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TV That Matters: Cult ‘Following’ hardly worth the weekly commitment

By John Thomas Columnist

While I’m sure it isn’t the only platform where this is the case, Tumblr has a seemingly endless supply of Charlie Manson maniacs and fans of just about every serial killer. They hail not only from the dawn of the United States of America, but the dawn of civilization itself. Their morbid curiosity generally doesn’t quite repulse me, but it sure is off-putting.

The whole idea of celebrating the idiosyncrasies of evil, of real, flesh-and-blood evil, seems like a form of social profiteering. It’s as if these serial-killer fandoms consciously chose one of the most sordid and vile topics as the centerpiece for a significant chunk of their friendships. The Fox drama “The Following,” now in its second season, exploits that dark curiosity in regards to the topic of serial killers employed in a more conventional type of profiteering.

“The Following” is nonsensical in the most boring way possible. While I’m not a weekly devotee of the program this season, I did see most of the first, and I read a few recaps to get me up to speed for this episode, yet even with a relatively hardy sense of its world I found myself constantly asking “what exactly are these psychopathic dullards following?”

I understand the who – Joe Carroll, a middling author cult leader – but I still cannot for the life of me find a reasonable explanation as to why most of his followers are following him. The writers have two go-to answers – rough home lives or a simple case of the batshit crazies.

Yet neither of these explanations are ever explored or expanded upon in a meaningfully dramatic or zanily interesting way. As such, most of these murderers seem out of place, a characteristic that could be the source for some reliable dramatic tension and interesting questions about the nature of evil, but I promise you it is not.

If this particular episode was about anything, it was about how even serial killers have varying degrees of decency. I don’t think that this theme really comes off as intended by the writers, but more of as a byproduct of a vain attempt to give some dimension to a supporting cast so dull, yet so disgusting that they are cartoonish, they need a little bit of dimension.

The conversation between Lily, a psychopath who looks to be trying to make a play for Carroll’s cult, and Emma, one of Carroll’s earliest devotee’s, reads like a wiki article. It lists the various qualities of the characters, rather than offering any intriguing dialogue that progress the story forward in any meaningful way. This dialogue as wiki entry problem comes up again and again throughout the episode.

This expository style of writing sometimes works, like in say, “Game of Thrones,” but for it to work it has to take place in an intriguing setting; and if “The Following” lacks one thing, it’s an interesting setting.

See, it seems that the makers of this show have just as facile an interest in their subject matter as serial killer fandoms on Tumblr. They like the blood, the creepy grins and the acutely abnormal backstories, but like a scene kid looking for a few more notes, they really aren’t interested in what any of it means. That’s a damn shame, because even though “The Following” is a bunch of superficial nonsense, it’s at least the shade of something interesting.

 

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