The Following is the best show on television! Just kidding. April Fool’s Day!
I have written many times about TV’s worst show, The Following. It makes law enforcement look like bumbling idiots (thanks, real law enforcement does that quite enough on their own). It leads viewers to believe that the diabolical cult leaders/serial killers are geniuses – but they are not particularly smart either. They are just conscienceless and usually a step or two ahead of the law. And not even charismatic! Sometimes I ask myself if maybe I have been conditioned by too many police and legal procedurals and somehow imagine that investigations and catching bad guys is easier than it is. Maybe Kevin Bacon leading this team of FBI field operatives is exactly as murky as FBI investigations get. I don’t really know. But I know that it is not really entertainment, except for a self-torturer like myself, who watches weekly to find out what new level of stupidity and depravity the show will fall each time.
Kevin Bacon at his best…
The only remotely interesting part, which has been the case all along, is questioning how all these different people have been brainwashed to follow along with the cult of Joe Carroll – and now Carroll (the main baddie) is in prison, and the people pulling the strings … well, I don’t know where loyalty for those guys comes from. And the whole thing is scary in that you have to wonder how the world could possibly sustain this many psychopaths. The show constantly introduces new characters – hard to keep it all clear. It has taken the focus off “mastermind” Joe Carroll, who seems less crazy all the time given the cast of characters to appear since he exited the stage. (Michael Ealy is the latest, and it’s a pretty weird role for him. This is no Sleeper Cell.) There are a lot of echoes of far superior shows, such as Dexter and Hannibal, mixed in here, and even a tinge of the recent The Fall, in which Jamie Dornan is a serial murderer but also turns out to be a “normal family man”, like Ealy’s new character – but it’s like retreading old ground and treading water. Nothing remotely original here.
In light of viewing the recent HBO documentary on Scientology (Going Clear), I am not as inclined to doubt that insecurity and longing for belonging drive people into the arms of predatory cults and endow these followers with a sense of superiority (before stripping them down in the same way an abuser does with his abused). A cult around a serial killer is not really any different. Even in particularly gung-ho corporate environments, you get a lot of people who subsume their own identities and personalities and go beyond even “enthusiastic corporate cheerleader”.
I wrote earlier to a friend: “I wonder, being an antisocial non-joiner of anything myself, how people get so caught up in anything – whether it is a political party, a religious dogma, a corporation, a fraternity – whatever it is. And having this sense of self (as an antisocial, non-joiner) would I even be aware, or conscious, if I did join something? We have such powerful ideas about who we are that I wonder if we even see who we are.”
I find myself freaked out by things like crowds of people who start out applauding randomly and without any rhythm but end up clapping in a frightening group-mentality unison. It is not a big leap from there – people’s tendency toward sameness and wanting some kind of belonging and harmony – to see how people end up tethered to something insane through a combination of blind devotion and sheer lack of ability to think for themselves. Is that what compels people to watch and love The Following? That people fool themselves into thinking they are immune to brainwashing?
Forgive me in advance; this will be a sweepingly generalized observation. And it is a bit off topic, but I did think about the fact that the adults I knew as an adolescent – people like my parents and others their age (40ish middle-aged people) – always seemed to be on some kind of spiritual search. Some discovered religion, some New Age guru stuff (which hit a peak in the late 80s), some Scientology – but whatever they did or did not discover, I wonder if people of my own generation are as inclined to the midlife crisis and this hunt for greater meaning. All humans, I think, hunt for greater meaning, but I also feel there are generational components at work. The Baby Boomers seem to have invented the midlife crisis (maybe life in the western world was actually too difficult for these kinds of “identity crises” prior to the post-war generation – people were just busy with the business of surviving). My generation, the so-called Generation X, has never enjoyed a long period of success and prosperity (economically, societally), so we kind of just expect to make back-up plans for our real plans and just ride out whatever the outcome is. In that sense, as we are all in the throes of or entering middle age, we might yearn for some kind of connection, but I don’t see people en masse (and it might just be because there are fewer of us) looking for answers in an organized way.
Back to the point, though. I don’t know why The Following is popular or why it keeps being renewed. Was I poisoned by misguided expectations? My mother had been watching the first season and told me she found it “disturbing” and “chilling”. I expected to be somehow spellbound by this show, but it’s just stupid. By extension, I am stupid for continuing to watch.