Thoughts on The Following with Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy

Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy

At New York Comic Con last month, I watched the premiere of The Following, Fox’s serial killer drama starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy, which will premiere January 21st. It’s taken this long for me to make sense of how I felt about it.

There’s no question, it’s daring. It absolutely pushes the boundaries. My question is, do those boundaries really need pushing? And if they do, do they need pushing on network television in a weekly series?

You might think, given their usual roles, that Purefoy would be the cop and Bacon the killer, but the reverse is the case. Purefoy is the charming, professorial serial killer of 14 coeds, around whom an entire cult has formed—a “following” of other killers and killers-to-be eager to do his will—and Bacon is the former FBI agent who once put him in jail.

At the beginning of the pilot, Purefoy’s character, Joe Carroll, a former English professor obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, escapes from prison. Like Poe, he has work left unfinished. So Bacon’s character, Ryan Hardy, is called in to consult on recapturing him.

Bacon’s character is—at least in the pilot—no surprise. He’s a burned out, alcoholic ex-FBI agent hiding vodka in water bottles. *yawn* [Mild spoiler in white, highlight to read] I was not even surprised that he had had an affair with Purefoy’s character’s wife during the investigation.

Purefoy is charming and, well, hot. I mean, I can totally see how he could get the college girls to go home with him. When I originally heard about the series, my first thought was “James Purefoy once a week? Where do I sign up?”

James Purefoy

But after seeing the pilot, I’m just not so sure.

There’s a common expression among readers of thrillers used to describe scenes where the violence is gratuitous or extreme, scenes that are unnecessary to the plot or character development, scenes which serve little purpose but titillation of the reader: torture porn.

Stephen King said in Danse Macabre, his marvelous history of the horror genre,

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.

Torture porn lies somewhere between the final two. It horrifies us and grosses us out.

You’ll find torture porn on the big screen, too, and occasionally on cable. But very rarely on network television. Because what if people were just flipping channels and ran across that? They could cry foul, and deservedly so. So the gore here isn’t overly visual. When a woman who is one of “the following” [spoiler in white, highlight to see] stabs herself through the eye with an icepick, you don’t see blood or brain matter or anything. In fact, they seem to be fond of the “shock and cut to commercial” or “shock and cut scene.”

No, the disturbing aspect of this show is more problematic than that. We have plenty of serial killer shows. We have Criminal Minds and we have Dexter. But this is a horse of a different color. This is a show about a serial killer who trains other serial killers. In the pilot alone, we get to see how he works them up, one step at a time, from smaller crimes and killing animals to killing people. And yes, I do mean we see it.

Kevin Bacon

If the spoilers above bothered you, you might want to stop here, because without giving away a fairly complete scene, it’s impossible to discuss this.


Okay. I’m still putting the next paragraph in white. Then the discussion will follow.

Purefoy enlists the aid of a prison guard who has become one of the following. When Bacon et al descend on the guard’s house, they find missing pet posters from various places all over the house and a video of the guard playing with said missing pets. Then they find his kill room in the garage and a half-dead dog.

This is the kind of thing I mean. The implication—the posters and video—would have been enough. Anyone who knows anything at all about serial killers could have figured it out, and the cops could have discussed it. But instead of leaving it there, they had to go for the horror and then the gross-out…heading into torture-porn territory. The terror comes from not knowing who to trust, not from the blood and guts.

But even the torture porn doesn’t bother me all that much—it’s just bad writing. It will probably garner a lot of controversy because of the blood and guts, but that’s not what keeps niggling at me.

No, what really makes me wonder is the question of whether we really need a television show that shows us step-by-step about the creation of a cult of killers, which this one seems bound to do. Especially on network television.

And the answer is, I am still not sure. It could be elegantly done. It could be beautiful. Certainly there were moments of each. But over 15 shows per season? Well, we’ll see.

Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, N.Y., with her husband and two madcap Irish Terriers who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks. She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.

Read all posts by Laura K. Curtis on Criminal Element.


  1. ruth jones

    Highlighted the last paragraph and after reading this I definitely will not be watching this programme. Torture – porn is bad enough when it just involves humans, but to show animals in this way is just acting as an encouragement to any sicko out there. Totally gross.

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    See, that’s the thing. I feel like the show may cross a line that doesn’t really need to be crossed. I don’t think it should be censored, I just think it needs to have some kind of “warning” attached about the content and themes. Because it’s not just spatter—lots of folks can handle spatter, but can’t handle the kind of cruelty shown here.

  3. Mary Saputo

    That’s why I stopped watching Dexter. I don’t see the point in glorifying serial killers. I may watch once just to see Kevin Bacon “strut” across the screen, but I find that as I get older, even Criminal Minds has gotten too gory for me. There’s so much good on TV that watching something like this isn’t necessary. By the way, Laura, speaking of good – have you watched The Good Wife yet?

  4. Laura K. Curtis

    I haven’t watched The Good Wife! I hear good things about it, but it’s never made it to my list….

  5. Saundra Peck

    I did not read your spoilers, and as a retired police officer, I am sure the scenes will be watchable for me. I will give it a try, because I do love Kevin Bacon. But, as you say, I will have to decide if my sense of justice will be able to survive the premise of the show. Thanks for the insight!

  6. evan white

    I watched this and hated it. There is enough violence w/o adding this sadist content to evening TV. I’m totally disgusted!

    Will not watch and have erased it from my DishNetwork programs to record. I hope it fails. Miserably. Haven’t we had enough of this type of mindless violence w/o glamorizing it?

  7. evan white

    BTW, I totally agree with Ruth Jones. I’ve seen too much of this type of mistreatment of animals in my neighborhood.

    Bah on Fox! Bah on Bacon!

  8. gemma

    Totally agree with your post. I watched because am Kevin Bacon fan, first 2 episodes last nite and then had violent dreams of people getting stabbed, bloody etc.
    As viewers we are often attracted to the sensational, edgey programming, but forget we are actually being programmed by taking in these realistic impressions, and becoming more acclimated to violence in general, whether we approve of it or not. These impressions actually create neural pathways in our brains, and thus contribute to our world view and a collective consciousness overall. More suseptible, impressionable, less healthy minds are even perhaps more influenced by this downer programming. It’s like feeding our minds junk food or even poison.
    Yet another reminder to be more discriminating about what I let get into my head…as if, all the violence from wars, mass killings, etc going on weren’t enough.

  9. Laura K. Curtis

    Gemma –

    Reality IS grim, isn’t it? Makes you wonder why we keep going back for more in our fantasy….

  10. Gemma

    Right. I believe the fascination with cruelty and violence may be something of an addiction looking to get fed; or maybe it’s the psyche trying to jolt itself out of a zombie state with the shock-seeking.
    Torture of innocent animals, (children?), and women is soul sickness — not entertainment. We can demand better, we can refuse to engage with this mentality.

  11. Deborah Blanchard

    I absolutely love The Following! You never know what will happen next and who doesn’t love Kevin Bacon. For those who don’t believe stuff like this should be on television, it does state at the beginning and after every commercial that is is not for minors and is violent, so don’t watch it if you don’t want to. But this is what our world is really like, there are crazy psychos out there. This show will not help to create what already exists, monsters, next door, down the street, standing next to you, you will never know unless they make a move. So stop hiding your head in the sand and welcome to the real world, sometimes it is hell!

  12. evan white

    Why glorify it? I don’t have to have a program like this to know what reality is. You must be very, very young to find this any way close to being satisfying to watch. I’ve seen enough of broken bodies, bloodied bodies (human and animals)………to last for a lifetime…..maybe for you this is a novelty. For me, it’s just nausesous.

    Why not have a weekly show about the gas chambers and the skeletonized bodies of living prisoners of the Third Reich?

    I mean…….they existed. Why not a show about every person gassed, hung, beheaded, gutted……..the babies left out in the cold naked to see how long it took for them to die, or slowly starved to death to see how long it took. It happened.
    …………did you get the watch the video about the American (Daniel Pearl)having his head slowly sawed off by Islamists while he screamed until he died back in the early 2002? It’s on YouTube somewhere. You’d probably enjoy it. (No, I think it’s been erased)??

    When you’ve had enough and realize these were real people, maybe you’d like to bury your head in the sand.

  13. Deborah Blanchard

    For your information I am not young . I have 4 grandchildren. If you don’t want to watch it, then don’t. You’re on this site so you must read this stuff. Obviously people like to watch crime dramas, they keep on coming don’t they. I don’t have my head in the sand and its because of shows like these that I am much more cautious in life. I am sure I have wisdom enough and the freedom to watch what I want. If you don’t like it , turn off the tv. and I find it offensive that you think I would want to watch children die a-hole. I am 59 for your info, I’ ve been a victim but I choose not to live like one. Why are you even on this site?

  14. evan white

    I’m on this site b/c I get messages that someone has commented. Like this: A new comment has been posted on the article you’re watching. Read it at [url=]Thoughts on The Following with Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy[/url].

    My first post was to review it, since then I get emails every time someone answers. So will you once you’ve posted.

    I’ll repeat I’ve seen enough of this. I’m a counselor and I’ve seen too much of this type thing, including animals that have been butchered, rape survivors and their stories.

    I have 5 grandchildren BTW.

    I’m on this site to hopefully discourage people from creating such garbage……..b/c kids watch this whether or not their parents are aware of it, or even in the house. The “warnings” just bring them in.

    Are only people in favor of this program allowed to post? I think it said “reviews”…..not “raves”.

    Good day.

  15. Mary Saputo

    I don’t think you’ve read all the reviews, Evan, because certainly not all of them are raves. Mine isn’t for one and as a matter of fact, MOST of these reviews are not. BTW, if you don’t want to read any more, just log in, unclick the box you clicked to subscribe to this conversation and you’ll never get another.

  16. Deborah Blanchard

    BTW, I am a rape survivor, as well as a domestic abuse survivor. You are surely entitled to your opinion, as am I. I commend you for being a counselor and helping those in need. I agree, children and teens should not watch these types of shows. But it is what is is. Parents need to be more aware of what their children are seeing, that is their job. We are all entitled to our opinions. I duly respect yours. And anyone who harms an animal or human is a waste of the air we breathe. This is a show. I would never watch one in which actual humans or animals were being butchered. It is just a show I happen to like. I like crime shows and crime novels. I also like to read and watch other things. I hope people don’t think I’m crazy for liking a show, I try to understand why people do what they do and fiqure out “who did it” and what will happen next. I always root for the good guys not the bad . I apologize if anyone was offended because I like the show and the acting, it always keeps me guessing.

  17. Suzanne young

    I find this show to be irreprehensible and beyond debasing and disgusting! I am an open minded person who is truly a movie and cinema buff, but this just pushed the envelope way too far! I’m very surprised that someone like Kevin bacon would even stoop so low as to act in (mediocre acting by him as well), and support a piece of trash like this. Is he on drugs or drinking too much or what? I was living in Ellensburg wa. when Ted Bundy was frequenting the area in his little yellow volkswagon…I had the exact look he prefered….i walked around that college campus alone during that time……Ellensburg wa. was where the one and only girl that got away…… It could have been me!… I can’t imagine, or maybe i can, the abject horror those woman must have felt during the tortures, rapes and finally the killing! It’s incomprehensible to me that anyone would emulate serial killing and allow this crap on television during prime time hours! Criminal minds was bad enough and to this day i cannot watch the re-runs, but at least it was tasteful and had an essence of do gooding in it. FYI, i leave the room when the following (what a stupid name) comes on….this country has enough dark bi polar screwed up energy in right now…a show like this is the last thing I need, our children need, or anyone with any spirituality in their soul.

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