The Following is a TV show that airs on FOX every Monday night after Bones, billed as a crime drama. The plot centers on Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a university English professor who took the trip to crazy town a decade ago, killing dozens of women in a tribute to his hero, Edgar Allan Poe. When the show starts, Carroll has long been convicted and is on death row; but unbeknownst to the FBI, he’s cultivated a group of followers through “special technology” (Twitter?) who are eager to carry out his evil schemes in exchange for a drop of his precious British approval. One of these followers breaks Carroll out of prison, prompting the FBI to call in Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the retired agent who caught Carroll the first time. Although Carroll is apprehended, his followers continue to wreak havoc by terrorizing Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), kidnapping his son, and killing more people.
One of the things that’s interesting about The Following is that all of the women in the show are bad news. Every. Single. One. You have Emma (Valorie Curry), a cute Follower with serious mommy issues who will literally cut you if you get in her way; Special Agent Parker (Annie Parisse), who is leading the investigation but seems to be feeding information to Carroll; and Maggie Kester, who at first seems like the abused victim of her husband, Rick, only to be revealed as another Follower.
What does all of this have to do with Poe? When women appear at all in Poe’s work, they’re usually dead: from The Black Cat to The Murder of Marie Rogêt, there are plenty of killings in Poe’s stories, and women are frequently the victims. Even when Poe writes about women who are meant to be idolized, as in Annabelle Lee, they are invariably dead. He once said that the most perfect poetry was about the death of beautiful women (he must have been awesome at relationships).
It makes a certain amount of sense, then, that Carroll’s serial killings focused on women, and that Ryan titled his book about Carroll “The Poetry of a Killer.” But none of that applies to the current events in The Following, where both men and women are killed with regularity and the women are often driving the men to violence. These women are not passive victims, but dangerous femme fatales who undermine the male characters’ masculinity. Emma doesn’t just boss the two men who live and sleep with her around; she convinces them to live as a gay couple. For all intents and purposes, they become homosexual because of the force she exerts upon them. Furthermore, she makes them kiss in front of her for her and the viewing audience’s amusement, sexually objectifying them in a way that’s usually exclusive to women. Awkward. Maggie, another Follower, forces her husband to stab her and lie about it to the police, all to carry out Carroll’s plans.
The only woman who doesn’t fall into this group of psycho bitches is Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire. Even if she’s not crazy, though, Claire is guilty of having an affair with the man who put Carroll away–Ryan–and separating Carroll from the physical manifestation of his virility, his son. All of Carroll’s schemes in The Following are focused on deriving some sort of revenge upon Claire for those actions, demonstrating an overriding need to reassert his masculinity. But he’s not the only character affected by his relationship with Claire–Ryan, a washed-up former FBI agent with Issues, seems to have been ruined, both career-wise and emotionally, more through his association with Claire than in his pursuit of Carroll. She might not be unhinged, but she is definitely bad news.
The Following is a show that at first appears to be a thriller, but the true tension in the story derives from the struggle of Carroll and Ryan to regain their masculinity. Like in a fairy tale, the women on The Following are monsters or temptations pulling the men folk away from their goal. Although The Following may depict violence against men and women in equal measure, the truly dangerous characters are all women. So while it doesn’t glorify violence against women, it definitely argues that a fear of women is more than justified.