I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
It’s not often I’ll say this but The Following would probably have made a better film than tv show. The main issue is that it is an original, gripping, fantastic idea for a tv show up until the halfway point when they begin to change things. It’s not that it becomes a terrible tv show at this point, it just begins to fall into the same patterns we have seen countless times before, which is a shame because the beginning of the season is so brilliant.
If they had just stuck with the idea of a small group of people, inspired and instructed by an incarcerated serial killer, committing murders inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and the FBI’s attempts to stop them, this show would have maintained a fantastic level of quality. When this is the focus of the series, it’s an unpredictable, dark, twist and shock filled season with quality writing and an original concept.
Add to this the fact that it is cast brilliantly. The key to the series was always going to be who played the FBI agent and serial killer. Kevin Bacon has an underrated movie career. He won’t be at the top of many people’s “best actors” lists but when you look at his film work, he has actually starred in many quality movies (just sit through those awful EE cinema adverts as a key example). Casting him as the flawed hero of the story was a master stroke and adds even more quality to the already great story.
As usual, the Americans cast a British actor as the villain and they couldn’t have done a much better job with James Purefoy. He is very understated and calculated as Joe Carroll and doesn’t overplay the character, turning him into a caricature or a pantomime villain. Instead we get something much darker and more terrifying. His calm demeanor when others are breaking around him is a testament to Purefoy’s performance but also the great writing.
The writing is very bold too. It’s not afraid to be as dark as some of the R rated Hollywood serial killer movies. We get people burnt alive, gruesome stabbings and an ice pick in the eye. It’s all there to see on-screen and resembles Fincher’s Se7en in some of its best and darkest moments.
While Purefoy is “writing his book” with his and his followers actions, all from the safety of his prison cell, the show is a quality rollercoaster ride, never relenting or giving anything away. Unfortunately, halfway through the season, Purefoy is released and his plan becomes something larger. The show then resorts to a cat and mouse formula which we have seen many times before. Episode aafter episode becomes Bacon almost catching Purefoy and then failing at the last moment, or catching a new killer, finding out key information and setting up the same formula again. It’s still done brilliantly and is always very engaging but it loses the unique, shocking appeal that it had at the beginning.
I understand why they had to change the formula but maybe it would have been best to split the season. Have season one as one kind of case and season two as the other. At least then you wouldn’t have the quite jarring switch in style and direction that begins to make the final few episodes lack the quality and style of the season opening.
The season does end on a great cliffhanger. It shouldn’t be a cliffhanger though. The Following demonstrates a perfect, self-contained mini-series. It’s finished as a story and I can’t see how a second season would work. It does have a thread or two to resolve but they aren’t so big that I want a forced second season that would have to depart dramatically from this season to be anything close to new or original. I would happily leave The Following as a one season show.
Overall, The Following has a great central concept which works brilliantly for the first half of the season. Its played superbly by both Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy as our two protagonists and it’s just a shame that halfway through the season the story shifts and we get something much more generic and much less interesting.
Best Episode – Pilot: The opening sets the tone brilliantly and is such a great benchmark for the rest of the show to hit.
Best performance – James Purefoy as Joe Carroll
Should there be another season? – No, I can’t see where the season can go without losing what made it so unique and special in the first place. Leave it as a mini-series.
Season Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)