When I first read about The Following roughly a year ago I was immediately intrigued. The show was described as revolving around a burned out former FBI agent trying to stop a cult of serial killers. Those of you that have read your fair share of conspiracy literature are of course aware that such a premise (a cult of serial killers, that is) has been making the rounds for years.
Such a notion first gained widespread exposure with the publication of Ed Sanders' 1971 work The Family, an account of Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders. Sanders' take was much different than other early accounts of Manson and his cult. Sanders alleged that the Manson Family was part of a broader cult network that originated with an outfit known as the Process Church of Final Judgment. In 1987 Maury Terry expanded upon this notion with the publication of The Ultimate Evil. In this work Terry argued that the cult that had spawned the Manson Family, which he dubbed "The Children," was also behind the Son of Sam murders that terrorized New York City from 1976 till 1977 in addition to other ritualistic murders across the nation.
Thus far fictional depictions of the serial killer cult hypothesis have been few and far between, with a few notable exceptions. For instance two legendary slasher franchises, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both incorporated plot lines revolving around their central villains being involved in cults. These plot lines occurred in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (the cult angle was first introduced but not explored in the fifth Halloween film, however) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Both films were made in the mid-90s (1995 and 1994, respectively, though Next Generation wasn't released widely until 1997) when neither franchise, or horror films in general, were doing especially well. Hence both films were largely only seen by dedicated fanboys of either series for years.
Easily the most notable appearance of the serial killer cult in fiction was in the Chris Carter created and produced series Millennium. The series had hinted at such a notion throughout its run but it wasn't until season three, when the show's cancellation was all but assured, that it really began to explore the concept. I've already written extensively on Millennium and its use of the serial killer cult as a plot device so I will not further elaborate here. The articles on Millennium can be found here, here, and here for those interested.
But back to The Following. As intrigued as I was by the premise I was tempted to write the project often from the get go due to the involvement of Kevin Williamson, who created the series and will presumably serve as the chief writer. Williamson, the screenwriter for all of the Scream films except the third and creator of Dawson's Creek, is probably more responsible than any other individual for the total teenybopper-ization of the horror gerne that occurred in the late 1990s. Beyond that, virtually everything he's done outside of the original Scream and The Faculty has sucked.
But then the casting was announced and I once again found my curiosity perked. While the casting of Kevin Bacon as the former FBI agent was solid it was the involvement of James Purefoy that really sold me. He was absolutely stellar in Rome, turning in what is perhaps the definitive portrayal of Mark Antony. The involvement of both Bacon and Purefoy seemed to signal, if nothing else, that The Following would not be the typical teenybopper fare that Williamson has made a career off of.
|Purefoy as Antony|
When the world premiere of The Following finally rolled around on January 21, 2013, I was not disappointed. Only two episodes in, it is obviously far too early to attempt an in-depth analysis. But there is one striking aspect of the show that I believe can be considered at this early date, namely the series' use of Edgar Allen Poe.
The cult that Dr. Joe Carroll (Purefoy) creates is totally based around Poe and his work. The character of Carroll is himself obsessed with Poe. He is intially an English literature professor who attempts a novel based upon one of Poe's final works that is a commercial failure. Undeterred and firmly believing in the "insanity of art" Carroll becomes a highly charismatic serial killer in the mold of Hannibal Lecter, an obvious inspiration.
After eviscerating 14 students from the college where he taught Carroll was eventually captured by Ryan Hardy (Bacon) and incarcerated. As the series opens Carroll has managed to escape with the help of a prison guard and a burned out Hardy is called in by the FBI to assist in the manhunt. Shortly after joining the investigation Hardy realizes that Carroll has created some kind of cult and that it is using the writings of Edgar Allen Poe as inspiration. Even after Carroll is recaptured (at the end of the first episode) he is still able to terrorize Hardy and others via his cult and the killings continue.
|Hardy (Bacon) discovers Poe masks worn by the cult during their rituals|
That Poe and his work is such a central part of The Following's storyline is most curious. Poe, his occult-laced work, and mysterious death have long fascinated conspiracy researchers. Rogue historian Peter Levenda, for instance, interpreted Poe's work as being strongly anti-Masonic.
"In 1846, a magazine --Godey's Lady's Book -- published one of Edgar Allen Poe's most memorable short stories. It involved the character Montresor (a man with a grudge) and his archenemy Fortunato. Montresor, for reasons that are never fully described, has planned the murder of Fortunato during Carnival. Forunato shows up dressed as a harlequin, and Montresor takes into his family's ancestral vaults under the pretense of tasting some Amontilladohe has just purchased. As they descend deeper and deeper underground, passing skeleton spilling out of their coffins and niter dripping from the walls, Fortunato asks Montresor for proof that he is a Mason. Montresor replies by pulling out a trowel.
"It is the trowel that Montresor we used to wall up Fortunato alive in his vaults.
"The story is a tightly written description of one man's insane, murderous jealousy of another. The fact that it contains a reference to Freemasonry is usually glossed over without much attention given to it; it is, after all, merely an excuse for Montresor to pull out his trowel. There are, however, deeper elements at work in the story and they reveal something about how Freemasonry was understood in the mid-nineteenth century in America...
"The murder of Fortunato takes place in a crypt. The burial place is a central theme of the third-degree Masonic initiation, and tracing boards for that degree normally show a coffin surmounted by a skull and crossbones, and other mortuary devices. To that degree the tale of Hiram Abiff's murder is retold in the initiate is made to identify with the master. He is ceremonially slain, and laid in a symbolic representation of a grave before he is raised again and brought into the community of Master Masons.
"In Poe's story, the entire journey of Fortunato and Montresor takes place in the burial vaults. After descending a 'winding staircase' they come to the catacombs and proceed through room after room of the dead. Three walls of the vault are intact, piled high with coffins and their skeletal remains. The fourth wall has crumbled, and skeltons spill out. Beneath the rubble are the building materials that Montresor has hidden, directly in front of the small niche between two 'colossal supports' big enough for man.
"The winding staircases is a Masonic emblem of the second degree, that of the Fellow Craft. It represents the midway point between the lower chamber and the upper chamber of King Solomon's Temple. Instead of going up the staircase, however, which is the route taken in the second-degree initiation, Fortunato is made to go down the staircase. He is then brought before a small chamber between two pillars, where he will be walled in, still alive, by the mason's (Montresor's) trowel.
"What Poe has done is create an anti-Masonic allegory. He has reversed the normal initiatory process by taking the Mason --Fortunato, in this case --down a winding staircase instead of up, and through a catacombs to face two pillars, the two pillars of the first-degree ritual. He is walled up between the pillars: Montresor employees the 'operative' form of Masonry to this task, laying brick upon brick for a total of eleven layers. The harlequin is chained inside, and dies of asphyxiation. In a final sadist gesture, Montresor throws his burning torch into the walled enclosure with Fortunato before sealing him up with the final brick: this will cause the air in the small chamber to be used up much more quickly. Instead of the symbolic resurrection of Hiram Abiff in the third-degree ritual, we have the rather more permanent demise of Fortunato the Mason, surrounded on all sides by the coffins and skeletons that are emblematic of that initiation. Montresor kills Fortunato using Masonic symbolism. Seen from this perspective, 'The Cask of Amontillado' becomes a clever anti-Masonic tract."
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pgs. 183-186)
|a scene from "The Cask of Amontillado"|
Michael A. Hoffman, the highly controversial "revisionist historian," agrees with Levenda's interpretation of Poe.
"Edgar Allen Poe, who the professors of stupidity in the schools present as a mere author of 'horror and suspense' tales, was a radical-traditionalist philosopher: anti-modern, anti-Jewish, anti-masonic. In his philosophical treastie Eureka, the self-taught physicist and astronomer, wrote of the universe with profound awe and reverence. Where the Kabbalist saw the celestial sphere as technology to be mimicked, tampered with and surpassed, Poe taught that the meaning of the cosmos was beauty. He depicts the universe as above all, an aesthetic object. Contradicting occult dogma concerning the alleged mandate for man to intervene to 'perfect' creation, Poe wrote, 'The plots of God are perfect. The universe is a plot of God.'"
(Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare, Michael A. Hoffman II, pg. 121)
Hoffman has also apparently speculated that Poe's death was some type of Masonic ritual murder. That Hoffman is such a champion of Poe I find rather curious. By all accounts Poe had quite an interest in the occult and altered states of consciousness, having experimented with hypnagogia, somnambulism, dreams and mesmerism. During these ventures into interspace he apparently became convinced that some type of mysteous matter permeated the universe.
"This unparticled matter is hidden to our usual senses, but can be glimpsed in half-dream states and mesmeric trances. Strangely, the notion of a kind of matter unperceivable by our normal senses, and within which other kinds of beings exist, will resurface in the work of Lord Lytton, Eliphas Levi and Guy de Maupassant. Poe's report from beyond was so convincing that a Swedenborgian group wrote to him, informing him that they could corroborate his findings. Poe somewhat peevishly inform them that, 'The story is pure fiction from beginning to end.' Yet he was at pains to argue that the vision of his longer work Eureka, basically an elaboration of what we find here, was true. Po's self-division ran deeply, yet even if we are left unimpressed by his account of an unparticled omnipresent divine substance, the remarkable prescience exhibited in Eureka is enough to suggest that hypnagogic states and mesmeric trances can afford insight into some unusual aspects of reality. Poe expected much of Eureka, believing it would establish him as an important metaphysical thinker. The book was a flop, yet within its florid pages, Poe predicts black holes, the expanding universe, curved space, galactic clusters, the discovery of a new asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, as well as other cosmological notions like the anthropic principal, unthought of at the time of writing. Critics had no idea what to make of it, and given Poe's reputation as a drunkard and drug-taker, it is unsurprising that they relegated his metaphysical flights to the same category as pink elephants. Their ignorant shattered Poe."
(A Dark Muse, Gary Lachman, pgs. 87-88)
It will certainly be interesting to see if The Following incorporates any of Poe's more metaphysical notions as the series progresses.
Before wrapping things up I would also like to briefly consider Mr. Hoffman's take on the character of Hannibal Lecter. Hoffman has portrayed Lecter as a kind of antihero at war with the Masonic cryptocracy.
"In history, Hannibal was the outsider and military genius who was a big headache to the Roman Empire. Lecter means a sacred reader, a reciter of holy writ, of temple liturgy.
"So he's part of the priesthood, but which priesthood? Psychiatrists are all priests but Lecter uses his knowledge of psychiatry to defeat the psychiatrist. Just like he outsmarts the masonic initiates in the FBI serial murder dept. who are in fact the ones who are behind serial murder...
"Silence of the Lambs sends the message that the Cryptocracy's initiates are not invincible."
(Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare, Michael A. Hoffman II, pgs. 133-134)
Taken in this context the symbolism of The Following becomes all the more curious. Given that Poe's work has strong traces of anti-masonry in it is Carroll's cult meant to be perceived as in opposition to the cryptocracy? Is it waging some kind of covert war against them using their own methods? Or, by contrast, is The Following meant to be a mockery of Poe's work by the cryptocracy?
It's tempting to lean towards the former, especially with Williamson as the chief creative force behind the series. But then again, the complex symbolism and historical context that Poe's work brings to the table is something I would've thought to have been beyond Williamson's capabilities. And indeed, it may well be a coincidence. But it is a highly synchronistic one, which is reason enough for me to see the show out to the end of its first season at the very least.