Image credit: Sarah Shatz/Fox
Be careful little eyes what you see... Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) gazes into the abyss in search for the secrets of Joe Carroll's evil in The Following.
Hardy sprinted up the lighthouse steps, taxing his mechanically-assisted heart. The screams lured him to a the tower vault, where Carroll ambushed him with a 2 x 4 to the head. “Hello, Ryan,” said the villain, who proceeded to bash him some more. “I was curious to see how your heart was holding up. I see it has its limits.”
“Where is she?” Hardy asked.
“You know, the human eye is connected by several muscles,” said Carroll with a smug grin. “I removed each one individually. You know how hard that is to do?” Hardy heard Sarah’s screams again – and realized that they were coming from a digital tape recorder in Carroll’s hand. Hardy was too late. Carroll cut a rope, and down came Sarah’s lifeless body, dangling from the feet, bloody holes where the eyes used to be.
Hardy rushed Carroll. He grabbed the monster by the throat and began to squeeze. “I would like to turn myself in,’ croaked Carroll. “I surrender! I surrender!” But Hardy kept squeezing. Would he have killed him? The question remained unanswered as agents Mason, Reilly and Weston entered the room. Reilly pulled Hardy away. Carroll dropped to his knees, put his hands behind his head, and smiled.
Aftermath. Weston reported that Carroll had produced 47 websites and tens of thousands of blogs, chatrooms and the like. Worse, Weston said three bodies with gouged eyes has been found in Seattle, Boston, and New York (all infamous real world serial killer locales). The psychotic Joe Carroll Subculture sounded as vast as the current field of serial killer pop, and growing larger by the day.
Carroll demanded to speak one more time with Hardy. The agents still needed to get Carroll to spill his master plan, so Hardy indulged the monster. Even chained to the table and floor, Carroll commanded the room with menacing charisma and knowing airs. He declared Hardy “a disappointment.” He ridiculed Hardy's book as "true crime drivel." (How dare Hardy degrade Carroll's artistry with crappy recapping!) When Hardy characterized Carroll’s followers as a “cult,” Carroll blanched (“I’m not a big fan of that word”) and instead called them “my friends.” He teased Hardy by diagnosing him – correctly – as being friendless, and got us to jump when he lunged forward with a rattle of the chains and said, with a tone so arch it seemed to come back all the way around to sincerity: “I will be your friend!” (Beat.) “Even though you slept with my wife.” I do look forward to seeing how The Following is going to deal with what could one of the creepier love triangles TV has given us in awhile.
As Carroll chased after Hardy’s goat, we began to hear the musical cue that opened the show: “Sweet Dreams” by Marilyn Manson, a po-mo goth rocker with name swiped from another serial killer cultist. And as Carroll began to reveal the true significance of killing Sarah Fuller, The Following went full metal meta. Carroll didn't murder The Victim Who Got Away just to complete an unfinished saga. Sara's death was the start of a new one.
“I thought I'd make it more traditional this time. Hero versus villain, good versus evil. I need a strong protagonist so the reader can truly invest in a flawed broken man in search of redemption. And that is YOU,” Carroll told Hardy. “You are my flawed hero. I insured that by killing Sarah. She was the inciting incident. The hero’s call to action!” It was if Carroll was analyzing the very pilot we were watching through the prism of Joseph Campbell monomyth. I wondered if there was a copy of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey stashed in Carroll’s cell, too. “This is the beginning,” said Carroll. “That’s the entire point of Sarah’s death. It was for you.”
And, of course, us.
Something I found interesting about Carroll's story pitch was his seemingly dismissive regard for it. His previous crimes were (in his mad view) attempts at producing high art, the kind of transcendental, naturalistic ecstatic experience that the Romantic chased after. His murders were meaningful. But he claimed he had no such pretensions this time around. He wanted to go mainstream. He wanted a large audience. A massive following. "Even Poe whored himself out by the end," Carroll cracked. Again, it all felt very self-referencing. His sell-out defeatism was as intriguing as it was dispiriting. Will The Following itself live up -- or down -- to Carroll's meager vision? Or does it harbored a stranger, deeper ambition?
Whatever. Hardy wasn’t amused. He blew his stack and got in Carroll’s face and began breaking the psycho’s fingers. “If this book ends with anything else but you’re death,” said Hardy, “you better plan on a rewrite.” Rimshot! FINGER CRACK! Carroll screamed.
But Carroll had the upper hand, nonetheless. For at that moment, Carroll wannabe Jordan Raines was about to collect his first set of eyeballs by murdering a sorority house full of co-eds. Also at that moment, Carrol’s ex-wife Claire was suddenly realizing that Little Joey was nowhere to be found. For also at that moment, another Carroll acolyte -- Denise, Joey’s babysitter – was driving the boy to Will and Billy.
Carroll told Hardy he wanted to see Claire. “This is just the beginning,” said Carroll as the guards dragged him away to the infirmary, leaving Hardy to fume and fret. “It’s going to be a classic! it will be our masterpiece!’ And with that, the first chapter in this strange and sick and surprisingly compelling serial came to a close. My mind percolates with theories: I suspect Carroll's endgame is all about corrupting Hardy into a killer, or maybe framing him for crimes to come, which would lead to the role reversal of season 2, in which Hardy goes on the run and Carroll helps the FBI catch him. I also wonder what's going to happen if one of Carroll's wannabes becomes the student that surpasses the master. Perhaps The Following's biggest big bad is still to come. I'm clearly engaged. Are you? Will you be following? The message board is yours.