'The Following' premiere recap: Did Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy earn your loyal following?

james-purefoy-kevin-bacon-the-following.jpgAfter months of anticipation and an extraordinary viral marketing campaign, Kevin Williamson's serial killer thriller "The Following" debuted on Monday night on FOX. The dark, haunting drama brings Kevin Bacon to the small screen in his first television role, as former FBI agent Ryan Hardy. He's an alcoholic, a loner, and an expert on serial killer and cult leader Joe Carroll ( James Purefoy).

Former lit professor Carroll, on death row for murdering 14 college women nearly a decade ago, has used his considerable charm and seductive charisma to prey on some weak, disturbed individuals and create his own network of devoted killers outside the prison walls.

In the pilot episode, Carroll escapes just long enough to finish the job he began nine years ago, before Hardy caught him. His idol, Edgar Allan Poe, never finished his final work, but Carroll is intent on besting him. With the help of "Billy" and "Will", two men who have been posing for years as a trustworthy gay couple, Carroll reunites with Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace), the only victim he injured, but didn't slaughter in his Winslow bloodbath.

He finishes the job, gruesomely carving out her eyes and stringing her up to display for Hardy when Hardy finally catches up to him. It's an unnerving, relentlessly creepy sequence directed by EP Marcos Siega, whose expertise casts a distinctive shadow over the entire series. Then, in perhaps the most surprising twist, Carroll happily surrenders to Hardy. He's already committed the inciting crime, setting in motion a calculated, chilling plan to be exacted by his loyal and deranged followers.

In addition to the "gay couple" -- actually named Paul (Adan Canto) and Jacob (Nico Tortorella) -- Carroll has seduced Emma (Valorie Curry). In a display of how deep his power runs, Carroll has planted her in the home of his ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea) as his young son Joey's beloved and trusted nanny.

"The Following's" greatest success is Bacon as the tormented but brilliant Hardy, whose obsession with destroying Carroll is only furthered by his powerful connection to Claire. In an upcoming episode, we'll discover that Carroll's massacre is hardly Hardy's first tango with the devil. He's been plagued by death all his life, which is what makes him the perfect opponent for Carroll, and the perfect wounded hero for Carroll's grand homage to Poe.

"Kevin Bacon helped create some of Ryan's backstory, actually," Williamson tells us. "I'm kind of a doom-and-gloom guy, and I do believe that this guy has this death curse. Everyone he's loved -- his mother, his father, his brother are dead. It just goes on. He's surrounded by death,, and he carries the weight of all of that."

kevin-bacon-the-following-pilot-fox.jpgIn a way, though, Hardy's "curse" is his greatest strength. "It makes him fearless," says Williamson. "He can walk into a room of serial killers and not worry if he walks out, because he just wants to save one life. It's what gives him his need to save lives. He's really sick, and sad. He's never going to be happy, ever. But if he can save you, then you might have the opportunity to go be happy."

Of course, that's what made Carroll's inciting incident so inspired. "That was Sarah Fuller, for Ryan. She was the one thing he did right. He saved her. She'd gone on to medical school. She had a good life. She was his one thing. Joe Carroll took that, and he lit a fire under Ryan once again."

"The Following" is a cautionary tale about the seductive power of violence, and, later, about the violent nature of seduction. It pushes boundaries with sadism, it pushes boundaries with sex, and it certainly defies what we've come to expect from a broadcast network in a 9 p.m. timeslot. There's no denying that the show isn't for the faint of heart -- which is a rather faithful Poe allegory in and of itself. 

Will you continue to tune in to "The Following"? What did you like (or dislike) about the first episode of this daring, addictive new series? Vote in our poll and then make sure to add your two cents in the comments section below. Stay tuned to Zap2it for more news, interviews, and plenty of scoop from the people behind "The Following."
Photo/Video credit: FOX
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