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After months of promotion The Following finally premiered on FOX. As with most pilots the first episode of The Following, entitled “Pilot," made sure to set up as much backstory as an hour of TV can. “Pilot” tried to do a little too much in its first episode as it tried to find a balance between backstory, setting up the plot of shows to come, and trying to exist as a standalone and entertaining episode.
“Pilot” revolves around the events after Joe Carroll’s (James Purefoy, although he’ll always be Marc Antony to me), a world renowned serial killer, escape from prison. The FBI decides to bring in “retired” agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) to consult on Carroll’s escape as he was the agent who originally caught Carroll and sent him to prison. Carroll is described as a genius literature professor who, for some reason, decided to kill women and carve out their eyes one muscle at a time because of Edgar Allen Poe’s belief that eyes are windows to the soul. He has escaped to finish his “artwork” (despite never being explicitly told why he picked the number of victims, or in fact the particular victims) as his last victim escaped him due to Hardy’s intervening.
As the episode progresses the audience learns more about the alcoholic Hardy and his heart condition that has forced him to retire from the field, which he received at the hands of Carroll as he tried to stop Sarah, “the victim who got away,” from being killed. He clearly is not happy with how his life has turned out, despite writing a fairly popular book on his manhunt of Carroll. More significantly is Hardy’s past affair with Carroll’s ex-wife (although they were still married at the time) Claire.
As the episode unfolds Hardy and the crack FBI team begin to realize that Carroll is the epicenter of a cult. First a random woman who had visited Carroll multiple times while in jail kills herself in the lobby of the FBI headquarters with the writings of Poe scrawled all across her body. Then Hardy and company realize that Carroll escaped with the help of a guard, Raines, and as they investigate him they discover he has practiced killing animals and that Carroll has mentored him into continuing his killings. Lastly Hardy realizes that Sarah’s neighbors have also decided to become followers of the God-like Carroll as they sawed a hole in the closet between their two apartments, killed the guards, and then kidnapped Sarah for Carroll. It seems the show’s focus will shift to Carroll’s followers as Carroll himself antagonizes Hardy and the FBI from behind bars, as he has been recaptured by the end of “Pilot”. The Following, however, will need to make sure to delve into each follower’s motivation to gain a level of depth and intrigue.
“Pilot” seems much more important for the flashbacks than the actual plot the takes place in the episode. Randomly sprinkled throughout the episode are flashbacks from differing viewpoints that are meant to clue the viewer into some aspects of the original chase between Hardy and Carroll. These flashbacks are usually brought upon by the character staring at some object that reminds them of the previous events. And of course they are all exactly on topic of what is being discussed in the present day. One in particular where Sarah is reminded of being in Carroll’s class as Carroll is being described as charming and inspiring feels too easy. It is not clear whether the flashbacks will continue throughout the series, however, due to most of them not lasting longer than thirty seconds as well as their pointed nature. Perhaps the flashbacks will be weaved throughout the episode more smoothly as the show finds its feet because it would be interesting to see how Hardy detected Carroll in the first place.
Aside from the pacing problems, “Pilot” suffers from tonal confusion. At times it wants to be your typical detective drama. There’s lots of listing off facts from Carroll’s previous capture as well as general discussion of his tendencies and many unearned eureka moments. Hardy states many things as fact and the FBI team believes him without batting an eyelash. The tone of the “investigation” scenes is further muddled by the very prevalent melodramatic explosions that Hardy has. For some reason he feels he must yell his discovery at everyone around him, which then causes everyone to immediately rush to a location. When Hardy “discovers” that Raines, the prison guard, is the accomplice for Carroll’s escape (which can only be a hunch at this point) the entire FBI immediately rushes out to Raines’s house. Hardy’s melodramatic delivery for his discovery, which is meant to create more drama, is followed by everyone almost running off to a car that quickly pulls up to Raines’s house, which is meant to build the tension even more by creating a sense of false urgency.
The tonal confusion comes in when something “creepy” is happening on screen. It isn’t enough for Raines’s garage to be covered in pools of blood with dead animal corpses lying around, the show must also go for the cheap spook as a seemingly dead dog snaps alive to snarl and bark as Hardy approaches it. This happens throughout the episode as the tone constantly shifts and it becomes more jarring and feels cheap.
Perhaps it is the very nature of a pilot episode, the need to cram as much in as possible in order for the show to be picked up by a network for more episodes, that made “Pilot” feel so unbalanced. While “Pilot” had some major flaws the premise of The Following is very interesting and hopefully, once the show settles into what it will eventually become, it could become a very entertaining and well made show.