I never though Hannibal would be a show that could compel me to write about it, let alone at any length. (Along with Bates Motel and Elementary, it’s been a good year for surprisingly great TV). But here I am, writing an episode-by-episode recap of NBC’s Hannibal.
Honestly, Silence of the Lambs never struck me as much more than an above average thriller; nothing really special, definitely not a Best Picture contender in my eyes. The novels that came before, penned by Thomas Harris, I regard as being less than average. At times they are painfully pretentious and at other times they are astonishingly trashy. The Micheal Mann cinematic interpretation of Harris’s world of cannabals and serial-killers (Manhunter) struck me as the most successful, because it better balanced the tone between pulpy and disturbing. The other film adaptations – Hannibal, Hannibal Rising, erhh… What’s it called… Red Dragon, that’s it – were all laughable, absurd, and almost offensively silly. I pictured Hannibal Lecture feeding a man his own brains when I wrote that last sentence.
So, you wouldn’t be surprised to know I wasn’t looking forward to NBC’s Hannibal. For one, it’s NBC. For another, I find these characters to be boring, left-over relics from a time when pop-culture was fascinated with “being inside the head of a serial-killer”. I really don’t have much patience for the detective character who is struggling with the burden of being able to understand the psychology of a psychopath; or, his counter-part, the intellectual, arrogant, tortured serial-killer character, who just can’t help leaving behind a dramatic crime-scene and taunting the detective with obscure references to some obscure religious/occult bullshit, ya-da-da-da, who gives a fuck. It reminds me of Nicholas Cage’s twin-brother in the film Adaptation and his cringe-worthy foray into screen-writing.
That said, you might be expecting me to tell you about how Hannibal avoids – or maybe inverts – all of those hack tropes we’ve come to expect from serial-killer films and television shows. But, I’m not going to. In fact, Hannibal embraces every one of these annoying tropes – the detective with an intimate understanding of the killer he is chasing, the dramatic, only-a-writer-could-think-of-that methods of murder – but, it spins these tropes into pure gold.
The opening scene of the pilot episode, “Aperitif”, is a perfect example of turning dusty, expired genre conventions into something new and special. The show opens with Will Graham (once played by Edward Norton in Red Dragon, now performed by Hugh Dancy) standing in a crime-scene, seemingly isolated from the busy forensic-work going on around him. He closes his eyes or a moment, then begins to imagine an immense pendulum swinging in front of him, removing evidence and blood-splatter from the crime-scene with every wipe, until the living-room is clean.
Will walks backwards, out of the house, in reverse photography. He passes a car and the frame of the driver’s-side door wipes the screen, smoothly transitioning to the time of the murder in a single traveling shot. It’s a transition that reminded me of the film The Grey. It’s not the last time Hannibal’s dream-scapes will impress me. This whole opening is just captivatingly shot and edited. Anyway, Will walks backwards in reverse photography, to the street, then stops. The thumping score cuts out suddenly, then Will begins to storms toward the house. We watch him break in and coldly execute the two victims, all while he makes a commentary on his actions (“this is my design”). The sequence is startlingly graphic and it packs a lot of punch (over-saturation adds a lot to this effect). This is Will Graham’s process and we’ll see it often. It’s a genius visual way of presenting that whole “burdened by my understanding of evil” thing. It actually makes the character sympathetic. Later in the episode, Will is standing over a bed, about to re-live something rather ghastly involving a young woman, when he is interrupted by someone he doesn’t know. The panic on his face, it’s like he got caught committing a real crime, not just imagining one. As he explains his process to the forensics specialist who interrupted him, Will looks full of shame and self-hatred. It’s heart-breaking to see him first subject himself to the perverse world-view of other’s before he can stop them. It’s a great stroke of writing that is directed perfectly and performed with a great deal of heart by Hugh Dancy.
I want to talk about the name-sake of the show a bit, but it might be smarter to hold off on discussing Lecter until we know more about the character. Mads Mikkelson’s performance so-far was been very, very promising. I prefer this version to Anthony Hopkin’s very over-the-top and silly version of Lecter, going off my first-impression. Which is good. I don’t think the silly, over-the-top Lecter that Anthony Hopkins played would have enough legs for a television series.
Let’s give this one a *** out of *****. It was an excellent episode, a fantastic introduction. If you are wondering why I didn’t give it a “****” or “*****” instead, it’s because I’m saving some wiggle room for the truly amazing episodes that might be coming down the pipe. I might look back at this one and wished I’d rated it higher. Looking forward to covering the next episode. Thanks for reading!