I was pretty sceptical about Bryan Fuller’s attempt to bring Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lector to the small screen. It seemed like just another gimmicky cop show to me. You know, where the lead has a personality quirk that helps them solve crime (in this case, Will Graham’s empathy). However, I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong and in this case, I have to admit that I was so wrong I probably deserve to be cooked up and fed at a dinner party (which happens in the show).
Whilst Season 2 is already airing in America (and to all our American readers, you can’t see it but I’m shaking my fist in the air at you), it is only starting in the UK tonight! So, just as a reminder for all fans of Season 1, here’s a quick recap of what made the show so great. And in case you’ve managed to miss the first season, or if you’re thinking about getting into the show, hopefully this will get you interested without revealing too much.
Hugh Dancy stars as Will Graham. A man who is dragged into the field because he suffers from ‘pure empathy’, meaning he can visit a crime scene and know what the killer was thinking. Now I’ll admit, I kinda hate it when Will uses his ‘Empathy Vision’, as usually it doesn’t actually rely on any real evidence and so I end getting annoyed because it’s all just assumptions on his part. However, it’s never been a dealbreaker and considering I’m watching a show about a cannibal who helps the FBI, I figure some suspension of disbelief is required.
Plus, Will isn’t just a one note character and I love the fact that as the series goes on, Will starts to have trouble distinguishing his own identity from the identities of the killers who he has ‘become’ in order to figure out their crimes and motivations. It’s a hard thing to convey going mad but Dancy really gives it his all. Making it both compelling and sad to watch him as the first season draws to a close with one of it’s main characters starting to lose his mind. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for his character in Season 2.
There’s something about Hannibal Lector that we can’t get enough off, as proved by the many books and films featuring the titular cannibal. The fact that Anthony Hopkins has given such great performances as the character could have something to do with it. So it was a bit of a risk to cast Mads Mikkelsen as everyone’s favourite cannibal. However, Mikkelson excels at the role and manages to make it his own. Not only is he perfect at portraying a sophisticated, dapper gentlemanly exterior to everyone he meets which hides the cold and calculating killer he is, but he even manages to bring a touch of humanity to Hannibal as he struggles to understand the friendship he develops with Will Graham (though this is kind of ruined when he manipulates Will in order to see just far Will can be pushed before he finally goes mad). Add in the fact that Hannibal’s motivations are never made explicitly clear and you really have a perfect character who you’ll love to hate.
This obviously relates to the above topic but I felt it deserved it’s own section. Perhaps most unexpectedly for me is the fact that Mikkelson brings a physicality to Hannibal Lector that I’d not expected. Obviously he overpowers his victims but it is never really revealed just how far he has had to go. Just how formidable Hannibal really is finally comes to light when he is forced to confront another serial killer and it leads to an awesome fight between two impeccably dressed psychopaths doing their best to look as dapper as possible whilst using whatever they can get their hands on to beat the living snot out of each other. Not only is this a great scene but it also makes the whole situation even more tense as you know that Hannibal has the skill to defend himself if any of the other characters confront him furthur down the line.
A procedural movie?
One thing that I don’t like about procedural cop shows is the fact that they mostly revolve around a crime (a crime of the week) which the characters have to figure out and if we’re lucky, they’ll also learn a little something about themselves along the way. And don’t get me wrong, Hannibal has quite a few of these styles of stand-alone crimes and criminals which all work well. However, these almost always play second fiddle to the real meat of the story. The ‘friendship’ between Will and Hannibal and the fact that Hannibal plays a big part in manipulating Will’s ability to emphasis with the killers he hunts to the point where he slowly starts to fear that he himself has become a killer. This makes the whole thing seem like one long movie and is helped along nicely by the fact that the show sets up hints of things to come in previous episodes which only pay off a few episodes furthur down the line (like when it is finally revealed what Hannibal was doing with those fishhooks). All of this is aided by the fact that the sound, editing and visual style all have a very cinematic feel to them.
Laurence Fishburne stars as Jack Crawford, the FBI agent who brings Will into the dark and sinister world which slowly destroys him. In a weird, but very cool twist Jack actually gets closer to Hannibal as he slowly distances himself from Will when the latter grows increasingly unstable. Though obviously Hannibal (who we’ve already established is a terrible friend) uses this friendship to taunt Jack with his greatest regret, losing a young FBI trainee by unwittingly sending her after Hannibal a few years previously. One of the things I’m looking forward to the most is seeing Jack finally putting things together and going after Hannibal. He’s proven that he is a skilled and dogged investigator and I think a face-off between him and Hannibal would really be great, especially as I’ve pointed out that Hannibal isn’t exactly a slouch when it comes to physical confrontations.
OK, we’re here for Will and Hannibal but this show could really have suffered if it didn’t also have a great cast to back to them up. And Fishbourne isn’t the only one giving it his all for the series. Lara Jean Chorostecki is a reporter who works her way into as many cases as she can (sometimes to her own detriment) and harbours doubts about Will’s sanity long before anyone else. Gillian Anderson (who still looks great) stars as Hannibal’s physicist and there are hints of a dark secret shared between them. Eddie Izzard has a scene stealing guest appearance as a killer who may not be exactly what he seems.
Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams and Hettienne Park star as the FBI team who investigate most of the murders in the series and are all highly skilled, though I think the friendly banter which they bring to the table is probably the thing I enjoy about them most. Kacey Rohl is probably the break-out star of the first series as the daughter of a serial killer who Will is forced to kill. Alone and vulnerable, she is really dragged through the ringer as both Hannibal and Will develop paternal feelings for her, because neither of the two are great role models let’s be honest.
Blood and guts
Hannibal is a grisly show. In fact, it even made me, a pretty desensitised guy, wince and cover my eyes a few times (mainly because it featured ‘eye violence’). It features some intense scenes involving people burning, people having their jaws ripped open, people being heavily mutilated and it even has some impromptu surgery (where the victim is still awake). In fact, I’m pretty sure the show pushes the boat as far out as it can go on just how much gore you can get away with on a Network TV show. Which leads me to the most disturbing aspect of the show…
You’d probably think that forcing you to watch all the gore and the blood would be the worst thing the show could do to you. You’d be wrong. You see, one of Hannibal’s many talents is cooking. During the show we get to see him cook up quite a few body parts and worse still, he makes it look good. Really good. To the point where you’ll probably be really hankering for a steak (whilst simultaneously feeling disgusted at yourself) after you watch every episode.
Any other things you can think of that make Hannibal such a great show? Disagree with my opinions? Can’t wait for Season 2 to start? Let us know in the comments section.