THE RECAP (SPOILERS!)
The show opens with a few chords of Marilyn Manson's remake of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)," a song about survival and existentialism that sounds sinisterly nihilistic when performed by Manson. The action starts with a prison guard who shuts and locks a door and finds his way to a locker room, where he begins to change. Another guard bids the prison guard good night. Our prison guard doesn't turn around. As our prison guard walks to a van, two guards walk into a security room and find four dead and bloody guards. Our guard gets into the van and drives through the prison gates as Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams (of You)," a song about unrequited love, plays on the radio. That's right we just watched Joe Carroll, our maestro serial killer, played by James Purefoy, escape.
As former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon, rolls out of bed, he receives and ignores a phone call. He chugs down a bottle of water and tosses it into the trash where we see a few empty bottles of vodka. (Seems someone is self-medicating.) Ryan catches the news of Carroll's escape on the TV and answers the phone. Det. Franklin of the FBI needs his assistance. No one knows Carroll like Hardy does. Before Carroll takes off to help we get a good look at his chest and pacemaker in the shower. After getting dressed, he fills another water bottle with vodka and off he goes. (Seems someone has a serious problem.)
A marshal from the Norfolk Police Department greets Sarah Fuller, Carroll's last victim, who became a doctor and lives in Norfolk. Fuller flashes back to the day she took the stand against Carroll. She tells the prosecutor how she pushed the knife deeper inside in order to bleed out. She just wanted it all to be over. (So much for that idea.) In the present, Fuller is comforted by her gay neighbor. (Yes, it matters that he's gay.) He tells her his partner is on the way.
Agents Mason and Reilly escort Hardy to case headquarters. The three discuss how, based on his book, Hardy's presence may raise some eyebrows. Hardy asks to speak to Fuller. "Perhaps latter when we're not trying to find a serial killer," Mason responds. (Is it me, or does that quip not only come off as arrogant but stupid as well? Shouldn't Mason be interested in whomever Hardy mentions? Despite his rep, he does have some background here.) The three run into Deputy Marshall Scott Turner, who remembers Hardy and isn't too happy to see him.
Agent Mason takes Hardy to Carroll's jail cell. The camera pans across the room and lingers for a second too long on a painting of a lighthouse on the wall. (Call it foreshadowing. It feels more like a blatant tell.) Hardy finds his own book, "The Poetry of a Killer," and a note from Carroll inside. Basically, Carroll tells Hardy he enjoyed the book and wonders if he'd like a sequel. (Um. No.) Hardy asks about Claire Matthews, Carroll's ex-wife. Mason is resistant. Mason and Hardy have words about his reputation once again. (We have to establish that Hardy doesn't play by the rules, once again.) Transition to Claire's house. Claire requests a meeting with Hardy. Flashback to 2002 and Claire telling Carroll she's pregnant. Next, we meet her son Joey and his short-haired nanny Denise, who apologizes for not being able keep him from running to Claire. He asks Claire why he can't watch TV. "It's dad, isn't it?" (Perceptive little boy, no?)
Hardy enters case headquarters, where agent Mike Weston (whom I liken to Jimmy Olsen) is giving a profile of Joe Carroll. Hardy has been told to stay under the radar, but Weston, who proves to be a big fan, challenges him by under-categorizing Carroll as a picquerist, a killer who gets off on stabbing people. This is when we get to hear all about how Carroll loves Edgar Allan Poe, especially his ideas on beauty, insanity and art, which is all related to "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," and why Carroll loves to remove his victims' eyes. We also learn - via Mike - that Hardy left the FBI on disability. Carroll stabbed him in the heart. (Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Did I mention "The Tell-Tale Heart"?)
All the while a bunch of women are gathering in the lobby of the building for questioning. Turns out, a lot of the 112 people to visit Carroll during his time in prison were women. One of whom stands up, removes her clothes - revealing cursive writing all over her body - and pulls a
knife ice pick from her purse. Hardy tries to talk off the cliff to which we all see her headed. Instead, she repeats Edgar Allan Poe's last words and stabs herself in the eye... which lead Hardy to talk a hard tug from his bottle of "water."
Sarah rings Hardy. He promises her that nothing will happen to her. (A promise we that feels like a death sentence - even Sarah doesn't seem to believe it.) Sarah's gay neighbors comfort her by pointing out the single good-looking cop in the corner. Sarah remembers sitting in Carroll's class and feeling all proud of herself for answer his questions about death and beauty properly. Little did she know.
Hardy and the team figure out prison guard Jordan "Jordy" Raines helped Carroll escape. They immediately take off for his home address, where they find lost-dog posters all over his fridge and a tortured dog in his garage. Carroll was teaching him how to be a serial killer. (Creep.)
Back in Norfolk, Sarah excuses herself to lay down. While studying her scares, we flashback to the night in 2003 when Carroll first kills her roommate, Annie. Just as Carroll drops Annie, a policeman startles Sarah from her dream.
Hardy finally goes to talk to Claire. Before speaking to her, he runs into her son Joey and his nanny. The boy doesn't remember Hardy, but Hardy remembers him. He also remembers the first time he met Claire. In another flashback (Be patient. We have a lot to cover in this pilot.) Hardy meets Claire. She tells him that the murders sound like Poe stories and that he should talk to her husband. The two flirt a little at the mention of her husband. Back to the present, Claire comes out to talk to Hardy. Agent Mason tries to keep her from talking to him alone, but Claire insists.
In private, Claire shares a letter that arrived from Carroll a week prior to his escape. She wonders if Carroll "knows." He's guessing, says Hardy. Anyway. Hardy apologizes for not calling for eight years and, basically, says it was him not her. "I do better in people's pasts." The two talk about Carroll's novel, "The Gothic Sea," which is an attempt to finish Poe's last unfinished novel, "The Lighthouse." From here, Hardy deduces that Carroll is off to finish his unfinished business. And we're off to Sarah's house.
At Sarah's home Hardy finds a dead cop in her bed and blood leading to a secret hole between her closet wall and her gay neighbors' closet. Hardy follows the trail to the neighbors' garage, where we find another dead cop and the words "Nevermore" written in blood on the wall. Turns out, Will Wilson and Billy Thomas weren't gay after all. They have been living next door to Sarah Fuller for Joe Carroll's sake. As Hardy deduces all this, he flips out. To which Deputy Marshall Scott Turner responds, "I knew you'd show up eventually." (Again, with establishing how off-the-range Hardy must be.)
Back in the neighbors' house, Hardy notices a photo of Will and Billy at "The Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast." Hardy searches the location on his phone and takes off... alone. Shortly after he enters the huge, broken-down, dilapidated home, he hears Sarah Fuller screaming. He doesn't have gun but her proceeds. He runs up a flight of stairs and his heart starts its "Tell-Tale Heart" thumping. He enters what looks like the lighthouse of the house and Carroll attacks him. There's a fight, but Hardy goes down.
Lucky for Hardy, Carroll feels like bragging. He talks about how difficult it is to sever the seven muscles of the eye. He calls Sarah a fighter and reveals a digital recorder with a recording of her screams, which he calls "little souvenirs." (I feel like I'm supposed to shiver or really begin to hate Carroll at this point, which I do. Good job, storytellers!) At this point, Hardy gets a burst of adrenaline and attacks Carroll, who yells "I surrender." Hardy ignores Carroll's pleas until back up shows up.
Back in prison, Hardy insists on talking to Carroll. Carroll has quite a bit of fun toying with Hardy by calling him a disappointment and talking about how "Sarah had to die." Turns out, this is just the beginning of Carroll's sequel to his flop of a book, and he's decided Hardy has to be the flawed hero. Hardy asks if Carroll plans to pull this off with his followers. Carroll corrects Hardy and calls them "friends." "I'll be your friend, Hardy, even though you slept with my wife."
This is about the time we segue to Claire coming to the realization that her son and her nanny are missing. Then we segue to Denise driving away with Joey. Eventually, she meets up with Will and Billy. (Hardy wasn't crazy!)
Carroll hints to all this with Hardy in prison. This sets Hardy off. He begins to beat Carroll. As the guards pull Carroll away, Carroll tells Hardy to call Claire, call Claire. Then, we see Hardy's agonized face and hear his "Tell-Tale Heart" heart beating, once again, into the closing credits.
A lot of this story felt familiar. The idea of a troubled cop, an angry serial killer and an unfinished murder isn't new. The plot also felt a little rushed in an effort to establish the back story and motive and propel us into the chase. Still, the telling - along with its transitions and flashbacks - was pretty smooth. I especially enjoyed the literary motif with Edgar Allan Poe. They could have found a more obscure author, but, then, maybe it's the mass appeal of Poe that works here. Given the Manson family and other mass murders and suicides throughout history, I don't find a serial-killer cult too far fetched. I do find it hard to believe that he could manipulate and control his followers without having more direct contact with them on a daily basis. Visits to prison don't count.
I'm really glad to see Kevin Bacon again. His emotionally tortured alcoholic cop act is pretty good. The scene where he flips out felt somewhat underplayed, but, boy, is Bacon good at portraying his character's suffering. James Purefoy makes for quite a charismatic villain. I found myself wishing I could have taken his class.
Regardless of it's flaws, I enjoyed this first episode. I have to say I was most disappointed not to get to see the Poe mask that appeared in the show's promos.
By the way, the next three episodes, I'm not as sold on as the pilot, but I'm waiting for their original air date to see if I'll feel any differently.
SPEAKING OF THAT CREEPY POE MASK
You may have noticed those creepy Edgar Allan Poe masks featured in the promo didn't show up during the pilot episode. Not to worry. They'll make their entrance in the next episode. If you think the masks are a bit corny, that'll be addressed in an upcoming episode as well.
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So did I miss anything in the recap?
Did you find "The Following" corny or thrilling?
'The Following': Lost in Norfolk <-- Denise Watson takes a look at how much of the show's debut was actually set in Norfolk. Not much, it seems.
Deb Markham, HamptonRoads.com