Hannibal – Everything you need to know about Season 1
I don’t think mental fragility or psychological obliteration has ever been as palpably portrayed as in the demise of Will Graham (a surprisingly haunting turn by Hugh Dancy) in Season 1 of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (NBC). Graham is an FBI profiler gifted with an acute empathy for the murders he investigates. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Hannibal.
Beware of Spoilers if you have not watched season 1!
Manipulated and broken by psychiatrist and intellectual sparring partner Hannibal Lecter, we leave him in the final, agonising episode suffering from a neurological firestorm in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. As he stares at us from a prison cell that reminds us not only of Hopkins’ incarceration in Silence of the Lambs, but of Norman Bates/Mother’s final plea to camera in Psycho we are simultaneously, as with Bates, sympathetic and concerned.
Watch the ending of season 1 here.
The show returned for Season 2 three weeks ago, making this the perfect time for a quick recap and a look at what we’re in store for this time round. It is one of my most anticipated TV events of the year. When I first heard Hannibal was being adapted for TV I was nervous to say the least. Thomas Harris’ creation of Hannibal Lecter has been one of the most sustaining, intimidating and terrifying characters of the Twentieth Century and it is quite an impressive feat to consider how infamous the fictitious cannibal has become. He is charismatic, deadly, and sensationalist in his psychopathy. Part of his enduring success as a cultural figure is owed to the incredible initial adaptations of Harris’ novels that preceded Fuller’s offering, namely Manhunter (Red Dragon) and the much satirized Silence of the Lambs. These two films anchored the charms of Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) and fragility of Will Graham (William Peterson) in our minds, bringing Harris’ brilliant novels to life in front of us without leaving us wanting more from them. Sadly, some awful adaptations followed and my anxiety for the TV version of Hannibal was owed wholly to these disappointments that were Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002) and Hannibal Rising (2007)
Where Hannibal succeeds so triumphantly is by not trying to belong to the former franchise. Instead it has returned to the source material of the novels and made it its own by using a dense, hyper real colour pallette to gothic effect for the violent, grisly and oddly poetic murder scenes depicted in the series. “The Ripper,” a serial murderer accused of being responsible for these acts, is a uniquely adaptable psychopath. We the viewers know his true identity from subtle, slow inference that builds throughout the season, starting as a hunch and ending as a burning certainty. This slowburn inference is the key to Mads Mikkelsen’s remarkably accomplished Hannibal Lecter character and placement in the narrative arc. In Season 1, Fuller expects us to already be familiar with Hannibal’s proclivities and leaves us to do a lot of the work ourselves. We feel disgusted and simultaneously titillated when we watch Mikkelsen prepare his sumptuous meals of questionable provenance. This ambiguity is something I love – writers please take note – let us use our brains more.
The episodes of Season 1 were all named after french food, and as Thomas Harris himself is an accomplished Cordon Bleu chef this seems like a unsettling example of art imitating life. The episodes of Season 2, however, now bear Japanese names which is further proof of Fuller’s attention to detail in Hannibal’s character. He is not simply rehashing Hopkins’ Silence of the Lambs Lecter but scrutinising the novels for the details of Hannibal’s adopted Japanese family after his own family are slaughtered in Hannibal Rising. It is an act of narrative deception that Season 1 focuses on Graham’s decline at the hand of the bullying Laurence Fishburne who keeps pushing him to solve more cases. It disguises the macabre underbelly that is developing with Lecter’s presence. It would be remiss to discuss the show with no mention of Gillian Anderson’s steely turn as Lecter’s therapist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. Her relationship with Hannibal is one that is shrouded in much mystery as we forever wonder just how much she knows about her client. I am a huge fan of Anderson and feel she is an enchanting chameleon of an actor. If any of you have yet to see the UK produced The Fall from last year where she plays a detective on the heels of a serial killer in Northern Ireland, find it and watch it. Now.
Criticised for being yet one more example of violent ‘murder porn’ (a label that quite frankly cheapens the artistry of the show) Hannibal elevates the procedural genre with the artistic finesse with which it approaches the source material. This season we can look forward to Hannibal Lecter coming into his own, monstrous and laid bare without Graham to unwittingly cover for him. Their continuing relationship will be fascinating as we see Will struggle to come to terms with his incarceration and the question of his innocence plagues him. We are also promised a lot more murders with Michael Pitt (as sadistic Mason Verger) joining the cast a the new ‘baddie’. Season 2 has a lot to live up to, but also so many questions have been left unanswered I feel it will be a while before it gets the chance to go off the boil too much. Writing about the show without giving away too much of the treats and delights of Season 1 is tremendously difficult but I truly believe everyone deserves to come to Hannibal with fresh eyes.