The CW debuts their version of The Following, only this time there’s a meta-twist on the “serial killer with followers” formula.
Let’s bitch it out…(Mild spoilers ahead)
Your mileage on Cult will likely vary on your willingness to suspend disbelief. Even when the most ridiculous things have happened in The Following, the antics of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his cadre of Poe-loving disciplines has been more or less steeped in reality. This CW exploration of the same themes is clearly marketed at a much younger subset, so the Scream effect (self-referentiality and meta-textuality) are in full effect, even if the blood and body count is way lower.
The premise is this: disgraced journalist Jeff Sefton (CW staple Matt Davis, jumping ship from The Vampire Diaries) is pulled into an underground world of fans after his younger brother, Nate (James Pizzinato), goes missing. The fans obsessively watch and deconstruct a TV show called – you guessed it – Cult. That show follows a dynamic cult leader named Billy Grimes (Robert Knepper) and the FBI agent, Kelly Collins (CW staple Alona Tal) who believes Billy and his followers have kidnapped her sister and nephew.
Throughout the series we catch extended glimpses of Cult, with the suggestion that the show-within-a-show offers hints of what Jeff and Skye (Jessica Lucas) – a researcher who works on the show – will face in the future. For example: a key piece of evidence uncovered by Kelly and her partner on the show is similarly discovered by Jeff in Nate’s notes. When Jeff asks Skye what happened next on the show, she answers with a certainty that the same thing will occur in “real life”.
Whether or not this is scary, or creepy, or engaging to you will depend on how willing you are to go along with the ride. For me, there’s a certain excitement in seeing how the puzzle comes together, and there’s a lot of potential to see how the connections between the show and it’s onscreen doppelganger work out (it could also fizzle spectacularly, though that may still be interesting to watch). It’s certainly executed, as examiner.com suggests, with “kid gloves” so it’s not exactly difficult to follow, even as the show intends to build layer upon layer between the different “worlds” of the show. Essentially if you can follow the multiple lands of Once Upon A Time, you won’t have difficulty following this. It’s certainly not Mulholland Drive levels of crazy.
On the whole, the series is a fun and far less dreary take on the similarly-themed The Following – worthy of at least a few episodes to see how things play out.
- As far as acting goes, Davis is solid as the bland lead (he mostly reacts to weird sh*t most of the time) while Lucas seems overly invested for a simple researcher (her willingness to align herself with a strange man who courts danger and death is one of the least believable elements of the pilot). Fans of Knepper (a revelation on FOX’s Prison Break) and Tal should know that their screentime is limited principally to the brief excerpts of Cult we see Jeff watch, though it’s possible these roles will expand in future episodes
- There’s an element of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” at play since the show-within-a-show Cult also airs on The CW and has its own rabid fanbase that is active on social media and live action role-playing (Side Note: I’m sure The CW would love to see this replicated in real life). Throw in mysterious series creator Stephen Rae, who we are told is never seen in person (and receives executive producer status at the end of the episode in a nice little Easter Egg).
- I’ll be interested to know whether anyone finds the show truly scary, but I do find the recurring tag “Well, hey these things just snap right off” – uttered right before bad sh*t happens – unnerving, even if it doesn’t really make any sense (what are the “things” they refer to? Speculate away in the comments)
- I’ll also be interested to know whether people are drawn more to the show-within-a-show or Jeff’s investigation into his brother’s disappearance. So far I’m on the fence, though I do like both Tal and Knepper quite a bit
- SPOILERS: It’s barely worth describing it as a twist, but there’s very little surprise when it is revealed that both Detective Sakelik (Aisha Hinds) and coffee shop waitress Kristie (Marie Avgeropoulos) are real-life followers. Both completely over-act their roles to such an extent that we might as well have given them mustaches to twirl because they’re eeeevil
- SPOILERS: I will say that I was surprised that the red car doesn’t end up barreling through the window during Jeff and Nate’s initial meeting. Instead it simply reappears to whisk away troublesome new producer Marc Sagal (Andrew Leeds) in closing moments of the pilot. Initially I would have bet Gary Fisher (Tom Amandes) was involved, but apparently he’s only in the pilot! END SPOILERS
Your turn: what did you think of the pilot? Are you invested in Jeff’s journey to find Nate? Do you think it’s weird that Skye simply tags along? Were you surprised by the twists? Do you prefer the show-within-a-show to the one we’re watching? Comment away
Cult airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST on The CW