A Farewell to “Cult”

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What’s this I hear? Cult has been cancelled and the remaining episodes will not be aired? And I was just beginning to have an inkling as to where this series may be going.

Cult is, in many ways, superior to the other cult-oriented show, The Following, in that there seems to be an overall design motivating the characters. Jeff Sefton is a reporter searching for his brother who disappeared shortly after solving a puzzle whose clues are hidden in a television show called “Cult”. He is assisted by show researcher, Skye Yarrow, who is investigating the disappearance of her father who has ties to the show’s mysterious, never-seen-in-public writer. Last week’s episode saw Skye nearly die after being slipped a drug, similar to the one the members of the cult on the show take as a part of their religious ritual. In a prolonged dream/near-death-experience, Skye sees Roger Reeves (played with extreme creepiness by Robert Knepper) who begs her to stay with him—which would equate to her giving up her death-bed fight. To persuade her, he allows her to see her father which only serves as an indication to Skye that what she sees is not real. Meanwhile, in reality, Jeff searches for a sample of the drug that felled Skye so doctors can synthesize an antidote. He breaks into Detective Sakelik’s house and takes the tabs from her freezer. At the end of the episode, Skye is cured and Jeff is punished for his hubris when his colleague turns up dead for his role in helping steal Sakelik’s hidden stash.

Though an interesting premise, Cult tries to take on too much. Events on the television show unfold out of sequence (Kelly Collins is an ex-cult member turned cop who wants to take Reeves down in one episode, and marries him in the past (I think) in the next). On top of this there is a real-life cult devoted to interpreting and exposing the sub-text of the television show. Sakelik lurks in the background waiting to pounce on Jeff and Skye whenever they get close to figuring out the cult’s secret, though her connection to the cult is ambiguous. While I like the duality of the actors having both television and real-life personas, and the notion of a secret society based on the sub-text of a television show, the characters seeking out the truth behind the disappeared uber-fans find things out too slowly, which  may have contributed to the show’s downfall.

The other cult-based show, The Following, is so quick-paced it is, at times, dizzying. James Purefoy plays Dr. Joe Carroll with smarmy sophistication. An English professor and author, he is obsessed with the horrific  elements present in the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, the former FBI agent responsible for putting Carroll behind bars and subsequently having an affair with his wife. The story shadows Carroll’s followers as they murder to show their devotion, goaded to action by clues in Poe’s writing. The main storyline centres on Carroll’s desire to write the next best-seller and reconstruct his fractured family, and Hardy’s quest to keep Carroll behind bars and then to return him to prison after he escapes. Each week showcases gross brutality and gratuitous murder aplenty, with little ulterior motive. The Following makes me squirm because I don’t understand what about Carroll could turn everyday people into remorseless killers.

As with the fictional “Cult”, the real-life Cult relies on its viewers’ ability to read between the lines to find meaning in the story; The Following lays it all out for its viewers, who are left wondering if there is method to Carroll’s madness. I am disappointed Cult was cancelled, even more so after hearing the final episodes will not be aired. In addition to lamenting the cancellation of the show, I mourn popular culture’s favouritism of the simple and graphic over the subtle and cerebral.

About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

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Graphic from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_(TV_series)