Season 1, Episode 1:
Profiler Will Graham is recruited by Jack Crawford of the FBI's Behavior Sciences Unit to try and track down a serial killer in Minnesota (the "Minnesota Shrike") who has been hunting teenage girls. Graham has a strange gift, the ability to fully and completely empathize with anybody, which allows him to reconstruct the motives, thought patterns, and actions of a serial killer simply by analyzing the crime scene. However, this puts a great deal of pressure on his mind, and he doesn't wish to compromise his own sanity by taking it too far.
Looking for someone who can help work Will through his troubles, Crawford is referred by Will's friend and colleague Alana Bloom to her former mentor, the psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. He describes Will's gift as "pure empathy", and believes he can help Will find the Shrike. However, unbeknownst to Graham, Crawford, and Bloom, Lecter is himself a cannibalistic serial killer.
Lecter kills another girl in a method similar enough to the Shrike to get Crawford's attention, but with such a difference in the emotional method of killing that it is able to clarify more for Graham exactly what the Shrike's motives are, allowing him to create a more solid profile.
Lecter and Graham, with the help of the FBI forensics team, track the Shrike down to a construction yard where they find that one worker, Garret Jacob Hobbs, has left a phone number but no address on his insurance waiver. After Lecter secretly informs Hobbs via telephone that the FBI is on to him, he and Graham go to Hobbs' house, just in time to see him slit his wife's throat. As Hobbs holds a knife to his daughter Abigal's throat, Graham empties his pistol into him, killing him, though not before he severely cuts Abigail's neck. Lecter works to stop the bleeding and follows her to the hospital.
This episode contains the following tropes:
- Adopt the Dog: The writers wisely employ this trope halfway through the episode, during which we've watched the odd and decidedly unsocial Will Graham replay two gruesome crimes in his head with himself in the role of the killer. So before Lecter has his first scene, they have Graham pick up a stray dog and get it to eat out of his hand. It's the first time we see him as human, and his gentleness in handling the dog, along with the other dogs he has at home, makes us realize that he is a good person who simply has trouble interacting with people — unlike Hobbs or Lecter, who are outwardly at ease and inwardly monstrous.
- Call-Forward/Early-Bird Cameo: Alana has to take over his crime class for FBI cadets when Will is too distressed to teach it. We hear part of her lecture before she is interrupted, which is about how to investigate crimes involving bites, bringing to mind Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon.
- Also, the couple murdered in the opening scenes have been confirmed by Word of God to have been killed by Dolarhyde.
- Catapult Nightmare
- Ermine Cape Effect: When we first meet Lecter, he's dressed in a bright turquoise three-piece suit, with gold-like window-pane stripes and with a gold-ish tie and shirt. Clearly, his psychiatrist's office is his kingdom. But when he goes to Jack Crawford's office to meet profiler Will Graham, he wisely camouflages himself and takes on the coloration of his environment, dressing in a dull brown and tan.
- Gilligan Cut: After Zeller notes with horror that the Shrike is potentially eating his victims' livers, we see our first glimpse of Dr. Lecter as he calmly enjoys dinner. Given that Hannibal definitely isn't the Shrike, who shows an entirely different methodology and a twisted form of compassion, it also serves as a mild Red Herring if the viewer isn't paying attention.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Graham notes on the first crime scene we see that the killer "surgically" shot the man so that he bled out slowly enough to watch him attack his wife, and that the wife was shot through the neck missing all the major arteries so that she was paralyzed but alive when the killer started to work on her. It should be noted that the first target was running down the stairs, and the second target's head was moving quite a bit, so clearly the killer was a damn good shot.
- Shout-Out: The red toilet where Crawford talks to Graham is inspired by the one in The Shining.
- Sleep Cute: A very, very strange one, made decidedly sinister at least for the audience, with Hannibal falling asleep by Abigail's sickbed, holding her hand.