Posted by: Garret | September 27, 2014

No Guts, No Glory: The Rise of Gross-Out TV

The Strain's "banned" billboard, courtesy of 20th Century Fox & Rolling Stone

The Strain’s “banned” billboard, courtesy of 20th Century Fox & Rolling Stone

We are definitively seeing this merger between B-movie aesthetics and High Definition spectacle on Television or Televisual Programming and it communicates a number of implications regarding the medium being utilized, the industry-in-transition, the shifting economics, improving technologies, audience taste, and perhaps most unnerving the allegorical ramifications such content suggests. In a handful of works, I’ve teased the introduction of the “Rotten Aesthetic” as a newfound genre convention explicitly endorsed in/by the television industry. Indeed, like all good genre, this aesthetic comprises fluent mixtures of ‘imitation and innovation’ (Cawelti, 1977, Kaminsky, 1985, Alman, 1999, & Phillips, 2005). As I’ve been drawing research on this specific phenomenon within the contemporary mediascape since 2010, the practice represents not a flighty wave but a legitimate narrative entanglement between the TV Studies tiers of Industry-Audience-Content-Context. I look forward to sharing more depth and detail at the National Communication Association 100th Annual Convention in Chicago, November 20-23, 2014 (specifically the morning of the 23rd). In the meantime, we’ll all keep watching and waiting for the next shock to set-in and/or wear off.


This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Maybe you started to notice it last March, when AMC’s The Walking Dead featured a zombie’s head gets bashed in repeatedly by the butt of a machine gun. Perhaps it was during a key episode of Game of Thrones when the Red Viper, Oberyn Martell, unwisely lets his guard down in a fight — and the result is something that resembles a ripe melon given the Gallagher treatment. Or it could have been the moment on FX’s pandemic procedural-cum-horror show The Strain when an airport worker is drained of blood and skull-pummeled until there’s nothing left but a red blotch of punctuation on the floor.

And those are just the heads.

On television shows built for old-fashioned scares (NBC’s Hannibal, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful) and on those aiming for a little more prestige (Steven Soderbergh’s new Cinemax series The Knick, HBO’s

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Variety cover, courtesy of

Variety cover, courtesy of

Brilliant write-up on the backside of success in relation to [cable] TV’s current creative boon and industry production epoch. I agree that the TV glut is both a phenomenon to behold and a growing problematic. I’ve suggested the “global temporialism” in a couple of upcoming publications and will address the issue more with the Media Ecology Division during November’s National Communication Association 100th Annual Convention in Chicago. On the one hand, there is a venerability of rich and engaging textuality under development and in continuation on cable. Yet the overwhelming content glut creates a current that drowns audiences in their own pleasures. I personally had to abandon multiple promising cable dramas this summer under the stress of DVR storage limitations and the encroachment of ‘TV everything’ on everyday life. To be sure, this is a new and compelling phenomenon that researchers in a variety of fields should address with urgency from manifold perspectives.

Reboot syndrome is symptomatic and problematic. It evokes some of the worst tendencies that industrial Hollywood capitalism can produce. Arguably it may come to represent a form of pseudo-fascist fascination with nostalgic recreation exploitation. Yet maybe sometimes you just gotta let artists be artists and see what happens. At least with Ridley Scott, you have an artist with iconic visual style that knows how to develop, produce, and complete projects within flawed industry schemas. If anything, Scott’s propensity to tinker with his work post-production suggests an artist intent on digital brushstrokes that complement his lifelong artistic if not philosophical, ideological, and perhaps theological epistemologies. More power to ideas and idea-makers, I will always look forward to the flawed output of forward thinkers.

Summer 2014 is an ambitious season for cable channel FX. In addition to a followup season for the border noir The Bridge, FX launches two distinctly FXian dramas in Tyrant and The StrainTyrant in some ways reflects the long-gestating interests into character shades within Arab and Arab-American culture by 24 and Homeland co-creator and co-producer Howard Gordon. Gordon works alongside fellow co-writer/co-producer, and creator of Homeland‘s Israeli counterpart Prisoners of War, Gideon Raff. It is clear from the outside Tyrant posits both writers’ penchant toward “gritty” realism in a kind of post-globalist way (since the term post-9/11 seemingly resonates with less and less cultural impression each passing year).

Howard Gordon (Right) and Gideon Raff (Left) accepting Outstanding Dramatic Series Emmys for "Homeland", courtesy of

Howard Gordon (Right) and Gideon Raff (Left) accepting Outstanding Dramatic Series Emmys for “Homeland”


Adam Rayner stars as Barry Al Fayeed, the half-White, half-Arab second son of a Middle Eastern Dictator to the fictitious country of “Abbudin”. Barry works as a California pediatrician that has both migrated and integrated into American life, including an independent (if not wholly underdeveloped) wife Molly (played as a kind of American signifier via Jennifer Finnegan’s unmistakably sunshine beach hair and lean athletic appearance) and two children Sammy and Emma. The family vacations to Barry’s homeland for the first time in twenty years (hence a first for everyone except Barry). The newness in scenery and foreign cultural experience experienced by Barry’s family functions as a stand-in reflection for American audiences. In other words, the pilot’s introductory template must perform certain narrative rituals to maximize broad audience identification despite FX’s tight-noosed masculine brand. These perfunctory steps mask the pilot’s thinly veiled premise of the prodigal half-son come home to accept/reject his fascist birthright.


Barry's American Family Arrive But Are Immediately Positioned in the Background in Favor of Barry and brother Jamal's Hyper-Masculine Foreground. Pic courtesy of

Barry’s American Family Arrive But Are Immediately Positioned in the Background in Favor of Barry and brother Jamal’s Hyper-Masculine Foreground. Pic courtesy of


If the half-white man’s burden is not uneasy to the casual viewer, FX’s stylistic misogynist mise en scene abrasively reminds viewers of real-world gender politics that plague both the foreign world of the characters and the newish role of women as objects in FX’s short historical canon. As a dramatic character introduction, Barry’s elder brother Jamal (and oligarchy heir) is first introduced in a horrifying scene in which he rapes a woman from behind in her bedroom while guards watch her husband and two young children from their home’s foyer. The sexual sounds of Jamal’s piggish grunting echo throughout the foyer as the youngest son sits in his papa’s lap. The entirety of the scene is emotionally shattering and only the first of three separate occurrences in the pilot where Jamal sexually abuses women (and viewers). Critics have recently voiced concerns regarding increasing uses of rape story lines on TV as a dramatic trope that arguably abuses the narrative instead of heightening it, favoring uncomfortable depiction over victim representation.


Jamal's nefarious death stare.

Jamal’s nefarious death stare.

Jamal is a composite character unfortunately drawn from a number of real-world sons-of-dictators. His   ruthlessness stems from an abusive father, hyper-privilege, and a culture bathed in unchecked hegemonic   patriarchy. In one scene Jamal literally stops traffic in the city to provide Barry’s family uninterrupted passage from their private air travel to the family palace. Jamal spins around in a hot red sports car, and the brothers dress in Italian suits (again signifiers of enabling Western democracies) rather than robes and turbans. Jamal interrupts his own son’s bachelor party–a semi-homoeroitc men-only gathering inside a bathe house–and nearly beats to death a relative of someone who threatens the wedding. Barry intercedes if only to supply his pseudo-democratic nonviolence method (which fails when attempted in episode 2). Barry’s actions arguably save the victim’s life (as well as his family) but the long-term effects remain open. At the wedding party, after Jamal ceremoniously fires a clip full of rounds into the palace ceiling, he invites himself into the bride room. There he threatens his future daughter-in-law after witnessing her talking to another man at the wedding party. Jamal then asks “how many suitors” she has had prior to his son. When the bride pleads “none” Jamal forces himself on her from behind, and uses his middle finger to pluck her hymen to be certain. The disturbed male agency of this scene all too soon introduces thoughts of difference versus repetition. Jamal’s habitual abuse is no less disturbing and grossly promises FX’s (male?) viewers more indecency to come if they continue tuning in.

Jamal (far right) and his accentuated wife Leila (middle) keep up appearances as per social requirement (pic courtesy

Jamal (far right) and his accentuated wife Leila (middle) keep up appearances as per social requirement (pic courtesy

A third and final sexual assault scene transpires in the pilot’s climactic moments after the sudden passing of Barry and Jamal’s dictator father. Jamal flees the hospital in a relenting rampage. He twice slaps his attractive and perhaps psychologically traumatized wife in front of family and then flees in his sports car. In the next scene, a woman veiled in black accompanies Jamal’s ego-tragic joyride. Jamal gropes himself chauvinistically and then forces his wife to perform oral sex while he speeds dangerously around narrow hillside curves. In this case the third time’s the charm as Jamal’s wife bites his crotch and causes the hot rod to fly off the guardrail and down the mountainside. Her momentary agency does nothing to remedy the atrocities that beset all women in Jamal’s path prior, and the clear indication of his antagonistic role does not bode well for the future of female characters either. [This says nothing of Barry’s own “unleash the beast” moments in both his physical reaction to a disobedient son and the pilot’s “shocking” tell-tale flashback at episode’s end.] Thus in these terms, FX’s Tyrant fulfills its own provocation toward tyranny as well as a sense of self-entitlement to treat its characters as it will in the name of authenticity of cultural norms.

With the absence of the "O" filled by the horseman's headlessness, this 'absence' featured on the Title/Teaser poster for  Sleepy Hollow riffs a twist on the popular marketing technique of calligraphy.

With the absence of the “O” filled by the horseman’s headlessness, this ‘absence’ featured on the Title/Teaser poster for Sleepy Hollow riffs a twist on the popular marketing technique of calligraphy.

This October Kitsch King conjures in the Fall season with a focus on eerie entertainments.  With this entry, I take a step back a couple of weeks to examine the interior/exterior production conglomeration that constitutes Fox’s latest genre gamble, the gothic literary adaptation of Washington Irving’s Sleepy HollowSleepy Hollow opens in “Hudson Valley, New York 1781”, where a slow-motion blue filter drenched steady cam POV Revolutionary War flashback opens. In the trenches, a bearded man with long hair faces down a masked man with enormous stature. The larger man, a Redcoat, appears to have whitened eyes. He delivers a fatal blow across the bearded individual’s chest, but as he raises his sword for the deathblow, the bearded revolutionary swings his sword and beheads the Redcoat with a single sweep. They both collapse into the mud and grime as the scene ends. The next scene incorporates film lens’ that warp shots inside of a cavernous realm. A body unearths itself from a muddy grave as glass jars holding snakes and frogs shatters untouched. The bearded man emerges from this muddy tomb. He takes to the surface where he finds a roadway. Yet this roadway is foreign as suddenly a modern semi and car both swerve by the bearded revolutionary, signifying a temporal shift and the man’s now fatalistic avoidance of death.

An early 'Book of Revelations' easter egg teases Sleepy Hollow as the residence base of the biblical apocalypse.

An early ‘Book of Revelations’ easter egg teases Sleepy Hollow as the residence base of the biblical apocalypse.

A crow lands atop a street sign as the camera frame pulls outward and upward to show a road sign that reads, “Village of Sleepy Hollow Population 144,000”. The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” plays over an aerial sequence overhead the quiet Sleepy Hollow terrain. The infamous lyrics “Please allow me to introduce myself” function as a meta-reference to the time-shifting immortality saga in the San Francisco skyline ending to Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire (1992) Hollow’s quintessential “village” is modernized and quaint-ified by a café sequence featuring an aging Sheriff and his young female deputy. They sit reading newspapers over cups of coffee, apple pie, and French fries. Genre-exhaustive character actor Clancy Brown plays Sheriff August Corbin, but actress Nicole Beharie’s Deputy Abbie Mills soon takes center stage.

Clancy Brown

Clancy Brown

[Footnote: Clancy is notorious for his other headless role as the sword-wielding immortal villain opposite Christopher Lambert in Highlander. Brown also features an iconic deep voice that led to a career in animation work and the role of Lex Luthor in DC Comic’s various 1990s and 2000s animated TV series and feature films. Brown also played the demonic pastor in HBO’s short-lived Carnivale as well as a bit role in a couple of Lost’s superior episodes. The scene where the sheriff leaves the café even acknowledges Carnivale as Brown’s character nods at a priest, the role he formerly assumed, inside of the café, a timeless American location featured in apocalyptic visions on Carnivale, on his way out the door.]

The conceptualization [and soon centralization] of Sleepy Hollow‘s Black female deputy communicates on the outside an implausible disillusion of race representation, perhaps more rare than common; an issue that avoids the real-life conflicts that remain all too tragically familiar in America. One might contend that the effort at gender and racial diversification, like the show, veers into the supernatural. Yet I might argue this intentional casting assists a small legacy of change that while growing marginally often remains unnoticed. Thus, the casting choice visualizes Black female presence in law enforcement as a little-known fact and not as a ‘hollow’ PC gesture.

Here Orci and Kurtzman accept praise for their TV work on 'Fringe' while combatting criticism for the 'Transformers' and 'Star Trek' sequels.

Here Orci and Kurtzman accept praise for their TV work on ‘Fringe’ while combatting criticism for the ‘Transformers’ and ‘Star Trek’ sequels.

This is no surprise considering the show’s creator-executive producers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, two of the lead minds behind the post-9/11 zeitgeist of empty summer blockbuster sci-fi spectacles like the Transformers and Star Trek reboot franchises. Along with Lost alum Damon Lindelof, these writers comprise the new brat pack cabal of overpriced and oversaturated Hollywood hatchet script surgeons that both electrify and homogenize screenplays into formulaic genre hybrids. Yet like Lindelof, Orci and Kurtzman achieved this success through strong television work on shows like J.J. Abrams Alias and the beloved cult sci-fi caper Fringe. Thus, their return to TV might warrant a welcomed hand seeing as they exhibit a strong history in TV and perhaps their TV work omits their stranglehold toward creative output and contemporary Hollywood franchise fatigue. Or, perhaps Sleepy Hollow updates the latest rage in post-global transmedia popcorn genre splicing, a dangerous but often rewarding game that requires a literacy in media history to appreciate the combination and manipulation of intertextual links and associations.

The utopic racial diversification and genre canon cameos continues when another office shows up played by Harold and Kumar and Star Trek alum John Cho. Chow’s Deputy catches Ichabod Crane when he scrambles through mainstreet disillusioned and disoriented. Meanwhile, the Sheriff (Brown) meets an unfortunately early and tragic exit when he becomes the first modern casualty of the spectral resurrection of the now headless [Redcoat] horseman.

In police custody, Crane undergoes a polygraph where his interrogator asks if he has a “rational” understanding of how the headless horseman exists. The polygraph allows Crane the opportunity to explain his historical background and thus provide abbreviated context to both his contextual and literary origins. Deputy Abbie Mills suspects logic and rational thought when charged to escort Crane to a nearby mental institute. Abbie is affectively haunted by the death of her friend/mentor/partner and thus exercises her fears by rejecting scientific rationality in favor of mystical suspicion. Their car ride becomes complicated when Crane sees the minister from the café outside his parish. His sight triggers a flashback that places the same figure within the temporal frame of the Revolutionary war.

McGuffin props abound as the cavernous crypt engulfs its visitors

McGuffin props abound as the cavernous crypt engulfs its visitors

Crane and Abbie visit the crypt Crane emerged from where he finds a Bible marked by a passage from Revelation. The passage, according to Crane’s perspectival logic, signifies a sign of the apocalypse wherein the headless horseman rides the symbolic “white horse”. The use of a historical passage that transcends temporal logics performs an additional time-travel function that links past, present, future into a theological conspiracy theory. The underground mise en scene is moody and persuasive enough to seduce Abbie into further disobedience [for future episodes].

While mysticism and religious conspiracy overtake major themes, technology assumes the role of humor in Hollow. Technology provides the answer to Ichabod’s in-sanity with the polygraph as modern agents guffaw at Crane’s story. Then the car ride entrances Crane with experiential confection as he plays with the remote window like a cat. Once inside the crypt, Abbie offers Crane an LED flashlight that further baffles his formerly superior intelligence. These successfive scenes supplant audience-viewers with a kind of technological superiority over the protagonist but also injects a kind of childlike human agency or alienation which suggests viewers enact empathy so that this lost traveler might find a “normal” place in society. These tricks function to give the audience something to do other than judge the above average suspension of disbelief required to appreciate this revisionist narrative contraption.

Crane’s Biblical monologue fuses ideologies as he speaks of the Biblical revelation, the headless horseman myth, and General George Washington’s Revolutionary role as each tethered to the same atemporal fight for humanity’s existence. Meanwhile, the genre hybridity and conspiracy evocation pick up dramatically. The headless horseman (HH) rides onto the Church grounds. The priest [later referred to as “reverend” in a blatant reduction and distillation between Christian distinctions and sects] meets him in the exterior graveyard. The man of God chants Latin slogans, which then conjure chains that bind HH. But HH slices through them with his fire-tipped axe. The priest swears “not to tell” the location of some secret. But the HH is incapable of negotiation and swiftly beheads the religious representative. The film technique places the camera POV onto the head of the priest. As he loses his life, the “sight” of his perspective slides right and downward, turns vertical distance into horizontal, and slams onto the ground as the HH walks away. This production device places the audience into the action and ironically emphasizes their mortality [in the identification of characters] and immortality [as they continue to see after the priest would have perished].

More visual easter eggs as the horseman swings his fire-tipped axe across a nearby street sign.

More visual easter eggs as the horseman swings his fire-tipped axe across a nearby street sign.

At the crime scene, a investigating officer scolds Abbie for disobeying orders. Cho’s character also tells her to “back away” before she ruins her career. The raven that Ichabod first witnessed atop the Sleepy Hollow road sign reappears and leads him to specific grave. The grave belongs to his dead wife Katrina, and the tombstone caption suggests Katrina’s death resulted from a witch burning. Abby finds Ichabod and they engage a frank conversation with Ichabod where she rejects his request for help. Their conversation confronts the ideological debate between faith and reason the experiential evidence of what we see versus what science and logic tells us is generalizably possible. Abbie then escorts Ichabod to an institutionalized white cell. But instead of walking away from the case, Abbie returns to the Sheriff’s office to reminisce.  This is when chance intervenes and Abbie comes across a key behind one of Sheriff Corbin photographs. Yet it appears also a case of destiny as the key is hidden behind a picture of Abbie. She tests the key in various office locations before she finally slides it into a large safe. Inside the safe, an assortment of files investigating “occultism” phenomena emerges. In addition, Abby finds an audio recorder holding the Sheriff’s personal reflections on this secret investigation. The recorder brings Brown back to life in the technical from of acousmetre. The finding also provides Abby the otherwise absent support to pursue Ichabod’s claims. Sheriff Corbin’s recording also emphasizes conspiracy in his secret investigation and his lack of trust to share his findings.

Inside his cell, Katrina “visits” Ichabod through a vision. In this vision, Katrina confesses her status as witch within a secret coven order. Katrina then confesses even more convoluted mystical historicity upon the information Ichabod already beheld. These series bible conspiracy points include that Katrina’s body was never buried, that her gravesite contains the HH skull, that Ichabod and the HH “bloodlines merged” when he wounded the horseman during the Revolutionary War, thus linking them together. Katrina further reveals that the “awakened” Ichabod actually sought to conjure the HH. Furthermore, protecting the skull will prevent the “end of the world”, Ichabod is known as “The First Witness” and “the answers are in George Washington’s Bible”. Indeed, Sleepy Hollow transcends mere genre mixing to invoke larger American ideological combinations of myth, folklore, religion, politics, history, science, fate, destiny, horror, and conspiracy. While the aesthetics combine a weary combination of innovating POVs and clichéd network TV techniques, the production works hard to emphasize visual storytelling alongside the markedly overcomplicated convolution of information compacted into the pilot.

Does the inability to speak make this headless terminator more formidable than Arnold?

Does the inability to speak make this headless terminator more formidable than Arnold?

In the pilot’s final act, the action shifts from character introduction and plot convolution into a whiz-bang shootout the re-imagines the headless horseman as a headless terminator, complete with shotgun and automatic assault rifle destruction of tombstones, public property, and police cars. The only saving grace involves the sleepy hollow myth whereby the sunrise denotes the horseman’s immediate retreat. In a final scene, Ichabod reinforces his apocalyptic prophecy with the spin that he and Abbie represent the “two witnesses” of the Biblical tribulation. “Perhaps you were called to something, Abbie…Perhaps we both were.” In a final shocker, the demonic embodiment of death, a pale animalistic humanoid with ram horns on its head visits Cho’s corrupt officer in his cell and decapitates him. Although Abbie and Ichabod cannot see him in their realm of reality, Abbie witnesses the figure crookedly wandering into an alternate reality visualized in a mirror’s reflection. This supernatural realm is the same is the forest setting where Crane saw Katrina from inside his cell. Thus, a fight to prevent the apocalypse begins in a wedding ceremony that employs old, new, borrowed, and blue black. The scene concludes with Clancy Brown’s eerie acousemetre voiceover reading from the book of Revelations and the replaying of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”

Posted by: Garret | September 19, 2013

Genre Iconicity Montage Steals ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ Ad

Title shot

I begin with an editorial disclaimer: I am not a gamer. I have never been a gamer, I have no intention of becoming a gamer, I don’t play games to that extend or invest my time in that way. That said, I’ve been around gamers my whole life. One of my closest friends growing up was a gamer, a former roommate from college was a gamer, the IT guy I worked with at an advertising company was a gamer. But I’m no gamer. Despite my ability to watch movies or TV or whatever for hours on end, I just can’t “invest” in gaming. That said, video game commercials have often represented some of the savviest marketing efforts in the recent past. For example, consider the use of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” for  Gears of War. The Gears of War commercial retained my attention every time it aired. Gears of WarThe juxtaposition between a slow remix of an 80s pop song featured at length in Donnie Darko then combined with an alien/human warfare/sci-fi-horror VG trailer gave the ad a haunting depth that elevated its worth in a way that I didn’t have to “read” it as a video game text. In the same tradition, the makers of the ultra-contraversial Grand Theft Auto franchise are at it again with what I might qualify as a superbly produced piece of marketing.

I have never played GTA I-IV, but I am not concerned with the game itself nor its past versions or its current narrative. What does interest me is how the “trailer” for Grand Theft Auto V incorporates so me identifiable genre elements that if I were a gamer, there would be no way I could resist purchasing this product. I mean, first of all, their commercial has saturated all of the channels I encounter. I cannot remember when I first saw the ad, but it may have been during a college or corporate professional football game break. I note this because I otherwise wouldn’t have caught the commercial since my schedule/lifestyle privileges me with a DVR to record shows I watch and  burn through them at will. This is a current issue that advertisers grapple with and thus situates the urgency that ads mean more to audiences/consumers.

Desert Landscape

But back to the ad. GTA V opens with a desertscape complete with a railroad moving toward the vanishing point on the mountainous horizon. This landscape recalls Western iconography, but a couple of planes in the sky and a conspicuous black car speeding down a twisty dirt road signify modernity’s imprint on the West. To boot, this CGI-generated “shot” is framed with a bright orange sun overhead to emphasize the desert heat. On top of that, the artificial sun “generates” an optical illusion in the form of a lens flair. In film photography, the lens flair is a lighting technique that has evolved in desirability over time. Nonetheless, the opening shot communicates the collision of “old” [Western motif] and “new” [Modern technologies]. Even the “camera angles” generated by designers evoke both classical wide-lens framing and ultra contemporary handy cam shots. The back-and-forth editing between these two forms help reinforce that this product has both epic scale and intimate characterization, a crucial component for modern video game design and artistic balance.

Corner roomCut to the interior of a gritty corner room where three males congregate. The instantly distinguishable White male antihero identifies himself as “retired” which recalls notions of “past” not unlike the Western landscape.

Lens flair mania-one would start to think J.J. Abrams is involved.

Lens flair mania-one would start to think J.J. Abrams is involved.

Then a shot change reveals a movie trailer-styled slow motion sequence where a crew of ski-mask bandits jog into a building labeled “Blaine County Savings Bank”. The bank name evokes an Old West main street while the break-in mixes nuances  combining  The Wild Bunch and Zero Dark Thirty. The background exterior recalls that  Western landscape once again with the sun causing yet another lens flair as it begins to dip behind a mountain that overlooks the city. This continues the trend that combines Western style iconography with contemporary urban heist myths.

A montage of sequences follow that establishes a string of characters that round out the game’s cast. There is the “psychotic best friend” walking through a dilapidated trailer yard and banging his head against a wooden pallet, another pervy-looking out of shape male with wide-rimmed glasses and a five o’clock shadow, a Black male in a letter jacket that shatters a lavender ferrari window with his elbow, two other Black males walking near the California shoreline, and a group shot of the crew getting oriented for what we perceive to be the “big heist” to come. To intensify the narrative, these shots are interspersed with action footage of the bank job, a street chase in the rain, a violent explosion, and the begrudged ex-girlfriend screaming at her “pathetic” loser as he crawls out of a pool fully clothed. The montage thus shifts genres to introduce a number of familiar male-dominant genres and their respective conventions, which continues trends of male-gendered superiority in media representation.

I can hear the Fox News panelists agreeing already: 'It's not a stereotype if it actually happens.'

I can hear the Fox News panelists agreeing already: ‘It’s not a stereotype if it actually happens.’

First, there is the getting the gang together feature of any heist movie. The letter jacket on the Black car thief evokes the stereotype of the Black male high school athlete that never left the hood due despite his athletic talent. Finally, the supporting token girlfriend that projects insensitivity onto her on again/off again mate because she’s drawn to “bad boys” but too insecure and self-hating to reform. In addition, the lone female presence always assures the males viewers/gamers that there is no chance of homoerotic undertones between the copious collective of hyper-masculine personalities and the phallic extensions of their endless gunplay. In fact, the female rant may not only signify heteronormativity for the male viewer but also reinforce the “sanity” of career criminality.  I make this claim because only two shots later, we see the father-phallus of all action weapons, the mini-gun, getting toted around in street shootout that combines the most intense gunplay of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Michael Mann’s HeatWe even hear the short pervy male joke, “So is a group hug out of the question, hehe” but as with typical pervy jests, the comment is unnerving in execution and reception.

Let's just hope the Feds don't check his hard drive before the heist goes down.

Let’s just hope the Feds don’t check his hard drive before the heist goes down.

To complete the machismo trinity, the shot in between the verbally abusive (ex)girlfriend and the mini-gun compensation, a gorgeously rendered shot of a nighttime skydive recalls the most iconic non-surfing moment from Katherine Bigelow’s bankrobber bromance Point Break. In addition, the intensifying montage gives us action on land, air, and sea. Three’s seem to be a theme here and for good reason. I mentioned that first caught this ad during a football game, but I didn’t realize how special it was until the maker’s began running a lesser-quality version at :30 seconds. Nice-to-meet-you.-dude-Ke-007Thus, a catch that connotes both the epic financial undertaking and the big-money stakes of the GTA franchise is how the more successful “trailer” version runs 1 minute in length, an impossible ad to produce and afford and require of audiences in the modern television era. Despite my non-investment toward gaming, this :30 second ad lacks depth, context, and most importantly, the genre conventions that connect these desperate fragments together so pointedly. To my repetitious surprise, I found the original minute-long trailer on several prior DVR recordings, including Comedy Central, FX, and AMC among others. Clearly, marketing can still function successfully if not hegemonically as, aside from my personal preference against gaming, I posit the key White male [virtual] middle-class demographic  the gaming industry thrives from. Surveillance culture is alive and well as they can find me watching all of my favorite shows like Breaking BadThe Daily Show, Sons of Anarchy, Futurama, [you get the demo picture] and even the increasingly scripted football narratives. Consumers unfamiliar to Orwellian prophecy might acclaim, “I cannot believe how these texts are so closely tailored with me in mind!” Indeed, it’s as if they ‘already’ know me. 


[Images obtained from Grand Theft Auto 5 trailer at]

Fusing hipness, comedic timing, and humiliation with higher than average athleticism and covert white privilege, the Mannings keep offering hybrid homegrown/brand marketing that’s both savvy and subversively racialized. I can only imagine the blinders that Direct TV executives wear when they edit together scenes emphasizing minorities as hyperbolic criminals and/or backup dancers(?) Like any strong ad campaign, this Direct TV series both subverts and circumvents stereotypes, while perhaps perpetuating their imagery for the White male clientele satellite TV seeks. Roger Sterling would be proud.

First Impressions Close Reading of A&E’s Bates Motel pilot, “First You Dream, Then You Die”

Unless the producers risk performing a series-wide 'long con', BM adds life to the Bates' Mother-Son relationship.

Unless the producers risk performing a series-wide ‘long con’, BM adds life to the Bates’ Mother-Son relationship.

On March 18, 2013, cable network A&E threw its hat into the horror drama genre with its stylish revision of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 thriller Psycho. Aptly named Bates Motel, A&E’s promises a show about a movie, er, an extended foray into cinematic history revised into an elongated world with the promise of three dimensional characters. By updating a horror “classic”, this TV series offers a familiar “brand” of horror. Specifically, a brand of horror that evokes iconicity of an era of cinema and perhaps an era of America.

Oedipus [Wrecks] Bates Motel immediately recalls the psycho-sexual oedipal relationship between mother-son and amps it up. The pilot binds the two together in murder, the quintessential televisual American value. Murder is the inescapable go-to plot driver for most TV narratives. Love and death, and Bates Motel encompasses and promises both albeit in twisted fashion.

On Bates Motel, retro period set design blends with dreary Northwest mise en scene. Viewers familiar with the original film(s) may as well have stepped back and through time. Thus, Bates Motel offers a televisual temporal elasticity. You can “stay” at the hotel horror for extended periods, weekly checkins, or prolonged binges (via Netflix, DVD, et al.).

Bates Motel is elastic in its quaint coastal small town setting that justifies the existence of a family-run and run-down motel. Yet Norman and Norma are a modern update of the postmodern condition. They both use iPhones and represent the new Norm(an) of familial fragmentation, where the nuclear family has eroded into radioactive hybrids. The elasticity allows for “timeless” cinematography but time-ly storytelling, relatable woes and tropes congruent with post-Network era tastes and edgy gratuitous suggestions.

Norman's teacher embodies fantasy-esque qualities as she intervenes in his life in way that plunges an emotional knife into the Oedipal Mother-Son dynamic.

Norman’s teacher embodies fantasy-esque qualities as she intervenes in his life in way that plunges an emotional knife into the Oedipal Mother-Son dynamic.

Bates Motel (in)appropriately places the Oedipal relationship above all else. Mother and son flee a dead father to start over. Mother and son embark on a new (ad)venture together. “Mother” responds with jealousy as Norman is invited by his overtly Hitchcockian and covertly hyper-sexualized younger female teacher to join the track team. “Mother” is further agitated by a group of female visitors that want to “study” [with] Norman.  Mother laments when track causes Norman to arrive to her candlelit dinner for two late, and she rages when he protests her denial to attend the study session. His youthful disobedience leads to a rare escape. However, Norman’s rebellious act and subsequent absence consequently results in an act that tethers the Oedipal relationship into an inevitable destiny.

The Bates Motel pilot “First You Dream, Then You Die” features the age-old rationalization for justified murder, rape. In the pilot Norman sneaks out to attend a study session. Little does he know that the girls interested in his company are headed to a party. As Norman basks in the techno-lighting of youth debauchery, the evicted former owner of their house breaks back in, terrorizes, and rapes Norma. The trigger comes through via the return of former proprietor, current drunk, and an identifiable lowlife named “Keith”. The drunken beast of a man overcomes Norma and handcuffs her to the kitchen table, the mecca representation of domestic space. As the large man then uses his carpenter’s razor to slice off Norma’s panties, a close up shows her hand clinging to the table’s edge as the table thrusts with the motion of his penetration. In essence, the man has evoked the patriarchal hegemony of rape threefold. First, he pierces the glass window as he breaks into the sanctuary of the Bates home. Second, he infiltrates the domestic space of the kitchen, before thirdly penetrating Norma’s body. The dutifully awkward Norman arrives in time to knock the man out with an antique cast iron, but not before the damage is done. Whether or not Norma faced such egregious life acts before, there is a decided determination in her response now. When Norman fetches the first aid kit to mend his mother’s wounded hand, she retrieves her iconic butcher’s knife as the man regains consciousness. His eyes center with anger and he prepares a retort. Yet before the drunken rapist makes it off his knees, Norma thrusts the kitchen knife into his stomach and chest, again and again, until Norman returns and calls her off. AV Club’s Todd Van Der Werff appropriately critiques invasive dramatic ploys like sexual assault:

“Now, obviously, any show that depicts the adolescence of Norman Bates is going to have some dark, icky stuff in it, and there’s going to be a need for some sort of compulsion to commit violence against sexually attractive women to sneak in there at some point. But this puts the series in a bit of a bind. Violence against women is one of TV’s most predictable, least dramatically needed crutches. It drives far too many procedurals and horror shows, because there’s something primal about seeing an attractive woman in danger. At a certain point, it becomes degrading and offensive.”

Racketing up the simple Psycho formula to include more gruesome MacGuffins.

Racketing up the simple Psycho formula to include more gruesome MacGuffins.

Norman rationalizes they call the police but Norman, in a panic, rebukes his suggestion. She warns such action would “ruin” their life, that their business would be “known as the rape-murder hotel”. Instead the scramble to begin a long-term cover up. The cover up adds narrative action and dramatic tension with short-term and long-term ramifications. The local Sheriff and Deputy show up and ratchet the angst that the couple will get caught. Narrowly, their secret survives the encounter. They move the body to a motel bathroom, but blood soaked into the carpet leads them to begin tearing out each room with coordinates carpet colors.Norman finds a diary of some sort with etchings that suggest child abuse and worse. The end teaser of the pilot suggests these diary sketches may not be as old as the hotel.

Another trope indicative of the original film and a critical social commentary is the motel location. While gathering groceries, Norma notices a city council meeting advertisement. The note is lengthy and includes the “Bypass Route” meeting agenda: “Details: Impact of the White Pine Bay Highway BB Bypass. How will it affect our community, growth, spirit, commerce, economy and safety. Will it change the way we life?” The message is too long to read in the 3.5 seconds it appears on screen. The detailed message is a signifier of the post-Network program and the era of minutia, HD production values, and the Internet. Viewers can rewind their LIVE program, pause their DVRs, or post still frames online for discussion and speculation. Little nuggets like these are signature markers from Bates Motel co-creator, co-executive producer Carlton Cuse. Cuse is famous for the intimate details or easter eggs that he helped plant on ABC’s cult-hit drama Lost, while his co-executive producer Kerry Ehrin sports genre legitimacy with running NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Yet more important than finding and reading the sign is identifying the socioeconomic message embedded in Bates Motel. Through this secret message, the show purports a liminal text that again challenges the cultural epoch between public and private America, between corporate cities and intimate small towns, between airports and hotels that operate like shopping malls and the dwindling small business indicative of rural highway motels and small town diners. Thus, I might argue Bates Motel asks its audience to “root” for its antagonistic protagonists for their representation of the quintessential Middle America values of redemptive vigilante violence, familial omnipresence, and rural business models.

"Mother" gives Norman some vintage Oedipal cheesecake scenery to chew on as they arrive at their quaint necro-conditional estate.

“Mother” gives Norman some vintage Oedipal cheesecake scenery to chew on as they arrive at their quaint necro-conditional estate.

The final scenes bind the Oedipal relationship through shared secrecy. Dutiful Norman sails his mother offshore where they dump Keith’s body. The normative calmness of their actions suggests this is not the last time they [or the audience] will participate in such negative** human behavior. What remains to be seen is how and in what ways audiences and critics will embrace or reject Norma and Norman’s neo-normative values.

Norma hugs her son as they peer out the rainy window onto their newly lit retro neon sign. Mother beams idyllically as she assures her son, “You know what, you know that new bypass? They’re not going to build it.” Norman inquires, “How did that happen?” to which Mother confidently prognosticates, “It didn’t, yet. I’ll think of something… What’s important is that we’re together. And as long as we’re together, nothing bad can happen.” Of course, given that this family [and cable TV] lives in the negative, “nothing bad” means that everything bad can and will happen. Thus for Norma Bates at least, a mother’s love is (also) like a rose.

Like the show itself, the propaganda-signifying artwork adheres to the Americans' premise of "hiding in plain sight".

Like the show itself, the propaganda-signifying artwork adheres to the Americans’ premise of “hiding in plain sight”.

The Americans denotes FX’s latest addition to their growing stable of adult dramas. In particular, Americans represents the cable network’s official foray into the space race of the “period” drama, as covertly advertised through sizzling symbolic teasers that offered no actors and minimalist voiceovers. The minimalist approach posits an artistic sense of marketing yet revealed no content beyond the show’s Cold War backdrop. In a similarly minimalist approach to viewing, Now that the “pilot” has premiered, I examine some of the narrative subtexts that may or may not serve as a more accurate trajectory for FX’s ambition with The Americans.

The Americans “Pilot” opens with a blonde female in a bar. She coerces an average if unattractive white male in the beginning stages of male pattern baldness. Playing a doubting and buzzed flirt, she convinces him to reveal his Federal badge. In the following scene, he bloviates about the importance of his job and the severity of his clearance until his voice trails away as the blonde insinuates a particular intimate gesture.

These sort of unattractive, easily manipulated, kiss-and-tell U.S. government agents lack a certain ambiguity regarding the color with which the show's creators paint the Reagan Administration.

These sort of unattractive, easily manipulated, kiss-and-tell U.S. government agents lack a certain ambiguity regarding the color with which the show’s creators paint the Reagan Administration.

Later, a scene inside a U.S. government agency depicts two White males bantering before a top-secret meeting. The shorter bald male exclaims, “There is no greater time to be working in intelligence”. As if winking at the audience in Morse code, the writers make sure we understand that, like all “good” dramas, The Americans has implications for the present. Just as AMC’s Mad Men wrestles with corporate greed and tension between art and capital or HBO’s Boardwalk Empire posits rich politicians as immoral gangsters (and vice versa), The Americans assures its audience that, “hey, this matters”. Yet I sense from the FX pilot further forecasts that greater historiographic parallels come not from the show’s emphasis on Cold War as much as warfare of cultures in transition. Read in this light, perhaps The Americans might then add details that while fictitious signify more truth than the history written in generations past.

After the bar-to-bedroom point/counterpoint, the blonde exits the building complex to her car where she removes her wig with a look of disdain in the rear-view mirror. Here, for the first time the audience sees “Elizabeth Jennings”, played by Keri Russell. Jennings then reinforces her partner the capture of a turncoat Russian working for the CIA. The sequence is an exaggerated chase scene designed to enthrall the audience into the cat-and-mouse world of Cold War espionage. Yet the “Pilot’s” early action scene feels largely  manufactured in comparison to larger dramatic issues I recognize in The Americans’ subtext (although The AV Club’s roundtable disagrees entirely).

In a flashback 21 years, a gym setting depicts an intense afterhours training session for the then-young Soviet female. A male superior officer enters the gym, relieves her trainer, and then reinforces her training by beating and then raping her. A flash-forward to the “present” reveals this officer as the turncoat, now bound and gagged in the trunk of the Elizabeth’s car.

In Elizabeth’s first four introductory scenes, we witness her in sex acts in two of them, an action sequence in one, and in perhaps her biggest cover up role, a mom’s jeans wearing married mother of two at the breakfast table. The contrast between her roles in the daylight versus dark represent polar ends of the spectrum, yet each reveal cultural levels of submission. In the sex sequences, she submits to the arousal of men, yet in the name of patriotism to her country, she also submits to the State. Again as mother, she submits simultaneously to the State just as she inhabits roles of domesticity. Phillip, Elizabeth’s assigned husband, listens to a tape-recording of her sexual liaison with a combination of jealousy and sadness. While the tape leaks pertinent information from the government official under seduction, the audience arguably maintains tentative due to the illicit nature of their sexual dialogue. This comes as no surprise as FX’s production patterns toward gratuitous if not explicit content functions hand-in-hand with their series’ dramatic exposition.

The Soviet State naturally assumes a Patriarchal form, despite historical references to Mother Russia. In fact, Soviet history espouses a brutal culture of militarism and otherwise socio-cultural impoverishment. In essence, you either live for the State or your existence may well be lifeless. Does a young female in Cold War Soviet Russia reject the State and risk punishment by death (or worse?) or submit to authoritarianism and represent it through transformative performance in the vein of international espionage? Arguably, Elizabeth chooses the lesser of two evils at the risk of her own soul. By performing ‘the American Dream’ as an infiltrative method, Jennings thus embodies the American Dream where immigrant status might metamorphosis into some new existence. Thus, a larger more personal question emerges on The Americans as to whether or not the American Dream functions as a transformative rebirth or an ideological façade.

On the one hand, The Americans immediately subverts gender roles in the domestic space. While Elizabeth the “housewife” may be in the kitchen baking brownies, it is her “husband” Phillip that is interested in shopping when he takes their daughter to the mall. Phillip buys himself cowboy boots (naturally), and his boot scoot in a shoe mirror teases his temptation toward integration and cultural homogeneity. Phillip also teases his willingness to “flip sides” for the sake of their children’s college fund. Elizabeth finds the joke humorless, in addition to his sexual advances in the name of their assignment marriage.

Perhaps The Americans will reignite the sizzle long lost among 'arranged marriages'.

Perhaps The Americans will reignite the sizzle long lost among ‘arranged marriages’.

On the other hand, the latter half of the “pilot” breaks a considerable sweat reaffirming Phillip’s masculinity and threat level. When Elizabeth chooses not to kill the hostage as a demonstration of her empathetic superiority over her one-time superior officer and rapist, Phillip chokes the turncoat until he crushes his larynx with a crunch. After disposing with the body, the “husband” and “wife” make love as kind of peace offering/thank you, with Phillip asserting the dominant position on top. Third and finally, Phillip dons his most American disguise yet and crashes the backyard barbeque of a White/redneck/predator who sexually harassed his daughter in the shopping mall. Thus, Phillip emerges as a true American ideologue that both protects the honor and virtue of his wife/daughter/family and punishes with righteous violence those who threaten the sanctity of everyday American life.

This issue of transformation also reflects post-feminist debate. With The Americans set in the early 80s, issues of post-feminist discourse mark an arguable rich parallel as debates over Third Wave Feminism inflamed in the public consciousness. Arguably, with the result Cold War endgame a retrospective inevitability, these feminist discourses become more cogent than the show’s espionage game at play. Thus again, emphasis on internal versus external reflexivity provides a dynamic insight for audiences. Viewed in this light, Americans becomes less a vehicle for entertaining retroactivity for the past and more an inert contemplation for present issues of transnationalism, glocal politics, and of course, fragmented structuration in what constitutes “family”. Hence just like Elizabeth’s blonde wig or her “husband’s” wig/glasses/polyester suit combo, The Americans disguises itself as masculine-focused niche drama on cable’s machismo comrade, FX. Only time will tell if such covert intelligence-gathering crossover appeal will tap into the clandestine aesthetic appeal among current cable programming cabals.

The Following – “Pilot”

In this entry, I examine Fox’s newest contender for hybrid traditionalist/progressivist TV drama. Infusing elements of serial killer mayhem (Network TV bread and butter) with serialized storytelling, Fox blends network tropes with cable drama richness. Yet perhaps a closer examination of the show’s floating signifiers demonstrates deeper sociological tensions between conservative ideologies and academic intelligentsia. Thus, I sort of offer my own form of hybrity combining a long-form recap of the pilot along with several opportune commentaries regarding the show’s undergirding meta-themes.

The Following, courtesy of 20th century fox

The Following, courtesy of 20th century fox

Kevin Bacon plays an alcoholic writer and FBI consultant Ryan Hardy. He is an accomplished writer whose work on serial killer Joe Carroll brought him both acclaim and tragedy. Perhaps a former investigator, he is forcibly retired due to injuries sustained in a close-bout with Carroll. A stab wound in the heart leaves Hardy permanently weakened, with a pace-maker homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart” nonetheless.

A serial killer escapes prison. While the audience doesn’t witness the killings, graphic depictions of a room full of slaughtered guards progresses the content beyond typical network fare.

Police reports and news briefs on fictitious/realistic TV networks fill in the details, as does a police briefing. The serial killer is a former Professor of Literature at a distinguished University. His history as a serial killer includes the mutilation of 16 college students as a kind of performance art mutilation and mutual admiration to the “Romantic Era” horror writers like Poe, Mary Shelley, and others (Creator-writer Williamson clearly sticks to his literary strengths and successful scholastic settings in Dawson’s Creek and the Scream movies. Whether his interpretations unearth original or hypertrophic schlock depends on the viewer.)

In the police station, a women receives a text and then moves to the center of a room. She de-robes and reveals a naked body beneath with writing covering her body. She disrobes and then stabs herself in the eye with an ice pick. Her body gesticulates in trauma before she dies. The writing comprises Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”.


The academic background for the serial killer Joe Carroll posits an arousing choice to say the least. In addition to recalling some theories that Jack the Ripper was a man of means, perhaps even a surgeon of bourgeois background, The Following also presents aptly educated men as dangerous. This morality play template represents two immediate lessons for the viewer: that of hubris and caution. On one hand, knowledge in the wrong hands or perhaps power unchecked leads to deadly consequences at its most irrational conclusion. On the other hand, this posits men or knowledge as societal threats to the status quo. The very enactment of their ‘superior fortitude’ puts them at odds with the harmony and sanctity of everyday life. In mythic fashion, human life thus means less and less to them and furthermore becomes a chess game combining hubristic experimentation and self-satisfaction. In short, the evil genius myth manifests itself in the modern academic.

When the investigators track his Internet activity through his library access, they find the guard that most regularly shauferred him called in sick the night of his escape. At the guard’s house, a refrigerator covered in “missing dog” fliers foreshadows the grisly evidence in the garage. The investigators gag and contort their faces as they move through the shadowy gore of bloodied tools and heaping black trash bags. A German shepherd is identified on a makeshift surgical table before the dog, gashed and bleeding out, calls out a final whimper, as if to plea that they end its life.

Like the woman who forced an ice pick through her eye and the guard that facilitated escape, the killer demonstrates a charisma to inspire and thus control those that listen to his words. Thus, Carroll’s apparent skills as linguist posit a kind of political persuasion that runs contra to conservative views on life and death. His poetic power slices division between the sacred and the profane with precision and calculation. The commentary is both classical and modern.

Even the “rookie”-type investigator, a young unshaven fan of Bacon’s protagonist antihero, Ryan Hardy, reinforces the shock value of the garage scene doggie dungeon. “I can handle dead people. You kill a dog, I go crazy.” Indeed, even the Fox executives understand a general disconnect of visualizing human corpses on American television these days. But signifying the empathetic responses summoned by mistreated animals offers the show’s biggest wink to its network audience. (“Hey, we’re FOX, remember? We used to be the “edgy” network!”)

Hardy recalls to the junior detective his experiences stalking Carroll in anticipation for a slipup. He describes Carroll with chilling admiration for his skill: I used to sit there and watch him teach. He was –phew—amazing. He could inspire people. It was a gift.” (And thus clearly a curse in the wrong hands.)

The Following also denotes special attention to a would-be victim of Carroll, Sarah Fuller. In addition to scenes where she, shirtless, runs her hands over numerous stabbing scars, this Final Girl forces the audience to “relive her trauma” through intense flashbacks. These scenes add emotional depth (sort of) to the Final Girl trope the way creator-writer Williamson “evolved” Sidney in his Scream movie series. Yet, arguably watching these flashbacks merely forces the audience into additional scenes of discomfort, thus creating an illusion of character development by way of traumatic voyeurism.

Clare, another academic, offers the source of Hardy’s background insight into the connection between Carroll and poetry. Their interaction indicates a romantic connection but also perhaps Clare’s role in Carroll’s life. When Hardy shares case information about the serial (dog) killer prison guard, Clare responds, “Joe’s always teaching. It was engrained in him so that makes sense. It makes sense he would find a student.” Her comments indicate the scenario of at minimum two serial killers but more importantly, return the secondary theme of education. Sociopathic pedagogical mentorship almost functions like a horror story in its own right for [conservative] network TV viewers that send their children off to college.

When Hardy returns to Sarah’s [guarded] home, she is gone. He follows the blood-smeared carpet through her closet and into the adjoining midtown house on the property. The blood trail ends in the garage where an armed guard corpse bleeds out on the floor (see pic below). When the police run background checks. They find Sarah’s “neighbors”, shown as a cozy young male couple and friends in earlier scenes, work as a “third grade teacher” and a “banker”. Hardy denounces whatever mundane masks they wear and proclaims that the neighbors, prison guard, and naked self-mutilator as part of a cult or following devoted to Carroll.


This still also denotes another plot element in Carroll’s obsession with “completing” the works of Edgar Allan Poe through the visual performance of murder. On a metaphorical level, this certainly speaks to another layer of academia in the ‘dying’ Liberal Arts of which interdisciplinary tiers like Performance Studies remain in a liminal state between striving and starving. The horror trope of words written in blood also surfaces here, as Ryan Hardy must ‘follow’ the clues or risk acceleration of further morbidity.

The Following‘s “Pilot” evokes numerous other horror tropes. Once the cult apparatus is revealed, Hardy makes the connections and traces fragments of a Lighthouse bed and breakfast to its source. Tragically, and without backup or a gun, Ryan finds Joe and Sarah. Yet Sarah’s screams represent newfangled technology, ghosts of the past. Joe lowers Sarah’s body from the ceiling, eyes gouged and body bled out. Ryan tries to attack but the authorities arrive before he loses control.

In a police interrogation room, Hardy speaks only to Ryan. He calls Ryan his new “flawed hero” and tells them they will write a new book together. The scene combines elements of Saw and Silence of the Lambs as the imprisoned serial killer sends the tragic hero out on a series [or serials] of tests, partially as punishment for Ryan “sleeping with” Joe’s wife, Claire. Simultaneously, Claire’s nanny kidnaps her and Joe’s son, abandons the car, and meets up with the purported gay lovers. Thus with a cult-like devotion espousing Rosemary’s Baby, the subplot of ritualized kidnapping now plays a role in Fox’s answer to its cable counterpart American Horror Story. Yet by staying within the reigns of serial killer psychological horror, The Following nests comfortably in the network lineup. Typical of a pilot, the episode works as a self-contained tragedy that springboards the (supposedly) limited series. As far as pilots go, The Following is well cast, with strong direction, pacing, and establishes enough mood to update a kind of Poe-esque worldview. Whether or not the show “teaches” a valuable lesson is left to be seen.

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