Mads Mikkelsen as TV’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Based on Thomas Harris’s novels, the Hannibal TV series, created and produced by Bryan Fuller, is not for the squeamish. But I’m not. I just ask that gore be purposeful, be interesting, be done with care for what it causes and the consequences. Hannibal mines the rich inspiration of art that’s in the books and marries it with aesthetically inventive visuals, sharp but minimal dialogue, and great performances to make a show that doesn’t feel or look like any other. Dramatic, cultured, very close-up and personal, it meanders the deceptive byways of the human mind. As far as shows that could be considered mainstream horror, you can think of Hannibal as the other end of the axis that the also-unique Walking Dead occupies.
For me, the shock value of the usual red-dyed corn syrup wore off after, oh, maybe watching the already dated Toolbox Killer in high school. Most horror isn’t that horrible once you’ve seen a bunch, and when you suspect a new story is just graceless, hopeless, manipulative three-card monte, it can lose its appeal. I make an exception for trope-licious campy fun, sometimes great fun, as TV’s American Horror Story often plays in this sandbox. In my least favorite kind of horror, the effects of all the bizarrities and carnage have no cumulative effect on the characters. They could be stepping through the stations of Candyland for all it matters. That’s how you know the writer made the victims of cardboard, because not even their nearest and dearest seem to care. The slaughter-forget-repeat cycle isn’t that captivating.
But it’s not merely horror, because Hannibal is also a lawless serial killer. Whether his pursuers on TV are now retired, estranged, or recuperating, it’s their connections to law enforcement, FBI specifically, that brought them into contact with Dr. Lecter. This show is set before the events of the novel Red Dragon– seen in the movie versions Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002)–and the even later-set novel Silence of the Lambs, the basis for the 1991 movie of the same name. In the TV series, we’ve gotten to backward to see the FBI’s star-profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikklesen) for the first time. We have explored the earliest, dangerous, see-sawing interaction of hunter and hunted. Later, we know, the cannibal will perfect with profiler Clarice Starling a method of corruption which is in-development here with Will Graham. Now, in the show’s third season, Hannibal has escaped the U.S. after dramatically revealing himself as no ordinary psychiatrist-consultant to the feds. His pursuers, who are all now also profoundly wounded victims, are closing in. Which is exactly what he wants. What he craves.
I know this kind of fare is NOT to the taste of everyone among the WoM or our regular visitors, not by any means. However, I thought I’d make a stab (ha) at trying to explain the appeal of the form and of this show in particular. I’ve been doing weekly show recaps at Criminal Element. Each week, I try to explore at least one of the cultural or artistic elements raised in the episode with more detail as bonus info, if you will. The episodes you’ll notice are all named after courses or categories of cuisine. Season 1 was French, Season 2 was Japanese. This season, which takes place partially in Florence and Palermo, is appropriately Italian. So here are the links to those posts if you’re interested!
Hannibal 3.01: an “Antipasto” of Drains and Snails — more on comic opera Don Pasquale and the medieval torture device called the Catherine Wheel
Hannibal 3.02: “Primavera” Springs Will Graham — more on true-crime killer, Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence, and Botticelli’s painting Allegory of Spring
Hannibal 3.03: “Secondo” Means Choosing — more on ancient Rome’s meat apportioning and how Death’s Head moths and entomological imposters are used on screen
Hannibal 3.04: “Aperitivo” Whets the Bloodlust — more on the conspiracy to kill Caesar, mythological death goddesses, and John Donne’s sonnet “A Fever”
This will be the show’s last season on NBC, and credit to them for sticking so long with something so different. However, I have high hopes this quality show will be picked up by another network or streaming service. After all, it has a built-in base of passionate fannibals, and there’s a whole world of cuisine, art, architecture, and music left to explore!