Follow TV Tropes
In my previous season review, I wondered out loud how Hannibal Lecter could afford to live whilst running Balitmore's least-productive psychiatric practice. Now after finishing the second series, I'm wondering how he is able to do everything else. The man is simultaneously an (alleged) talented psychiatrist, surgeon, composer, artist, chef, horticulturist, perfumer, murderer, martial artist, and knife thrower. The man knows everything from multiple languages to pig husbandry. He also appears to have magic powers.
Season 2 starts with Jack Crawford and Hannibal having a fight to the death. It is the series way of informing us that people will finally get a clue and do something about Hannibal (but only by the season finale). It is, however, a bit of a cop out. Without going into spoilers, yes Jack Crawford is now aware that his former close friend eats people, but things are left very much unresolved about the consequences of that. Before we get to that point, Will Graham has other problems - he has landed in jail, expertly framed for every murder by Hannibal Lecter. In the meantime, he does what he usually does from his cell and solves murders where the victims are turned into artworks.
I recently re-watched the movie Silence of the Lambs, and in it I couldn't help but notice the difference in terms of how mundane its reality is to Hannibal. Clarice Starling is living in a bland, grey world, putting up with workplace sexism and a grounded murder case. Even Dr Lecter, the weirdest thing about her story, is simply a very clever man who passes the time by trolling his visitors. Subsequent movies and this tv show have since mythologised the man to the point where he is a superhuman who can do whatever he wants, with the infinite time and means to do it. I feel like the premise of Hannibal Lecter has gone missing along the way, in the show's effort to rise above the book's and film's many cultural imitators.
What we end up with is a surrealist drama that is at odds with its banal police and forensics framework. I complained before about how no one consults security camera footage in this show (which would immediately prove Lecter is a murderer), and I was coming to accept that perhaps in this weird, dream version of North-Eastern US, such things don't exist. But then a pathologist turns around one episode and mentions seeing a culprit on a camera in an unrelated case. The detective work comes crashing in to undermine the surreal story in which a millionaire pig breeder flavours his martinis with children's tears. Is it real life, or is it just fantasy? The show can't make up its mind, to its detriment.
I'm done with Hannibal. It still looks lovely, but that's a distraction from an unsatisfying, frustrating, weightless story that doesn't quite work on a basic conceptual level. Buy the cookbook tied to the season, but don't bother with watching it.
Despite sharing the name of one of the films and books, Hannibal takes place before the events of those series, giving us a glimpse into the day to day life of television's most beloved psychopathic serial killer. "The only thing for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing", said someone who might have been Edmund Burke. In the case of Hannibal, evil triumphs when good men can't notice the flipping obvious.
Hannibal Lecter devotes all his time to hosting elaborate meals and not curing his psychiatric patients. I can't help but wonder how he manages to keep in business, between him gaslighting and murdering all his patients, and the massive overheads that come with a lifestyle lavish enough to make Frasier Crane blush. I also can't help wonder why it is taking so long for people to notice there is something off with Hannibal. He's surrounded by presumably smart people, and yet none of them find him in the slightest bit odd, despite him being played by the terrifying Mads Mikkelsen and talking entirely in weird innuendos. Compare this to the movie The Hunt, where everyone is convinced Mads Mikkelsen's character is a serial paedophile on looks alone.
Hannibal is a police procedural, wrapped up in some psychoanalytical gibberish. Each episode, a serial killer murders someone in an impressively creative way, and it's up to a severely mentally unstable FBI profiler, Will Graham, and the bullying chief inspector Crawford, to figure it out. Profiling isn't a very robust method of police work on its own, but in this show everyone treats Graham like he is the key to solving every murder. Somehow, Graham does work it out correctly every time though, his various mental health problems giving him an uncanny ability to figure out the thought processes of serial killers. His efforts are however undermined when the evidence inevitably points in the direction of those same culprits, meaning that in many of the cases they'd find the murderer without forcing the suffering Graham to stare at yet another stack of festering corpses. The FBI does not seem like a healthy place to work.
I like a lot of things about Hannibal. I like the pretty food, and the spooky atmosphere, and the imaginative camera work used to demonstrate the delusional state that many of its characters live in. I like less the relationships between the characters; everyone is an arsehole to everyone else, except Graham who we know is nice because he keeps lots of dogs. I also dislike the fetishisation of mental health. We are shown a range of super rare disorders, dialled up to 11 to make them as horror show worthy as possible. Then there is Lecter's air of supernatural genius that lets him outmanoeuvre everyone, when really it is blind luck he keeps getting away with it. It would only take a detective to realise that CCTV is a thing for Lecter to be caught out. It's a decent show, but not as smart as it pretends to be, and a lot more clumsy.
I loved Hannibal. A good friend of mine introduced the series to me a few years ago and I was hooked. Also kinda creeped out, not for the obvious reasons but rather because I thought that if I ever got to direct a TV series it would be 99% in the same style. As a matter of fact, after How I Met Your Mother ended, I parodied the ending on my (now defunct) Tumblog, referring to the Ďfirst natureí scene from The Silence of the Lambs; the next episode referenced that exact scene and I got seriously creeped out.
The cinematography is brilliant. The writing is tight. The music is haunting and beautiful. Everything about the artistic side of the show is amazing.
But the thing is, aside from minor Seasonal Rot (Hannibalís senseless babbling shtick was stretched thin, and the Mind Screw got toned down too much for me), there was a particular blemish that made me feel really mad at Fuller and disappointed with his work was that the insanely hypocritical stance he took when making this show.
Fuller proudly proclaimed that he would not use rape on his show, feeling it to be exploitative (cf. Game of Thrones). He got rousing cheers for that. I was mostly happy about it: although I figured it could theoretically be handled delicately and with a sense of nuance, it was good that he explicitly wanted to avoid exploiting such trauma.
Then, in season 3, Will got sexually assaulted by Freddie Lounds, who took a picture of him naked under the hospital covers, and told Will he should thank her for using a big censor for his genitalia. In the original novel and the film adaptations Will almost assaults her male counterpart for less, and he gets some serious comeuppance; in the series, Freddie gets away scot free.
Worse: after three seasons worth of gaslighting Will and abusing him physically and emotionally, Will and Hannibal become an item. After the special brand of hell Hannibal put Will through, Hannibal, who never so much as hinted at reforming, finally nabs his (married!) abuse victim.
I didnít realise it at first. I figured Will actually pushed him over the cliff to kill him. But apparently theyíre an item, and it sickens me. Itís as if Kilgrave got back with Jessica Jones (actually, itís exactly like that).
But that alone I could somehow let slide—not like thereís a shortage of Unfortunate Implications out there, I mean, Literature/Twilight is a thing, after all. But itís the hypocrisy that gets me. Fuller openly condemned rape and earned lots of points with fans, but then featured a man getting sexually assaulted and getting with his abuser, and... nobody panics.
It felt like Fuller threw away his principles for some quick-and-easy Author Appeal, and I hope season 4 fixes it. Meanwhile, I donít feel comfortable grading this work.
If you've got a strong stomach - and are comfortable with some pretty dark material - then this is a show you're not going to want to miss out on.
The visuals and cinematography are absolutely amazing (seriously, this might be one of the most beautifully shot television shows I've ever seen), and the acting is magnificent on all cylinders. Mikkelsen, Dancy, Fishburne, and Dhavernas paint character portraits that are equal parts compelling and disturbing. And for those who are fans of the Harris mythos, you're in for an additional treat: Bryan Fuller and his team clearly know what they're doing with these stories. Everything is filled with references and subversions of the original novels, but it's all fresh enough that newcomers still find plenty to enjoy.
The only real critique I have of Hannibal is that it can sometimes have a tendency to stray into the realm of melodrama. This is especially clear in the dialogue, which can be a bit angsty and over the top. But when weighed against all of the other amazing things this show's got going for it, that's not much of a detracting point.
Lastly, this series is chock-full of all kinds of motifs and symbols which only deepen the re-watching value. It's the kind of thing that tropers go a bit nuts for, and it's what I fell for pretty much right away. This is not your average 'murder of the week' show, although it might start off that way. It's not formulaic, and it will surprise you in the best (or maybe the worst) ways.
Community Showcase More