Why I Love Hannibal
"This is my design."
Bryan Fuller has been responsible for three of my favourite shows of the last few years. He oversaw the production of the best Star Trek since Deep Space Nine, with the Netflix show Discovery. He also ran American Gods' first season, though he is sadly not going to continue on that taboo breaking, dizzying and mystifying show. And of course there's Hannibal. I was late to the party with Hannibal, but thanks to three of my best online friends, Luke, Shaun and Martin, I was hipped to this incredible show. Hannibal is an elegant, extremely violent, scary and altogether overpowering Horror Crime show, that follows the characters from Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. Red Dragon is not a novel I have read, but I have seen both of the cinematic adaptations, Brett Ratner's Red Dragon and the far superior Michael Mann picture Manhunter. I can confidently say though that it is Bryan Fuller's Hannibal series that is the best of the lot.
Hannibal is a challenging show, especially in terms of morality and the line between good and evil. Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham, an FBI profiler who is capable of getting into the mind of the killer. Hannibal is Noir through and through, far more so than any of the cinematic adaptations of Thomas Harris' books. Dancy plays Will Graham with all of the conflict and confusion and the sense of teetering on a precipice over the mouth of Hell, that recalls Humphrey Bogart's greatest performance, In a Lonely Place. Along with Dancy, there are strong performances from Laurence Fishburne and Gillian Anderson, but the single greatest thing about Hannibal is the character of the title, played by the absolutely blindingly good Mads Mikkelsen.
Mads Mikkelsen is the definitive Hannibal Lecter, in my opinion, better even than the two great actors Brian Cox from Manhunter and of course the Academy Award winning portrayal of Lecter from Anthony Hopkins. This is high praise I know, but it must be said, because it's true. Mads is tremendously charming and as he seduces Will Graham, we find that we are likewise entranced by his wit and his warmth and pure class. It is a crime that Mads was not given all the awards for his performance here. This is a Noir Horror examination of the malleable nature of morality, and how, given the right circumstances, a man can find himself doing anything.
The way the food is shot is one of the most memorable things about Hannibal. It always looks gorgeous, and even though you know it has come from a human being, you kind of want to eat it. This is important for the story that Hannibal tells, as it is all about how two men find that they love each other as brothers even though both know that the other is intent on killing the other. It is a provocative show, there is no doubt, but it never feels cheap or easy. There are no comfortable answers in Hannibal. Will Graham crosses the line to try and capture Hannibal, and Hannibal likewise crosses his personal lines to try to help Graham come to terms with who he is.
The violence in Hannibal is glorious, gorgeous and altogether on point. The show has some of the most effective, devastating violence that I have ever seen, particularly the scenes of torture. When Hannibal pushes Mason Verger to eat his own face, I lost it. I have seen all of the famous torture films: Martyrs, Audition, Save the Green Planet! Hostel, The Eyes of My Mother and many more, but it is in Hannibal that I found myself the most terrified, appalled and undeniably attracted to the violence. Other great scenes include where Hannibal feeds Eddie Izzard's character his own arms and legs. It is such a perverse scene and I am stunned that it was shown on television. There is also a stunning scene between Dr Chilton and the Red Dragon, where the Dragon bites the lips off of Chilton's face and sets him on fire.
The only minor complaint I have about this scene is that in the original story, it was tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds who was captured and tortured. In Hannibal Freddie Lounds is a woman, and I imagine that network TV restrictions meant that a similarly aggressively violent scene against a woman was taboo. This is a shame, as I feel that it was far more believable that the Dragon would target the journalist rather than the doctor. It is however a very small complaint, for a show that is start to finish, one of the most compelling works of TV fiction that I have ever seen.
Hannibal is a stunning piece of work from beginning to end, but it is in its third (and as of today, final) season that it is elevated to high art. I find it strange that anyone could possibly point to season three as evidence of a decline in quality, as it is far and away the best of the bunch, and cements Hannibal's reputation as one of the greatest TV shows of modern times. I rank it highly in terms of Horror and Noir, my two favourite genres, up there with True Detective for Noir and American Horror Story for Horror. There is some chatter that Bryan Fuller is pursuing a revival of the show and a fourth season. I hope that he is able to give us more, as the story deserves to be completed. If you haven't seen Hannibal and love Horror and Noir, WATCH IT NOW. It is one of the best shows I've ever seen, and I believe it will be for you too.