The Following lost a lot of players in just the pilot episode, and all—even when not victims of violence—were at the hands of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) in one way or another. The high turnover of characters certainly lends itself well to the tension and dramatic stakes of the series that anyone can be in danger at any time—because you never know who is really one of Carroll’s followers in the first place. But it also leaves room for brand new, more complex characters to come into the picture. The best example of that thus far is Agent Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), who is assigned to the case because of her knowledge of cults.
“You’re going to learn about her history and her relationship to being a cult specialist. I think initially that one of the interesting things is that she does initially come from a place of academia, and she’s not on the ground…whereas Ryan and Weston bring a little bit more of that to the table. Initially, she’s really approaching it scientifically, so to speak. And then, I think a part of the story, for everybody, but for Parker particularly is just how personal this case becomes,” Parisse said when we sat down with her in Los Angeles.
But Parker is reluctant to even call what Carroll has amassed in The Following a cult when we first meet her character in “Chapter Two,” and in order to familiarize herself with the specifics of that reasoning, Parisse underwent her own deep studies on what makes a cult.
“The two that really stand out to me, that I was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ [are] “Cartwheels in a Sari” about a woman who was born into a cult in the early ‘70s in Jamaica, Queens. The guy who lead it was named Sri Chinmoy…I don’t even want to affiliate it with any religion because they were worshipping him, but she was born into it, grew up in it, and then left when she was 22. And it was like her personal account of her time there, and it’s so twisted,” Parisse said.
“And the other thing that I read, which blew my mind, is this thing called “Under the Banner of Heaven.” It’s actually about the FDLS, which some people would say is not a cult—which leads me to my next thing—a part of the second episode where Parker looks at ‘What’s a cult?’ This is one of the things I found out in researching the technical stuff—it’s one of the most disputed terms out there. One man’s cult is another man’s religion. The definition of that word is not clear. There’s probably as many different definitions as there are people, so I mean, I think that it’s a real thing that Parker is on to when she’s like, ‘I don’t know if this is a cult.’ And ultimately, she decides it is a cult; I feel like she decides it’s a cult; it’s not that everybody else would agree with her.”
Parker’s unique interest in cults and their leaders will put her in a very interesting position in The Following. She is an authority figure with an understand of a sect of society that no one else can really grasp, but such an understanding can often look be misunderstood as suspicious sympathizing.
“I feel like one of the interesting things about Parker is that she’s pretty willing to hear anybody out, and I would say…even Joe Carroll is in that category for her. For her, it would be interesting to sit and listen to him. And she wouldn’t write off everything she says as, ‘He’s just a crazy person.’ She would be willing to like ‘Huh, where is he really coming from?’” Parisse said.
After all, her position in the FBI might inherently make her trustworthy, but there are still things the other agents don’t know about her. And as the stories (not even necessarily secrets) come out, it may change how some characters are viewed.
“These characters get thrown into this case together. They’re total strangers or almost total strangers, and then spend like literally 16, 20 hours a day together for the next however long. So they’re relationship is primarily professional, but it can’t help but become personal— crossover into strange territory where we’re all really connected and really involved with each other in huge ways…Because of the level of secrecy and confidentiality there are things they can’t tell their wives or their husbands [but] that they can talk about with their partners, so there’s just a really natural closeness and intimacy that develops,” Parisse said.
The Following airs on FOX on Monday nights at 9 p.m.
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