Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hannibal Lector Goes Meta

So Kevin Bacon is doing TV now and that's sadly the only reason people are checking out The Following. 'Cause it's a good show on just its non-Kevin Bacon aspects. For the most part...

The gist of it is that James Purefoy - of Marc "Kill and Fuck Everything!" Antony fame - is a deranged professor who not only turned serial killer, but has got himself a whole cult. Kevin Bacon is the haggard ex-Fed with a drinking problem who brought him down before and now has to do it again, even though Murder Antony is back behind bars.

That's just the first episode. Purefoy's character is one of those diabolical masterminds only ever encountered in fiction and each episode is Bacon and his Fed-pals trying to figure out his next move. It manages some nice suspense in the process without drifting too much into melodrama. Things even deviate from Purefoy's master plan enough to maintain a sense of realism.

Though the suspense and mystery is pretty thriller-by-numbers. What makes The Following stand out is that cult aspect - Purefoy's minions, even the lucid ones display a reverent obsession with him, not unlike the actual obsession people with no lives develop for high-profile monsters. The national fascination with serial killers is here taken to the extremes of literality, as Purefoy's fans become his eager helpers, doing his bidding while he twiddles his thumbs in jail and smirks at the FBI.

Where it falters is in how it frames Purefoy's madness. He venerates Edgar Allen Poe and all of Gothic Romanticism, styling his murders and rationalizations after Poe's writing. If you've been through a college level lit course on the subject, you're laughing your ass off right now. I like Poe and all, but he's nowhere near as unnerving as The Following gives him credit for - and he was one of the few lights in the whole corpus of gothic fiction that isn't either painfully melodramatic or unintentionally hilarious. The Castle of Otranto, the novel that signaled the birth of the gothic genre, begins with a giant helmet falling out of the sky and crushing some guy. Better not let Purefoy see any Looney Tunes or he'll start murdering people with anvils...

But that's admittedly a personal gripe and is overshadowed by the best thing about this show - it understands the importance of actual mystery. Purefoy's ultimate endgame is anyone's guess and each episode has more confederates bursting out of the closet to do something terrible and make Bacon start drinking again. It really taps into that vein of white hot paranoia in this country, along with how these conspirators have clearly confused great with ghastly. If you can get beyond the Lit 101 nonsense, it's not a bad way to spend a week night. It's a damn sight better than that mess Dexter...

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