My interest in Hannibal was most shallow – I wanted to stare at Hugh Dancy’s hot model face for a change, when usually I’d climb up walls in heat over strong female characters. I got that, and found that he was in fact, quite the thespian. And somewhere along the way, I was entranced by the effectively scary-yet-extremely personable Mads Mikkelsen, who very easily made me forget how iconic Anthony Hopkins really was in the same title role.
But you know what was the best surprise about Hannibal? I saw what it was like to kill someone, and was told about how it possibly felt – and I liked it.
There is no doubt in my mind that I prefer serialized TV over movies, and I will pick it every single time. While that’s another breakdown of reasons for another day, I didn’t flinch when I caught the Hannibal promo. In fact, while my fear of cannibals (no. 2, to be exact, because no. 1 are always zombies) is unprecedented, I found the supposed horror of the Hannibal trilogy – and its rather terrible prequel – to be a lot less terrifying than what was promised. It was a milestone in pop culture, but I wasn’t as affected by its scaring methods. So, Hannibal for TV, I thought, finally. You don’t have to cram a great story into six hours anymore. As an adaptation of the book, not the movie, you can see it build it up and it can marinate. It has more time to play with dynamics. I’m not saying that the movies were terrible, but I always welcome new angles on the same subject.
Some preliminary background information to dive into regarding the pilot: Hugh Dancy is Will Graham, the very empathetic, troubled anti-social lecturer specializing in criminal profiling. He’s approached by Dr Jack Crawford, Morphe – er, Laurence Fishburne, head of Behavioural Sciences at the FBI to help out with a rather vexing spread of murders involving the same type of young, “wind-chafed”, “plain but pretty” brown-haired girls. Later on, Dr Hannibal Lecter is sought after for his expertise on forensic psychiatry to round off the team, supported by sassy and outgoing crime scene investigators studying the evidence. Oh yeah, there’s also Dr Alana Bloom, also an FBI consultant for criminal profiling. You’ll find out why I’m so apprehensive about this later.
Dancy is acting the hell out of Will. He is visibly afraid of what he makes himself see, and every time he slips into his imaginary reenactments, it’s almost like he can’t help himself when he’s wading about in the mind of a psycho. Not only is he empathetic, he seems to identify with them on a primal level, and there’s definitely a very, very dark part of him that embraces going off the deep end.
I also like that Will is quite self-aware. He knows that he’s not a social man, he knows that people are judging him for how he conducts himself and his methods, and he doesn’t quite care for what they think. And even if he doesn’t know where the line is, he knows he’s close to toeing it when it comes to his imagined kills. He spends one moment building the act of violence in his head, looking rather engrossed in the supposed “beauty” and intricacy of it (quote marks because it’s the director’s portrayal of his imagination that influences the adjective), and when forced to face it head on in real life, the trauma runs so deep that he cannot deal with it – to the point that he physically shakes, sweats and fumbles. We see he’s a good guy because he struggles to keep a girl alive as she bleeds out from the neck, shocked as he may be about having witnessed murder firsthand. He saves stray dogs from a life of endless wandering and cares for them. Does that mean that he doesn’t have serial killer tendencies?
I appreciate the ambiguity of Dancy’s performance. In one scene, you can never quite tell in the moment whether Will, considering all the blood his hands are drenched in, is channeling any state of mind he may have constructed for prior investigated killers. Especially after he’s just gunned down the a girl’s father who has just slashed her throat, or that he is well and truly clueless about what to do with her dying in his hands. He’s very fragile.
In stark contrast to that response, Hannibal calmly takes over a helpless Will and puts pressure on the girl’s still spurting wound. Not once does he ever suggest someone call an ambulance, nor does he say anything, really. He simply observes Will slowly imploding under the pressure of a hostage situation.
You know I really, really like this version of Hannibal Lecter. “You and I are just alike,” he tells Will, over a carefully prepared protein scramble, “Problem-free.” It’s like he’s so… happy. His conscience is always clean. He knows what he’s doing, and his passion for food is a joy to watch, if not for the fact that you know he’s grubbing on the prized meats of young girls. As Will spends an inordinate amount of time putting together Hannibal’s profile, we see with uninhibited clarity the kind of man he is – a brilliant mind with a misunderstood taste for life. That’d be how he’d describe himself anyway. You know he’s cray cray, people. He’s just so charming and logical and optimistic about it that it sometimes I kind of doubt myself on my view on cannibalism. Until I remember that it’s people he’s putting in his mouth. People! Euyeugh.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Hannibal pull on Will’s loose thread. That’s what I like about the story. It takes into account how much you already know about Hannibal, whether from Thomas Harris’ novels or the film adaptations, and offers you a different glimpse of what it’s like to be close to someone as dangerously charming as he. It helps that Mikkelsen’s interpretation is far more affable (okay, selectively affable) than Hopkins’ and in a way, atypical in the sense that he’s got a very weird positive vibe.
What I like so much about the show is that it doesn’t seem to want to go back painting their lead antagonist the way Lecter’s already been portrayed as – a sociopathic, menacing villain who could psychoanalyze you as he feasts on a portion of your brain (poor Ray Liotta). They’ve instead shifted the focus to Graham’s delicate struggle of crossing the line from the imaginary to the reality, and they’re trying, with good success, I feel, to ensure that you’re sucked into his spiral into kidnap and murder. It’s no longer about some madman with a zest for people meats. It’s about coming face to face with the heart of darkness and with all uncertainty, seeing if you can crawl out of that hole with your soul intact.
I adore Will and Hannibal’s interactions so much that it’s all I will ever be looking forward to in the upcoming episodes. Screw the rest! Well, not the rest, just the so-called romance that’s going to go down with Will and Alana, as teased by the season promo. I think it will only make sense if they use it as a springboard to Will’s journey towards villainy (or maybe insanity). I will definitely throw up if she is his trigger for “redemption”.
Also, I think there’s a chemistry between the characters that could easily be mistaken by fangirls for being sexual. I’d prefer to think that Hannibal was asexual and his newfound interest in Will’s descent into personal hell is purely on a spiritual and mental level. From there, interest in journey becomes dedication to cause, and cause becomes obsession, which leads to Hannibal wanting to pay tribute to a dear friend by consuming him. This is just my guess. It’s super disturbing to know that Hannibal probably experiences brain-gasms every time he has a mind-stimulating conversation with Will. Or maybe his soul orgasms. Either way, Hannibal’s totally into Will’s struggle. There’s pleasure in it.
Perhaps the most defining trait of Hannibal is its visuals. Three scenarios of note – when Will is all alone in his head, when Hannibal is preparing his meals, the rest of the universe as it plays out. Let me tell you guys, it’s all FREAKIN’ BEAUTIFUL. My brain is going apeshit about how gorgeous this show is.
Will’s imagination is very much the surround sound, supra-dimensional vision of gore. The artful shedding of blood, molecules of stretching red beads spattering against walls like a Jackson Pollock, possession-like sequences of Will seeing antlers protrude from the victim’s wounds – they’re all very intense, detailed experiences that are memorably pretty.
And then there’s Cooking with Hannibal. I don’t know if I’m grossed out or intrigued. Maybe both. He expertly butchers the lungs of one of the murdered girls, lovingly tending to it and giving it the respect it deserves as an ingredient to his sacred meal. Cut to pieces of it sizzling in the pan, then cut to Hannibal chowing down on his beautiful restaurant-standard plate. It’s so chilling when he’s digging into his perfectly prepped dinners, because it’s so casual and un-barbaric. The elegant classical score backing the scene doesn’t help my feeling-confusion either.
A lot of the rest of the scenes are either shrouded in darkness or heavily color-treated – watch out for Bryan Fuller’s amazing shoutout to the Overlook Hotel’s red bathroom, hot sepia afternoons, Will’s cyan-toned living quarters. I feel like I’m watching Awake sometimes (you know, that short-lived series with Lucius Malfoy in it). Could be because the guy who directed that show’s pilot directed this one too.
There are some delightfully powerful symbols the show utilizes. Pomegranates, for example. Here’s a neat parallel: in the same the fruit that bound Persephone to the underworld after Hades slipped her some, Hannibal slips Will human protein in the breakfast he offers up. There’s human meat in that guys, and Will doesn’t even know it. Other symbols to note – the shrike, Will’s glasses (yes!), maybe even Jack Crawford’s Red Shirt (is that on purpose or foreshadowing?), the stag. Lots of Hannibal’s dialogue with Will is filled with subtext and is a wink to the audience as much as they are breadcrumbs that draw Will deeper into the darkness. I want to see this. I want to see Will fall into that trap. I kind of want to encourage him to. And I will like it, which is really creepy of myself.
Everything just works so well together – the detail of setting (they have amazing set pieces), the presentation of Will’s imagination, Hannibal’s special treatment of Will, how the story moves along. The show has a knack of putting you there. It’s full immersion, quite intense. Special mention to the score, which features alternating frenetic heartbeat pulsing, a slew of piano mood pieces and screaming string-and-brasswork that add tons of heebies for the more graphic dream sequences. A lot of its lens is fixed on a bigger picture and its overarching themes, and rather than featuring violence for the sake of moving a rancid plot forward, it shows the effect of the violence’s ripple through its surroundings, like what The Killing did. Hopefully it doesn’t get too caught up in the prettiness and keeps on hammering in the “dealing with your personal darkness” theme with remarkable elegance.
If you can watch a Saw movie, Hannibal should be relatively mellow in terms of the gore department. It’s more eerie and cerebral about its thrills (which I am completely in love with), but I suppose that there are more icky bits that are rather graphic for a channel like NBC. Not complaining, though. Everyone needs to watch the pilot at least once, just for the production value and the leads’ performances. I have a super good feeling about this one.