Let me begin by saying this; I have a bad habit of holding out on books and shows that I have some arbitrary sense that I wouldn’t enjoy. I didn’t get into Harry Potter until I randomly read the 5th book, then went back and devoured them from beginning to end. I avoided watching Battlestar Galactica when it was on the air because ‘I was already a Star Wars fan’ – as if you can’t enjoy more than one space opera in your life. I thought LOST was silly and nonsensical until I caught an episode during my second shift job in college and was left with my mouth gaping open in ‘WTF?!’ – you know, in a good way. So you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now.
But, in usual fashion, I held out on the show Hannibal. I had a lot of reasons. For instance, who wants to watch a show about cannibals?
Well, you do, if you enjoy amazing visuals, unending plot twists and genuinely decadent dialog with an interweaving story that is always referencing itself.
Recently, for whatever reason, I randomly agreed to watch this show with a friend. It is one of her favorite shows and I thought I was doing her a favor by agreeing to survive the 3 season run. As of last night, I have already begun re-watch #1. Allow me to explain why.
You have to start with this guy, even though the show does not. Hannibal is introduced as a psychiatrist who is asked to help the FBI. Played by Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal is proper, polite, cultured and extremely intelligent. I have now watched all of the Hannibal movies, excluding Red Dragon (you’re on the list, don’t worry), and I have to say, Mads is my favorite. Unlike Hopkins, Mikkelsen is a quieter, less boasting Hannibal. He is still living his life, unburdened by imprisonment and constantly curious about what will happen next as he’s pulled into the trusting arms of the FBI, and Will Graham – an FBI special agent that immediately snatches the attention of our favorite cannibal.
The Hannibal character is introduced in such a way that while you know – by pop culture references alone – that he is bad news, yet he is still somehow charming, witty and intelligent. I often found myself second guessing where the show was going, or where it intended to go because they did not set up Hannibal to be a villain from the onset. Well, they did, but they didn’t.
That is why this show is so amazing.
The TV show is, from what I understand, a kind of reboot of Thomas Harris novels – where producer Bryan Fuller took the concept and themes and re-imagines them with stunning artfulness. Many of the mostly male cast from the book are transformed into female characters in the show – something I rather enjoyed from the Battlestar reboot, as well. New character dynamics form based on the change, and the intricate relationships, motivations, intentions and plans that evolve from those dynamics are, and I realize I may be using this word a bit much, stunning.
The initial premise is this: Will Graham is pulled back into the field by Jack Crawford – despite the protests of therapist Alana Bloom, who is intrigued by Will, but can see how his empathy makes him susceptible to outside influences. Putting him in touch with serial killers is, she believes, a bad idea.
So Jack ignores her but assuages his guilt by hiring Hannibal Lecter, a referral of Bloom to evaluate Will.
Hannibal is immediately enraptured by the man who seems to understand serial killers, but isn’t one himself.
Forget about the serial killer aspect – which there is much of. I have openly admitted that I am not a fan of gore, and that remains true. That said, however, this show makes killing an art – something I never really thought I’d say. This show has the highest stakes of any show I’ve ever watched in my entire life. At any moment – any, it could all be over for the characters we have learned to love.
The premise uses the relationships so carefully cultivated in the narrative to weave a tale about a constant game of cat and mouse. It is so subtle, but so deeply wound into the pit of your stomach as you watch. Never has a show held me in a level of suspense for as long as this one, and never have I enjoyed it so much.
In my post-Hannibal depression haze (you know the one, after you binge watch a show that has now become a big part of your life), I was reading up on Hannibal discussion boards that those who watched the show while it aired had a hard time maintaining that sense of suspense. I implore you to go back and binge watch. You will not regret it.
The Imagery and Score
The cinematography is top notch when you consider this show aired on Basic Cable. The colors, the transitions, the artistic balance of life and death. It is genuinely hypnotizing at times, and is constantly paying homage to the genuinely good horror in the world, like the Shining. I can’t tell you how many times I was watching this show and was completely blown away by the artistic shots, perfectly timed to allow you to reflect on the mind-blowing revelations or suspicions that coalesced from the scene before. The score was so immersive that it blended perfectly with every scene and helped to transport you into this high-stakes universe of cat and mouse.
I could go on at length about how amazing this cast is – from Jack (Morpheus from The Matrix), the FBI Behavioral Science Director at the FBI and his wife Bella (Zoe from Firefly), to Will Graham the Special Agent with a unique empathy disorder, Alana Bloom – Hannibal’s mentee, Abigail Hobbs – the surrogate daughter of Will and Hannibal, and Bedelia – Hannibal’s enraptured but fearful therapist. Freddie Lounds the tabloid journalist, Frederick Chilton the menacing psychiatric director, Margo Verger… even Mason Verger, the at-odds siblings that lead to Hannibal’s first genuine brush with danger.
The character development is phenomenal and no one, and I mean no one, is the same at the end of this story as they were at the beginning. They’re all changed, and it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s gradual, and steeping like a slow kettle to boil.
As you can tell… I might have ventured into the realm of “Fannibal” – and I guess I have to be okay with that. I get it, I get how this show has captured so many people’s interest. And despite being 1000+ words into this article, I still find it hard to explain, exactly, why this show is so damn good.
I guess you’re going to have to watch it yourself and let me know.
The first two seasons of Hannibal are eligible for Prime streaming on Amazon, and you can purchase the third digitally, which I did. Because I had to know what happened. #noregrets
Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novels Children of the Fallen and Unforgettable as well as science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. Fandoms include Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. Basically if it has ‘star’ in it, she’ll give it a shot.