'The Following' seems to revel in its brutality.

Author:Hale, Mike

Byline: Mike Hale

The Fox series "The Following'' -- which airs 8 p.m. Sundays on Fox -- is essentially a cheap horror story tricked out with a laughable literary framework, and it likes to traffic in patterns and symbols, the more obvious the better.

Last season, when it was the highest-rated new show on the broadcast networks, it featured a lighthouse in its first episode and in its final episode. Both referred to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, whose books guide the actions of the show's peevish professor, psychopath and serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy).

Not all patterns are so benign, though, and some reveal more of the true sensibility of the show and its creator, Kevin Williamson. (Stop reading here if you still plan to watch the first season.) The pilot episode featured two particularly grisly, degrading scenes of death, both involving women. An acolyte of Carroll's, part of the improbably large and obedient cult that gives the series its name, stabbed herself in the eye with an ice pick; a subsequent shot focused on her bare legs twitching. Later, a highly sympathetic character whose safety had been guaranteed by the show's tortured anti-hero, former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), was discovered hanging upside down, both eyes gouged out.

In the Season 1 finale, Williamson killed off two more women, this time central characters whose likability had been cultivated across the season. FBI agent Debra Parker was kidnapped and buried alive. When her body was discovered, the fine actress Annie Parisse (or a stand-in) suffered the indignity of lying on the ground in the background of the scene, bound and smeared in dirt.

Then came the big finish: Carroll's ex-wife and Hardy's lover, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), whose safety had been one of the show's central sources of suspense, was summarily dispatched, stabbed in the season's final seconds. The show's Jan. 19 season 2 premiere (stop reading here if you haven't watched it) confirmed her death, though in a manner that seems to leave open the possibility that she's in hiding somewhere.

Men die on "The Following'' as well, in copious numbers, but their...

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