Like the masked man in the beginning of this week’s episode, “The Poet’s Diary”, The Following sets fire to doubts from any viewer that this series will simply fall into familiar television tropes of many series still on the air. Now three episodes in, Fox’s new midseason experiment shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s only getting better.
With one of Carroll’s followers in custody, Hardy and the rest of the FBI attempt to find out the location of Claire’s kidnapped son. But when a new follower makes his presence known through fire, Hardy puts the questioning on hold and seeks help from the follower’s ex-wife. As Hardy sees more of how Carroll’s teachings have left his followers emotionally broken, he begins to look back at his first meeting with his future nemesis. Meanwhile, Emma makes sure Paul knows who is in charge of Carroll’s plans, which results in Paul bringing home an unwelcome houseguest.
Outside of a familiar, yet unique serial killer storyline, it may have taken audiences a few weeks to specifically pinpoint what makes The Following a continuous must-watch. Fortunately, this week’s episode makes it absolutely clear why Kevin Williamson’s new series is too good for any DVR or delayed viewing.
In most series, where the actual seasonal story often appears as bookends to a typically unrelated tale, viewers are required to earn the satisfaction of a progressing story-arc through multiple viewings across many seasons, typically having to push through whatever episodic format the series has chosen to hide its compelling tale within. The Following, however, has stepped out of such familiarities to present a suspenseful, complex tale that’s driven by its own substantial narrative. In simpler terms: The Following provides more actual story in each episode than many shows do in a single season.
In this week’s episode, Hardy’s current investigation of Carroll was juxtaposed with glimpses of his initial interactions with Carroll all those years ago. Although brief, each flashback ends by making a point to show how, through all of this, Hardy has changed, both mentally and physically. Bacon’s performance, which was already exemplary, is strengthened even more by allowing the viewers to see for themselves what many other series would typically spell out through non-descript repetitive dialogue. (“Remember what happened last time?” is a common favorite.)
Carroll’s followers, too, receive the same masterful approach that Bacon, the series star, receives in the show’s storytelling. Each flashback reveals more and more about the true nature of those who have joined Carroll’s cause, often surprising viewers by continuously revealing the true depths of their dark ideals. Emma, Carroll’s perfect student, is much more terrifying than anyone – even those who have watched the show’s first two episodes – could have imagined.
The story, a tale of a fire-hungry follower and his compliant wife, is not merely an episodic tale but one of many chapters that continuously reveal itself, not taking away from the core story but adding it. In a sense, everything that happens on The Following conveys to audiences that this show, although a midseason replacement, is working with a well-laid, detailed plan. When other shows are discussing in the writer’s room what to do next – which could translate into many stagnate episodes – like when Lost’s Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof put the survivors in cages until ABC committed to ending the show – The Following undoubtedly knows where this complicated tale is going. Of course, we’ll need to wait until season 2 (or 3) to know for sure.
As The Following continues on its dark journey into the mind of Carroll and his followers, viewers will be able to see more of the long-term plans the series may have for itself and for its cast. But if the first three episodes is any sign of what’s to come – and it typically is – Kevin Bacon should warm up to the fact that, like Kiefer Sutherland, television has stolen him away from film – and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
The Following airs Mondays @9pm on Fox