabes that made their way on air, nor to much of the modern day ‘horror’ that they took their inspiration from. On the other hand though I liked a lot of the names behind and in front of the camera; Williamson and Bacon the big two.
So I was ready to be swung straight to one side when I saw the show, I just didn’t know which one it would be. I watched the pilot and and felt neither of those emotions, there was a lot I didn’t care for but some seeds of interest were planted, especially by the final confrontation, and Bacon was brilliant. I was torn, so I thought that I should wait at least a week before I made any real judgement, before I wrote anything resembling a review. Here we are, episode two watched and weighted and honestly, I’m still not sure how I feel about the show.
Firstly I have to say that the show’s critics are correct in calling it out for its needless and repetitive slaughter; murder is most interesting when it is unexpected and so having one every second seen takes the sheen off somewhat. When we know too far in advance what will happen, to whom and exactly how the shock is taken out of the scare and thus it stops being a visceral scene and starts playing out on an intellectual level; the gut and not the brain is where such simple, schlocky horror hits hardest. So far the show has occasionally resembled horror movies more than say the second season of American Horror Story ever did but it’s failed completely in scaring me and I think that this is the primary reason why. When your plot doesn’t demand it, why force a murder or seven every week? Why not wait until one really works and just use it then?
Why? Because the audience is bloodthirsty, because some people like to see the stuff spill and they don’t much mind the foggy philosophy or faulty phenomenology behind it; or at least the network executives behind the show seem to think so. I don’t, however, necessarily agree completely with what has been said about the show’s own blood-lust though. If we are to believe that there is no message being conveyed here, no larger point to be made then the show is perhaps the most dangerous to ever air, one able and actively aiming to recruit a murderous cult of its own.
I say this because to me there is quite clearly some intention to the ways that the show disturbs its viewer and this is especially true during this second episode. Now that the concept has been cemented and the characters established – at least, for as long as this batch live – we were given a little more time to spend with each of them and when we did what struck me most was where the show’s sympathies lay. Besides Bacon, who is both he lead and the best actor on the show, it is the disciples that most demand our empathy: we are made to care about their conflicts, experience their suffering and feel what they feel. This is fine when it is simply smothering that we share, but how about when it is the vindication of slicing away the smotherer?
The show exacerbates this issue by casting a crop of young Williamson-esque actors for the main three disciples featured thus far; if you were flicking through the channels quickly at times you would be excused for thinking that this was a Vampire Diaries like soap opera. Young people have always had a place in slashers, as the victims and the heroes; here though the tables have turned and they are the killers, though not necessarily the villains. They are bright and beautiful, their scenes sexy and exciting and sure they kill people but their side is still made to look much more appealing than the cragged and cold bureaucracy of the CIA. Storytelling tricks aside the simple fact that one side is younger will do a lot to bend younger viewers towards it.
The sensationalists will say that this is the glorification of violence, that it is inexcusable and a danger. To me though it seems too strong a seduction to be in any way accidental, the show is purposefully making the point that this cult is charismatic, it is slowly luring us in so that we can almost understand why these people fell for the same trap. To my mind Kevin Bacon’s best film by far is The Woodsman in which he played a convicted pedophile; despite its brilliance that’s not a movie that you can share with many people for the fear that they will view it as being similarly glorifying of his crimes. Though it is challenging the way that Woodsman humanizes rather than castrates its character makes it such a unique experience because we all enter with our own preconceived hates; you are torn between sympathy and disgust, it’s a litmus test for the extent of you empathy.
I hope that what Williamson is trying to achieve here is something similar, because there are still so few shows around that challenge in this way, but the schlock with which they surround the occasionally inspired character moments – two deep-cover cult members pretend to be a couple for the sake of the plan and one maybe starts to believe it, fascinating – and the inherently stunted structure that this interestingly meta-story has taken on do suggest otherwise. It would have been so much easier to make a simple slasher TV show if that is all the writers had wanted. So although they may not be executing it as well as I would like – this isn’t a great nor even a good show on the simple excitement level yet -I do think that they are trying for something interesting and hope that they can give some solid proof of that before I get bored and wander off to something more worthwhile.