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A show worth 'Following'

If you’re looking for a smart, scary new TV drama that will twist your mind and drop your jaw, you need to check out FOX’s The Following. The show centers on retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), an over-the-hill alcoholic who is recalled to duty when serial murderer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) escapes from prison. Agent Hardy has extensive knowledge of Carroll’s psychological makeup and modus operandi, since the agent was responsible for apprehending the killer during his initial spree — a murderous rampage during which Carroll killed 14 girls at the fictional Winslow University. So far this sounds like another run-of-the-mill crime and investigation show, but this time around FOX is aiming for a slightly savvier viewer — Carroll’s career as a literature professor apparently led him to fixate on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and the dark romanticism of stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Black Cat” feature prominently in his criminal works.

Carroll picked young, beautiful women as his victims and found a twisted sense of poetry and symmetry in brutally murdering them. He even cut out his victims’ eyes as an homage to Poe and his frequent use of the eyes as symbols. Carroll’s love of the macabre and obsession with death is not diminished by his capture and imprisonment. In fact, while he is in jail, he uses his charisma and intelligence to spread his ideas through a network of vulnerable, impressionable people. He exerts a cult-like influence over these “followers,” many of whom he has used to infiltrate the everyday lives of his future targets and past enemies. Eventually he masterminds an escape — the pilot episode opens with a chilling scene in which the convict drives calmly away from the Virginia State Penitentiary, leaving behind a grisly crime scene with at least five slaughtered prison guards.

Now that Carroll is out of jail, he is hell-bent on exacting his revenge on Hardy and finishing what he started before he was locked up. In an effort to complete his work, while also messing with Hardy’s mind, the murderer begins by tracking down his last victim, the only girl who escaped alive.

Hardy has to try and get back inside the mind of the psychopath in order to prevent Carroll from completing the sequel to his saga of madness and murder. Complicating everything even further are Carroll’s loyal following of minions, the next generation of agents assigned to the recapture of Carroll, and the fact Hardy had an affair with Carroll’s ex-wife while he was in jail.

What makes The Following a show sure to generate its namesake are the twists and turns, the moments of gripping suspense, the stomach-turning violence and the hair-raising pathology of a highly cunning, charismatic killer. Tune in Monday nights at 9 p.m. to find out what Carroll’s following will do next.