Page to Screen: Hannibal – Season 1 (2013)


Hannibal: Season 1
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris


2013 • 13 episodes • NBC

The only tragedy of the written word is that I cannot wordlessly scream a single note at you for the equivalent of 700+ words to convey how good Hannibal is. I mean, I am capable of recording myself wordlessly screaming, but there is no way that will accurately convey the intended message to you. You win again, the written word!

Ever the Johnnie-come-lately, I of course finally decided to put Hannibal‘s first season on hold a few days before the show was canceled. (Fuller and company are still searching for a home; Netflix and Amazon have passed.) Captain Cinema, tumblr (sweet Bowie, does tumblr love Hannibal), and the entire world have been talking up Hannibal a storm ever since the show began airing. Showrunner Bryan Fuller describing the show as not television, but “a pretentious art film from the 80s” was the only thing I needed to push myself off the edge.

So, yeah, everything I’ve heard about Hannibal—its heightened, decadent, and subtle camp, its addictive build, its Mads Mikkelsen—is wonderfully, gloriously true. My last descent into stylized procedurals was Sherlock(yes, that is how far I am behind on Elementary), so this show is just such a breath of fresh air.

In fact, Hannibal is the perfect antidote to something like Sherlock. While Sherlock features a main character whose “cool” behavior and impressive crime-solving chops seem related to what other characters see as Asberger’s Syndrome, Moffat and company avoid the issue entirely by explicitly stating that Sherlock merely aspires to sociopathy.

(I am so glad I gave up on Sherlock.)

But in Hannibal, that is the issue. FBI criminal profiler (and nominal protagonist; it’s an ensemble, truly) Will Graham is explicitly labeled as both being on the autistic spectrum and having an empathy disorder. His worldview gives him an unusual ability to understand how serial killers tick, but it’s also draining, painful work for him. This fact is brilliantly represented by how the show visualizes how Graham gets into the minds of serial killers; it begins the show lushly, but soon devolves into nightmarish visions where he begins to lose the boundary between himself and his quarry. And it’s not just him; the work takes a toll on the rest of his team, from his superior Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishbourne, dripping with gravitas in a series of amazing overcoats) to their quippy trio of crime science investigators (Beverly is great, but Jimmy might be my favorite due to sass levels). People talk seriously about mental health, support networks, and self-care on this show.

Of course, they rarely follow through on the good ideas presented, because this is a show where people make terrible decisions for the best of reasons. Except for Hannibal, who makes decisions based on how fun and interesting the aftermath will be, leading him to treat Will—a person whose friendship he actively and explicitly pursues—as part pet, part science experiment.

Being a show about serial killers and Hannibal Lecter, gore is deeply necessary to Hannibal, but the artistic camp of the show makes it almost a majesty to behold. Bryan Fuller has commented that he has no intention of portraying rape in the show because it’s such an exploited and poorly treated concept in television. But he’s fine with presenting a very arch look at cannibalism because, while it does occur in real life, it’s almost an fantasy crime. One episode finds Hannibal preparing a feast for his opera friends by looking in his Rolodex for people who have annoyed him so he can go kill them and harvest their organs. It’s not all cannibalism, of course, but the other serial killers featured have equally fantastical methods, such as the serial killer who makes violin strings out of peoplegut. This doesn’t make it less gory, but it reminds me of a scene in, of all things, Teen Wolf, where a teenager pulls vines out from under the skin—artistic and violent in equal enough measure that it’s fascinating if you can stomach it.

If you plan to experience Hannibal, I don’t want to say much more. While mild spoilers and immense hype only made the experience better for me (a quite rare occurrence for me), I can’t be the judge of that for you, dear reader. However, I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful the cast is on nearly every level, from the fantastic main cast to bit parts. And it’s so well-cast, too: when Raúl Esparza turns up as a Dr. Chilton, it’s both delightful and perfectly logical. Let me put it this way: if, for some hideous reason, all of Hannibal was lost save for his performance, you could safely extrapolate the rest of the show from it. That’s how perfect it is.

I rented this DVD set from the public library.

5 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Hannibal – Season 1 (2013)

  1. I, too, only became interested in Hannibal almost immediately after it was canceled! (Partly because I accidentally read a fanfic and got sucked into reading a bunch more.) I haven’t decided if I should watch the show or not yet, though. I don’t like gore or serial killers (except when they’re reforming themselves for their boyfriends, I suppose), but I DO like pretty cinematography and excellent casts.

    • It is GORGEOUS cinematography nonstop. The gore is… uh… it’s gore. I keep make the mistake of eating while I’m watching (I am daring myself to catch up with the entire show before its finale, so I can watch that “liveish”), and while most things are so bizarre that it doesn’t phase me, we do occasionally see SUPER GROSS THINGS.

      (I haven’t gotten to the fic yet, but I am kind of delighted that there’s at least one fic where Hannibal tries to reform himself. Mostly because that is 100% not the fanfic I personally want out of this fandom. 😀 )

      • Ugh, gore. Maybe if I cover my eyes during the really bad parts…

        I’m super torn between fics with reformed-cannibal Hannibal and murder husbands Hannigram. Mostly there seems to be more murder husbands fic, though sometimes Will makes Hannibal only kill (other) bad people, so it ends up being still kinda reformed? Anyway, if you ever want fic recs, I’ve got at least 10 good ones so far. I’d have more except everybody in this fandom writes multi-chapter epics, whaaaat.

        (I’ll probably just end up reading fan fics all day and never see the show, lmao. It’s not streaming anywhere and my library doesn’t have it, so I guess I have an excuse.)

      • IT’S UH, PRETTY BAD. Hannibal should really be called You Can’t Do That On Television.

        Please feel free to send along your recs (pretty sure you have my e-mail)! I’d like to see what they do with it. Multi-chapter epics… I am always so happy they exist, but, like, I have to go to work in the morning. I sometimes get very disoriented when I see 100k+ fics running around.

  2. Pingback: The Year in Review: My Favorite Films and TV Shows of 2015 | The Literary Omnivore

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