Caution, this article may contain spoilers.
With its second season coming to a close on Monday night, Fox’s The Following had its own riveted followers wondering how the show could possibly top a season even more disturbing than the first. Yet, even with veteran “followers” disappointed by the seriously lackluster and anticlimactic finale, the season was filled with such unsettling scenarios–twists delving into religion, blind cult followers and random public massacres, that, if anything, it succeeded in painting a terrifying picture of the lengths cult members will go to appease their leader.
The Following began as a fresh take on the crime model that has been so successful on the network’s long standing shows like Bones, and provides the perfect role for seasoned if not weary actor Kevin Bacon. His jaded attitude translates perfectly into the role of Ryan Hardy, the beat down former FBI agent hell-bent on capturing the elusive and seemingly immortal cult leader Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy. This psychological thriller has succeeded by challenging the boundaries of good and evil, by creating an air of uncertainty around all of the characters and by taking a no holds barred attitude with gruesome, but not overly gratuitous, murder.
And while many of the scenarios could only be born in Hollywood, some bear a more realistic resemblance to real life cult killings. In August, 1969, Charles Manson cult followers brutally stabbed actress Sharon Tate, then 8 months pregnant, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, writer Wojciech Frykowski, and hair stylist Jay Sebring in Tate’s Hollywood home in one of the most infamous murders of the century. The Manson cult members believed their leader’s vision of an impending race war, inspired by the Beatles White Album. The Following’s cult leader, Joe Carroll, similarly took great liberties with the works of Shakespeare, believing that death is the most beautiful of all things, and to kill a person, is to free them. The parallels with true crime, and the suspense of never knowing who will make it to the next episode, made the first season of The Following the number one new series and number one broadcast drama for 18-49 year-olds.
Whether or not The Following can survive a third season will be up to the effort of the writers. However, the show has already succeeded in one crucial aspect—it’s taken normal, everyday places and added the terrifying element of random, public crime. Outside of the fictional Hollywood realm, how safe are you in a public place? After two seasons watching Joe Carroll’s fictional followers’ massacre innocent bystanders everywhere from the street to the subway, it’s hard not to be slightly more aware of the people in your surroundings. And then there are the real life stories of mass shootings, knife attacks and random acts of violence to add to the realization that crime can strike anywhere. Although perhaps it’s a little (ok, a lot) less likely and a whole lot harder to pull off than the show portrays, here several ordinarily safe places that The Following has successfully made terrifying. And some real-life statistics that might make you feel a little more…or less, safe.
5. Your Car
For Joe Carroll’s cult members, it’s not necessary to own a car. All vehicles in the Tri-state area are theirs for the taking. The cult members frequently hijack cars for escape, to elude the FBI and for taking prisoners. Although television makes it look as easy as tossing the unsuspecting driver out the door, how common, and successful are carjacking crimes in the US? According to the Bureau of Justice, between the years 1987-1992, 35,000 carjacking attempts were recorded, and from 1992-1994, almost 50,000. Only about 45% of these crimes were actually completed. Men are actually more likely to be carjacking victims along with people living in the cities and suburbs. While knives, like those usually used in The Following, only made up 11% of all weapons, almost 75% of carjacking’s included some type of weapon with 32% of the victims being injured during the crime. But where the statistics get really unnerving is when and where the crimes occurred. Sixty eight percent of carjacking’s occurred at night, but more carjackings were successful during the day. And almost half of all carjacking’s occurred in an open area.
4. Restaurants, Diners and Coffee Shops
In the first season, Joe Carroll tries to lure his horrified ex-wife out of hiding by sending his cult members to kill people with her name, Claire Matthews. One woman is shot under the table with a spear gun by a crazed follower saying she has a message for Ryan Hardy. This isn’t the last time followers take advantage of unassuming diners; the second season has attempted mass killings in both a coffee shop and a restaurant. Spear gun murders may not be at an all-time high (or they may, it’s hard to find those statistics), but what about your safety while you’re out to eat? According to the Bureau of Justice, commercial restaurants, bars and nightclubs accounted for 4.4% of violent crimes per year in a study from 2004-2008, with an average of 244,000 incidents recorded annually. Commercial buildings in general only accounted for 12% of violent crimes in that time period. Although the statistics are lower for this type of location, there have been several mass murders at restaurants that linger in the media, including the Brown’s Chicken massacre, where in 1993 a man shot seven people execution style. But all things considered, statistics show that eating out is a relatively safe.
3. College Campuses
Joe Carroll was originally apprehended for murdering 14 coeds on the campus where he taught literature. While in prison, the charismatic and handsome serial killer attracts a slew of lost souls and admirers, eventually forming the basis of his cult. In the second season, the college scene returns in a new nightmarish form. After escaping both death and prison, Joe overtakes a separate cult he has found refuge in, Korban. His new followers are sent to kidnap the son of an evangelist who has publicly targeted Carroll. The few members manage to round up the fraternity where he lives, glue masks to their faces, and imprison them in a room while kidnapping the evangelists son. Even for the Following, this scenario was a stretch. But with college campus thread running through both seasons, does the show touch on a statistically realistic crime scene? From 2005-2008, an FBI study shows a total of 14 murder/non-negligent manslaughter cases, 46 negligent manslaughter cases, and 21,675 cases of aggravated assault on college campuses. From 1900-2008, 30% of assaults took place in dorm rooms or apartments, 21% using knives or blades. Although rare, large scale college tragedies became real when, in 2007, a Virginia Tech student opened fire on campus killing 32 students and faculty before turning the gun on himself. The shooting forever changed campus security measures. In 2013, a massacre was stopped at the University of Central Florida after a former student planned a detailed attack to harm a large number of his peers. He killed himself before police could reach him.
2. Public Places
Season two of the Following took public crime to a new and highly uncomfortable level—beginning with Joe Carroll fans in masks of his likeness enacting a brutal subway massacre. From random sidewalk stabbings to a mass bookstore murder, the show has decided that nowhere is safe from the followers. Unfortunately, the statistics for public crimes tell a similar story. Over 50% of violent crimes commited by strangers take place in public places, including commercial buildings, parking lots or garages, and open areas such as streets or public transportation. From 2005-2010, 27% of violent crimes alone occurred in streets, open area or public transportation, versus a total of 25% occurring in a private place. The average annual number of violent crimes committed by strangers is nearly 2.5 million per year, only about one million less than the average annual number of violent crimes where the offenders were known to the victims.
1. Your Home
It was the first crime in The Following that solidified it as it as a show where nothing is as it seems and nothing is off limits. Learning that Joe Carroll has escaped prison, the only survivor from his serial killing days is put on high alert and round the clock watch by the FBI. Her overly friendly neighbors, a gay couple, insist on helping her through the nightmare of Joe’s escape. Except, in a shocking initial twist, the couple are actually Joe Carroll cult members, caught in a lengthy and elaborate lie pretending to be her neighbors. The Following continuously shows that the home is never off limits. Whether it’s a hideout from the FBI, a random murder or an impressive scheme to enter Ryan Hardy’s apartment, some of the most terrifying events take place in the victims own homes. How realistic is this? For decades, horror movies have used the home as the most intimate crime scene, but from 2005-2010, 35% of crimes were committed in the victim’s home by someone they knew, with only about 5% occurring in their home by a stranger. Fifteen percent of crimes committed by strangers were near the victims home, an equal amount to the crimes committed by people they knew. With a large number of effective home security systems and personal safety measures available, home seems much safer than being out in public. Especially if you’re cast in The Following.