Do you watch “The Following,” the Kevin Bacon show about an Edgar Allen Poe-obsessed serial killer named Joe Carroll? No? Good for you. I do. And I can’t stop myself, even though it’s one of the worst, most unbelievably, faultily constructed shows out there. Briefly — SPOILER ALERT if you for some reason plan on Tivo-ing this season or something — the show follows ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy as he works with the FBI’s cult unit to track down a serial killer named Joe Carroll, who has started a murderous cult that worships Edgar Allen Poe. Carroll is out to be reunited with his son Joey and wife Claire, who totally hates his guts and is in love with Ryan Hardy. Naturally, Joe has some cult members kidnap Joey in order to lure Claire to his den of leather-bound books and sipping whiskey, and all this is clearly culminating in some kind of mass rampage.
There are only, like, four more episodes left, which THANK GOD, even though I dutifully turn it on every Monday night, grit my teeth and watch it. What’s my problem with “The Following”? I am up to my eyeballs in suspension of disbelief. I am happy to suspend my disbelief — this is TV after all — but my disbelief has suspended its disbelief. The show’s creators and writers took a very awesome thriller idea — an ex-FBI agent chasing a cult-crazed serial killer — and made it dumb. Here’s how.
1. The serial killer Joe Carroll Is obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. Okay, no offense to Poe fans. Poe is great. But is he great enough to inspire a mass-murdering cult? Doubtful. I feel like the show’s producers chose Poe because most people with even an 8th grade education know who he is. But it could have been so much better if they’d gone with someone a bit more actually disturbing, like Georges Bataille or Kafka or some nihilist philosopher. Poe is like the Cracker Barrel of creepy authors.
2. Kevin Bacon’s character Ryan Hardy is allowed to hang out with the FBI and has access to sensitive information even though he’s no longer in the FBI. Do you think the FBI would let a civilian in the inner-sanctum of a cult infiltration? Meet with a serial killer? Have a gun? Also, he’s continually charging forward, leading investigations, entering cult houses and confronting cult members despite not actually having any official capacity. And again, he has a gun.
3. The FBI Is continually being outwitted by a gaggle of lousy cult members. Cult members are pathetic, right? They’re followers. But somehow they keep slipping through the cold grasp of the FBI’s cult unit. The FBI can’t even figure out where the huge cult house is, despite it being a huge eyesore of mansion with perfectly manicured grounds. The FBI is a poorly managed gallimaufry of loose cannons: There’s like, one lady who gets computers, but the rest of them? I don’t know what they’re doing in the cult unit, but they really need to get their act together.
4. Speaking of those cult members… They all live in a beautifully appointed mansion in the middle of the woods that’s heavily stocked with whiskey and wine. There’s like, a hundred of them, and yet there’s been no mention of reports of missing people. Presumably, if a hundred people went missing someone would have noticed, right? Also, who does the grocery shopping? And with what money?
5. And oh yeah, those cult members are conveniently everywhere. How’s this for lazy writing? The cult members are everywhere. They pose as cops, members of the military, prison guards. Like, everything. So Ryan and the FBI are always being waylaid because they think they’re dealing with people on the up and up, but they’re actually consorting with cult members. Joe Carroll’s kid’s babysitter is a cult member, his wife’s next door neighbors were cult members (who pretended to be a gay couple for three years), even Ryan Hardy’s ex-girlfriend is a part of the Joe Carroll Experience. Anytime the action’s slowing down, the show introduces a new cult member or five. It’s endless amounts of fun! And those cult members have orders to kill themselves if captured? And they do?
6. In this universe, Ryan Hardy can be tracked with tracking sensors by the cult, but the FBI is unable to figure out the same technology to track cult members. In the most recent episode, the FBI were able to zero in on a cult member. They could have put a tracking device on his car and easily followed him to the cult house. But did they do that? Nooooo. Stupid FBI.
7. Joe Carroll’s lawyer is intimidated into helping him escape from prison. I guess a couple of his followers cut off a couple of her fingers at some point. Instead of reporting that to the cops and getting some police protection, she did the next logical thing, which is do whatever Joe tells her to do. If that includes reading veiled passages out of Poe books in press conferences, sure! Or help him escape from prison in her car, well of course! No problem Joe Carroll. Same goes for the prison warden who also assisted Joe’s escape. Yes, of course that would happen, because people that work in law enforcement never think to call law enforcement for help or anything.
Despite all of these horrible things about the show (and more!) I find myself obediently sitting down to watch it every Monday night. I know exactly how this stupid thing is going to play out, but I still persist in suffering through the episode. Maybe I’m mesmerized by Kevin Bacon’s non-eyebrows? Or the fine mahogany grain furniture the cult managed to buy at a fire sale? Or maybe it’s because I continue to hope that a show that has all the right ngredients — a deranged killer, a creepy cult, a dogged ex-FBI agent with a past — will coalesce into something I actually enjoy.