Hollywood has frequently been accused of romanticizing violence, but few works have been so deliberate about doing so as Fox’s new series The Following. Awash in blood, gore, and allegories to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the series draws the connection between Poe’s gothic-romanticism and violence as a form of art. Whereas forensic procedurals like the CSI franchise delight in the science of death, The Following (Mondays 9:00 p.m. ET) relishes the romance of it. According to the show’s antagonist — writer/English Lit professor/serial killer Joe Carroll — Poe believed that “the eyes are a window to our identity.” Thus, Carroll adopted a calling card for the murders he conducted: he plucked his victims’ eyes out. While in prison, he recruited a cult of acolytes who adopted his belief that murder is a form of creative expression, a true higher calling.
It is ironic that, while we debate whether or not violence in art inspires violence in real life, Fox airs a show based on that exact premise. And on top of that, they make it exceedingly graphic, earning the February 4th episode the title of Worst TV Show of the Week for the carnage that aired, but — more importantly – for glorifying violence as an art form.
The show opens with a man in an Edgar Allan Poe mask dousing another man in gasoline and setting him ablaze. Later, we find out that the assailant – Rick, a member of Carroll’s cult — chose fire because he wasn’t good with a knife (Carroll’s weapon of choice), which apparently didn’t stop Rick from stabbing his wife, Maggie, after she asked for a divorce. She tells the investigators that he has been stalking her recently. While the authorities search for Rick, he visits the university dean who denied Carroll tenure and stabs him repeatedly. As the man breathes his last, Rick looks on with a curious, insensate gaze and tells him, “I never killed anyone with a knife before.” The scene suggests that Rick suddenly understands the beauty Carroll sees in stabbing his victims.
Meanwhile, three other cult members have kidnapped Carroll’s son Joey from Carroll’s ex-wife. But a brewing love triangle exposes deep fissures among the three, prompting the jilted member to prey upon a local shop clerk by seducing her, luring her to a secluded area, and then bashing her head repeatedly against a car door.
As the manhunt for Rick intensifies, a law-enforcement agent is assigned to guard Maggie. But it turns out that Maggie is also a member of the cult. She stabs the agent in the throat and flees. Blood spills all over the kitchen floor as more agents arrive on the scene. The agent slowly dies in a pool of his own blood. Outside, Rick is shot while trying to save his wife from being arrested. Rick dies, but Maggie manages to escape.
The episode ends with a chilling video sent to law enforcement from the kidnappers. In it, one of the kidnappers (Jacob) shows Carroll’s son Joey how to use a magnifying glass to kill a bug.
Joey: “Why do you want to kill a bug?”
Jacob: “Because we can. See, if you kill the bug and it dies, then your life means a little more.”
Next, Jacob instructs Joey to close the lid tightly on a jar containing a live mouse.
Joey: “But it’s gonna suffocate. It’ll die.”
Jacob: “Exactly…then you watch it go straight to heaven.”
Joey reluctantly complies.
Joey: “I’ve never killed anything before.”
Jacob: “We’re just getting started.”
The video ominously foreshadows the development of another sadistic serial killer. The scene also symbolizes a larger debate about the role of media in perpetuating a culture of violence. It would seem that the show has set up a powerful platform to make some kind of statement about art and violence, since the entire premise is based on the interplay of the two. But as television critic Tim Molloy, points out in his review from The Wrap, he’s not entirely optimistic: “It will be nice if The Following can say something about the effects of violent entertainment — or say something about anything, really — so that its fake bloodshed will serve some greater purpose than entertainment…There’s a concept there, yes, but it doesn’t really blow our minds. And that concept leaves us to wonder…Is that really all there is to it?”
For extreme violence, The Following, has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.
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