Review by Jordan
Hannibal, NBC’s latest serialized drama, focuses on the one character that probably terrifies us all: Hannibal Lecter. We’re all familiar with Thomas Harris’s Hannibal; we’ve all seen the Anthony Hopkins movies or read the books. (You probably never saw Manhunter, which is by far my favorite Hannibal movie). The series focuses on the characters and plot of Harris’s book “Red Dragon.”
Hugh Dancy plays FBI profiler Will Graham. Graham can mentally re-create crime scenes in vivid detail because he has the ability to empathize with serial killers. When Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) asks for Will’s help on a case of several missing girls, Will is immediately able to connect with the serial killer, thus allowing the FBI their first lead in the case. Also assisting on the case is the devilishly handsome Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen, who is creepily good) who immediately takes an interest in Graham.
When the FBI finds another dead girl, mounted on top of a deer’s head with her lungs removed, Will believes it to be the work of a copy cat, and not that of the original killer. While Will is explaining why he thinks the killers are different, we are intercut with scenes of Hannibal preparing dinner, and using lungs as his main course. That scene really sets the tone of the whole show: it relies on the viewer’s intelligence to get that Hannibal killed the girl and is now enjoying her lungs instead of the writers insulting us by showing he kill her. I loved that scene because 1) gross, and 2) the culinary scenes are shot so beautifully and in painstaking detail. Hannibal takes great pride and care in preparing his trophy, and the creepy factor set to eleven. He creates an elaborate, gorgeous dish in which only him is set to enjoy. It’s somehow horrifying and breathtaking and beautiful in its portrayal, as is the case with the rest of the episode.
When the FBI find a sliver of metal on the victim, Hugh and Hannibal head to a construction site where they find the employee Garrett Jacob Hobbs, who fits Will’s profile. While alone, Hannibal is able to place a call to Hobbs who tells him “they know” and hangs up. Soon, our duo head to Hobbs’s house where he has just killed his wife and holds his daughter hostage. As he goes to cut his daughter’s throat, Will empties his gun and shoots Hobbs dead. The girl survives, and we end the episode with Will and Hannibal sitting by the girl’s hospital bed.
This show definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s gorgeous, dark, haunting, scary, but also very violent. It’s not manipulative in its violence in a way “The Following” can be. The violence is a little over the top, but in a show where the main character is a cannibal, it’s not exploiting its violence in a way that feels false to the audience. It’s very well written and acted, which helps take some of the focus off of the violence. Dancy and Mikkelsen work great together, with Mikkelsen playing Hannibal with just enough ego and subversiveness without it feeling too cheesy, while Dancy gives a great performance as he is able to subtly show just how painful it is for him to talk to other humans. The character is at his best when alone at the crime scene vividly re-enacting these horrid events. He shines in a way Mikkelsen doesn’t — his empathy and compassion for serial killers helps bring the mystery and horror to the center, while also establishing the characters’ motivations. Fishburne adds a nice element to the duo as the long-suffering FBI agent committed to catching killers. With the three of them on screen together we get some of the finest acting on network television.
Visually, the show is terrific, almost breathtakingly so. The shot of the woman mounted on the deer’s head is visually horrific, but shot in such a way that it’s a gorgeous piece of television. It’s brilliant really, and the show that looks like it belongs on cable (and not stuck on NBC).
Each episode is named after an element of French cuisine. An apéritif is an alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, and is therefore usually dry rather than sweet. The more you know.
Hannibal intelligently sets up the mystery, relying on Harris’ themes, but also establishing its own narrative in the process. Viewers definitely will be hungry for more episodes down the road.
Read more from Jordan at Really Late Reviews