WARNING – Hannibal is an M rated (mature audiences) show featuring vivid acts of violence. This article contains several such images. Please be advised.
Hannibal Lecter has been one of the most compelling characters since his creation by Thomas Harris in 1981. For many, Hannibal begins and ends with Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal across several movies. It seemed like an odd movie for a television series to be created around a persona that feels complete, particularly considering how attempts to flesh out his pre and post life beyond his middle act have failed. Thankfully, series creator Bryan Fuller proved in short order that there’s so much more to explore.
Red Dragon introduced Hannibal Lecter, but as a minor character, with protagonist Will Graham’s relationship with him firmly established. The series takes a step back, showing how the two met. FBI agent Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne) brings former investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) on for a case involving missing college aged girls. Graham is troubled by his uncanny ability to empathize with killers, able to mentally re-create their crimes. He uses this to aid the investigation. Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is brought on board to consult. The season continues with Graham and Hannibal developing a friendship, though Hannibal is in actuality studying Graham as he begins to breakdown from mental illness.
The show airs on NBC, which is conspicuous for two reasons. First, the season is only 13 episodes long, a model long adopted by cable stations. This allowed for a tightly scripted story, with little to no down time. There are generally two types of shows, ones you can multitask during, and ones that demand your attention. This is the latter. Not a moment is wasted as the show builds on threads established from the word go, culminating in tense finale that constantly begged the question, where do they go from here?
The other oddity with this being a network show is the incredibly high level of gore and violence. The show mixes a case-of-the-week motif with a heavy underlining, and often times overriding, serialization element. The grotesque and horrifying ways victims are killed was utterly shocking. This is not for the faint of heart. The first episode, “Apéritif” is nothing typical audiences haven’t seen before, particularly if you’ve watched Red Dragon. The second episode however, “Amuse-Bouche” is appalling, mostly because of the imagination behind it. How do the writers sleep at night?
Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Lecter is the biggest question, considering how iconic the cannibal has become. Mikkelsen is not Hopkins, but that’s not a bad thing. Hannibal is an elegant man with refined tastes and murder in his eyes. In this, Mikkelsen succeeds wonderful. The added terror, the unsettling notion and presence that Hopkins brought to the character though, is missing. I never felt tense or scared watching Mikkelsen’s Hannibal kill, though I was captivated. It’s not fair to compare the two, as they’re different iterations, but with this, how could you not?
My biggest complaint was the ever increasing outlandish mental disorders. While each of them undoubtedly exist, it felt more like a bit of House was mixed in, as they encountered the strangest of the strange. At first it was interesting, eventually it became questionable. Thankfully, their weren’t many case-of-the-week episodes, so it wasn’t too overdone. Still, a detractor.
Hannibal is not a show for everyone. If the lighthearted killing in Dexter put you off, stay far away. This not only makes you think, but demands your full attention. Though Mikkelsen is not Anthony Hopkins, that only helps to set this apart, unbeholden to the past.
What was the best kill of the season? Surprised by the finale? Comment below!
I cannot pronounce any of the episode titles.