"The Mentalist," now on its fifth season, has drawn a solid following by keeping the identity of its main villain a huge mystery since the pilot. "The Following," now on its eighth episode, had a good start, but is already starting to lose some viewers over some plot development concern. How similar are these two killer-chasing television series, and which one is better?
The Mentalist has former con man Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) pitted against serial killer Red John (still a mystery man), an apparent William Blake fan. The Following has Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) in a very personal war against former college literature professor Dr. Joe Caroll (James Purefoy), who derives a lot of inspiration from the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Red John has far-reaching accomplices, and he even has some people within the FBI. He may even be a part of a cult-like organization called Visualize. Caroll has a number of crazy followers, and he may even be regarded as a dark Professor X by those who have seen Episode 7, "Let Me Go." The FBI agent handling Caroll's case is cult specialist Debra Parker, who has some significant history with yet another cult. So far, we have literary heroes, cult following, and man-to-man battle similarities.
Red John launched a personal war against Patrick Jane by murdering his wife and little girl. He felt insulted by Jane in one of the latter's TV interviews as a fake psychic. Caroll made things personal with Hardy when the latter caught him and put him in jail - and then got romantically involved with his ex-wife.
In The Mentalist, series creator Bruno Heller has spoken about taking a really long journey before revealing Red John's true identity. The series produces mostly stand-alone episodes disconnected from Red John. In contrast, The Following creator Kevin Williamson has virtually put his villain under the microscope for all the viewers to see, right from the pilot. Viewers are left with nothing much to play with, especially since the characters have quickly become predictable. Each episode is about the professor's following and their crimes.
Which of the two series deliver a better show? It is the series with a more thrilling hero-villain interaction. When there's sarcasm and a lot of guessing and witty humour involved in a show, it becomes more fun to watch. Throw in one man's hyperobservant nature and uncanny ability to expose a person's soul, and you've got one mind-blowing hero-villain arc. This series is The Mentalist.
Seven episodes into its first season, The Mentalist was easing its way into exposing its characters. What The Following did in the same period is overexpose everything. It is difficult to imagine how The Following could last for over two seasons when it is already losing viewers for weak story development.
Should Mentalist viewers watch The Following? Of course, Heller himself has said in an interview with TV Line that he welcomes all kinds of TV shows, even The Following.
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