The Nightmare Under the Pillow: NBC’s HANNIBAL, the Series, Season 1

Warning:
No Spoilers but Viewer Discretion Advised
(Graphic Photos & Official Trailer)
May Contain Triggers

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I’d heard of Hannibal the Series, but since it was airing on a network (NBC), I never bothered checking it out. You see, I erroneously assumed that since it would be on network television rather than on a premium — or even basic — cable channel, it would be superficial at the very least, and absurdly boring at the most. I now publicly and humbly apologize to all the creators, writers, actors, special effects staff, producers — as well as to NBC itself — for thinking that a show like this couldn’t work on a network because it wouldn’t be able to get by the censors of free television programming. I was wrong. Although it does have some minor weaknesses, Hannibal is one of the most daring, exciting, brilliant, and innovative television series ever created.images-20Based on the characters created by author Thomas Harris in his novel Red Dragon, the official series description runs along these lines:

Gifted criminal profiler Will Graham  has a unique way of thinking that allows him to empathize with anyone, including psychopaths. But while helping the FBI pursue a particularly complicated serial killer, he decides he could use some help and enlists the brilliant psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. The two form a partnership and it seems that there is no villain they can’t catch together, but Lecter harbors a dark secret. His own brilliant mind has gone to the dark side and he has more in common with the criminals they hunt than Will could possibly imagine.

Yes, it’s a pretty poorly done description, and I’m glad I didn’t write it. After all, who hasn’t seen Silence of the Lambs? Who on earth does not know of Anthony Hopkins’ terrifying and Oscar-winning performance as Hannibal Lecter, the doctor-turned-cannibal-serial-killer who was called upon by the FBI to assist them in locating the kidnapped victim of another serial killer? Lecter has always been portrayed as an intelligent — genius, maybe — crafty, charming psychopath. Therefore, viewers already know Lecter’s “dark secret.”

The actual premise of the series is more intriguing and complex than the above description would indicate.

images-34Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, above right) has the unique ability to re-imagine the crime scenes. We’re told he’s “overly empathetic” with the killers, that he has an “empathy disorder,” but it’s really just the unbelievable literary trope that this Professor of Criminal Studies can unfailingly “re-create” the crime scenes, step-by-step, just by looking at them afterward. I must say, though, that Hannibal does an excellent job of showing Will doing this, with a flashing pendulum “undoing” the crime scene, as it were, until Will can “connect” with the killer.

(I’ve been told that this ability of Graham’s is in Harris’ novel — in comments: thank you, Dannibal —  and I know that it’s a popular trope in many serial killer novels. The premise itself, however, is unbelievable. If such a person existed, he’d not only be the highest paid FBI agent on record, but serial killers would always be caught, and missing women, teens, and children would be found before they were brutally raped, tortured, and murdered. But that’s just a minor complaint about an otherwise well written show and, no doubt, well-written book. So, I guess I’m not complaining that the show has this trope in the first place since it was initially in the book, but that serial killer novels have it so consistently. Maybe the authors think it will make their readers feel safer somehow.)

Because of his unique skills, Will is called away from his classes at the FBI Academy by Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, above left) to “unofficially” help out catching serial killers. Will Graham’s role is unofficial since he didn’t manage to make it into the FBI. When consulted, psychiatrist Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas, below), who’s a friend of Will’s, argues against his involvement because of his emotional and psychological “instability.”

images-29Crawford, however, wants to utilize Will’s special gift. He asks her to recommend another psychiatrist for a second opinion, one who can give a more “unbiased” evaluation, i.e., one which agrees with Jack’s, on whether Will can handle the crime scenes he’ll be viewing and analyzing. She recommends Hannibal Lecter.

imagesPlayed to perfection by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, this Hannibal Lecter is not one we’ve ever seen before. He’s ostensibly given up his position as an ER medical doctor — before the start of this show — and practices psychiatry. Lecter is asked to evaluate Will’s mental stability, which requires “informal” sessions. These are to be reported back to Jack Crawford since, technically, Will Graham is not Hannibal’s patient, so there are no doctor-patient confidentiality issues.

images-19What a concept. Serial killer Hannibal the Cannibal (above, left) as a psychiatrist to an overly empathetic “special agent” Will Graham (above, right) who reports all the grisly details of any and all crime scenes to his “psychiatrist” — informally.

So, apparently, Will can look at a scene like the one below, and know what happened from the serial killer’s perspective:

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He can imagine the kind of serial killer who would do something like this:

images-26Like this:

Unknown-1Like this:

images-25And like this:

images-28Accompanied and aided by a crack team of forensic MEs Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park, below, second from left), Brian Zeller (Aaron Abrams, below, left of Laurence Fishburne), and Jimmy Price (Scott Thompson, below, far left, across from Hugh Dancy), who wise-crack their way through post-mortem autopsies as well as crime scenes, this FBI crew — including the ever-lurking Lecter, who is ostensibly shadowing Will for professional reasons — covers a variety of crimes.

images copy 2The story of the crimes of the first serial killer being sought in the series — Garrett Jacob Hobbs — is carried throughout the season, as is the continuing story of his daughter, Abigail (Kacey Rohl, below), who develops extremely complicated relationships with both Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.

images-7Some killers appear for only an episode — and this causes one of the weaknesses of the show, only because the same FBI teams goes to WI, MD, CT, OH, and VA, always arriving at the crime scenes in the same, standard-issue black SUVs.

Some killers and crimes recur through several episodes, so their stories become more complex and interesting than the ones that are only in one episode. The longer, recurring stories are obviously more developed than the ones that appear only for an hour (minus commercials). Some of the scenes in these recurring stories even become motifs for the series, like the antler room:

Hannibal - Season 1(If, like me, you think the girl on the stag-horns in the middle of a field [first crime scene photo above], the hanging victim [fourth crime scene photo above], and the antler room all hearken back to season 1 of True Detective, bear in mind that Hannibal was on the air long before TD’s Hart & Cole investigated the “antler girl” in the open field, viewed the “latest victim displayed from a bridge/overpass,” and searched for the maze called “Carcosa.”)

images-21Throughout Hannibal, online tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki, above) annoys the FBI with her “investigative crime reporting,” as she calls it, irritates Hannibal Lecter — who’s an avid reader of her site TattleCrime — by attributing crimes to the wrong killers, and even aids the FBI by “planting” stories to flush killers out.

So far, this might all sound terribly trite, but because of the skill of the writers, the actors, and the unbelievable special effects, Hannibal rises above any clichés, and its production is more impressive than  the more costly films concerning the same characters. The quality of its acting and the character development surpasses virtually all serial killer films and series made to date.

images-11One of the most innovative aspects of the series is the fact that Hannibal has his own psychiatrist, with whom he discusses his patients, while she discusses Hannibal’s “person suit” with him. Played exquisitely and cleverly by Gillian Anderson (above), Dr. Bedelia du Maurier almost always behaves completely professionally with Hannibal, and continuously counsels him to do the same with all his patients, even his unofficial ones, like Will Graham.

images-16Series creator Bryan Fuller continuously states that season 1 of Hannibal is an exploration of Will Graham’s “descent into madness,” but I disagree. If we are to go along with the show’s initially unbelievable premise that Will can simply re-envision a crime scene’s unfolding as well as all the thoughts and feelings of the killer who committed such atrocities (one of the show’s weaknesses, but writers, readers, & viewers seem to like this trope, so it continues to appear in books, series, and films), then Will isn’t mad. Rather, the show seems more a depiction of the unraveling of his personality as he continues to empathize with psychopathic and socio-pathic serial killers.

images-13As a collector of strays, like abandoned dogs, and victims of crime, like Abigail, Will keeps attempting to create a “family” of sorts. Perhaps he wishes for stability. Perhaps he wants “roots.” Perhaps he only seeks comfort after all the brutality he continuously views in order to help the FBI solve especially heinous crimes.

images-12Hannibal is already a cannibal (I don’t think that counts as a spoiler), but no one except the viewers and Hannibal knows this, creating a delicious irony every time Hannibal is cooking, having a dinner party, or simply enjoying a fine meal and glass of wine on his own.

images-6Hannibal is daring. It takes risks. It re-invents — successfully — one of the most famous villains in literary and cinematic history: Hannibal Lecter. It creates a bond between Hannibal and its viewers because we already know Hannibal’s secret, and because Mads Mikkelsen is such a versatile and talented actor. This unique twist on Hannibal’s character is well worth watching.

One example of the delicate integration of writing, innovation, acting, and production values of this show is the title sequence, which combined scans of 3 heads — that of Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal), Hugh Dancy (Will Graham), and Laurence Fishburne (Jack Crawford) — into one bloody unity. How symbolically significant.

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Season 3 of Hannibal premieres Thursday 4 June 2015 at 10pm ET on NBC. That gives all of you time to watch seasons 1 & 2. Both are available on Amazon, and, as of this writing, season 1 is free for Prime members, and season 1 episode 1 “Aperitif” is free (with ads) for everyone. I’m watching Season 2 next, and will blog on it (without spoilers, of course), but if you can’t wait, Hannibal Season 2 is also free for Prime Members, and others can view it via streaming for $22-30 (SD v HD). Meanwhile, enjoy the trailer for Hannibal.

Warning: Viewer Discretion Advised

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Filed under Actors, Books, Movies/Television, Serial Killers, Videos

7 Responses to The Nightmare Under the Pillow: NBC’s HANNIBAL, the Series, Season 1

  1. Dannibal Lecter

    Overall, this was excellent, and look forward to your season 2 blog post. I was skeptical as well, when I first heard they were making a Hannibal show, but watched it from the beginning and was hooked. Mads and Hugh are both phenomenal in the lead roles. Season 2, believe it or not, is even better in my opinion.

    Only two things I want to point out…you point out one of the weaknesses of the show…that Will can re-create the crime scenes from the killer’s point of view, and how that is flawed. That is actually part of the canon. If you read Thomas Harris’s book, “Red Dragon,” it talks about Will re-creating the scenes in his mind, complete with the pendulum even. So, that is not necessarily the shows weakness as much as it is a weakness in the canon, really.

    The other thing…and this is minor…Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier calls it a “person suit” and “human veil,” not a “person mask.” 🙂

    Glad you’re enjoying the show. I know I can’t wait for season 3 (only 73 days til June 4). #EnchantedAndTerrified

    • Dear Dannibal,
      Thank you so much for correcting my mistake about what Dr. Lecter’s psychiatrist calls his “person suit.” I’ll fix that as soon as I finish this reply.

      I think I pointed out, later in the post, that this ability to “re-create the crime scene and the killer’s motives” was a trope, which is why writers, readers, and viewers keep expecting it. I also pointed out that if it were true, serial killers wouldn’t be successful at operating. I’ll check the language.

      I haven’t read Red Dragon, but another in the Hannibal series, and I know writers like that “empathy disorder” on the part of the FBI agents.

      Made it through 4 episodes of season 2 yesterday, and had to stop, late at night, at a horrifying spot. Very afraid for one of my favorite characters.

      #EnchantedAndTerrifiedToo
      Alexandria

    • Corrected, as promised, and the “empathy disorder” complaint reworded more succinctly so that my “complaint” about it is against all serial killer novels that continue to use this trope, rather than against Hannibal or Harris’ Red Dragon.

      Thanks, again

      • Dannibal Lecter

        Greetings,

        Just happened to check back and noticed your replies. I hope that my initial post didn’t come across as rude or too picky. You’re welcome, though, for the information.

        Since you said you haven’t read “Red Dragon” yet, I would recommend it, if you have the time to, especially before season 3. A good portion of season 3 will deal with Francis Dolarhyde aka the Tooth Fairy, which is who the novel is about. I just finished re-reading it recently, as well as read “Hannibal;” I found it to be fun to see the various quotes that are in the books and that have been re-purposed for the show.

        By now, I assume you are further along in season 2…if you haven’t watched Mizumono (the finale) yet, allow me to caution you; it is advisable to have tissues on hand when you watch it. I have watched the finale so many times and every time, and it is still just as traumatizing as the first time. With that said, it is probably the best season finale I have ever seen of any show.

        • Dear Dannibal,

          If I make a mistake, I never consider it rude when a fan points it out, and I’m more than happy to correct it. I only find it rude when people insist that I can’t write blogs on TV shows, series, or films if I haven’t read the books they’re based on: you didn’t, in any way, imply that.

          Finished Season 2, and, yes, the finale was unbelievably powerful. About to do the blog tomorrow. You might be surprised about what I say concerning the extended final scene.

          Looking forward to reading the books, and will do as you suggested, my dear #Fannibal, and read them before season 3. I’ve seen all the films, of course, but love this new interpretation, adaptation, and homage best of all.

          • Dannibal Lecter

            Glad that my reply didn’t come across as rude in any way, as that was not the intent. And, nah, I am not one of those that insist a person must read the books to fully understand a show. Before NBC’s Hannibal began, I had only read “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs” years ago. It wasn’t til recently that I read “Hannibal” and I still have not read “Hannibal Rising” yet. I do think that reading the books, however, adds something to the viewing of the show. I hope you enjoy the books as much as I do.

            I also have seen all the films, and I really was skeptical about someone other than Anthony Hopkins stepping into the role of Hannibal Lecter, but I must say that Mads has pulled it off beautifully. I have been thoroughly impressed with his portrayal. And as for Will Graham, I think Hugh Dancy’s version is by far the best one. He truly owns that role. I definitely love this version of the Hannibal mythos and I dare say I enjoy it more than the films even.

            Anyhow, I have rattled on enough. I am going to check out your season 2 post, assuming it is up already.

          • Dear Dannibal,
            I liked the feedback, and appreciate your comments on the book as I’m a monstrous reader. I watched seasons 1 & 2 of Hannibal on DVD since I’d missed them when broadcast. The DVD commentary includes remarks by Bryan Fuller indicating which scenes are homages to the films and books from the series. Of course, I get all the film allusions, having seen them, but I think it’d be great fun to get the allusions to the books, too, so plan to read them before season 3 starts. (Of course, I never would’ve noticed the homage to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (film version) since I saw it so long ago, I can’t recall any of it: the scene was when Will was hunting the stag, then woke in the morning with muddy feet, to show he had been outside the night before and not dreaming; Fuller said that was the homage to PS. I knew those muddy feet meant Will had not been dreaming about being outside, but didn’t get the allusion to SK’s book/film.)

            Of course, when an actor as famous and talented as Anthony Hopkins puts his stamp on a character, especially one like Hannibal Lecter, it would be difficult for any other actor to try to follow in his footsteps. I, too, think Mads is so supremely talented that he has done an incredible job. He has taken the character in a slightly different direction, of course, since the writers are slightly straying from the books, i.e., by making him a practicing psychiatrist seeing his own psychiatrist, but that’s one of the ways Mads is making the role his own, adding an entirely new sinister level to his character.

            And though I love Edward Norton, Hugh Dancy has brought a fragility to the role that is more believable somehow. Even though Bryan Fuller called it a “descent into madness,” I didn’t think it was that at all. More like a descent into Hannibal’s mind-set, which, as we know from serial killers in real life, is not madness at all but something far more evil and frightening.

            About to write my blog on Season 2 now: wanted to watch the finale once more, especially that last extended “ballet scene,” which was beyond brilliant in orchestration, character development, and execution. You just got a sneak preview of the post 😀

            I do believe we’re following each other on the twitter now. Welcome.

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