Hannibal Season 1

I’m not what I would call a fan of the Hannibal Lecter film series, though I like some of them and have watched all but Hannibal Rising repeatedly. (Once was enough for it, thanks.) I’ve never read any of the books by Thomas Harris, though I probably will one of these days. But there’s something about the whole thing that fascinates me. It’s what’s brought me back to the films time and again, even the ones I don’t care for. Something about watching a modern mythos get constructed, I think. Watching the way approaches change from one film to another. There’s something there for me, anyway.

But when a TV series was announced, I didn’t really think much of it. Then they said Mads Mikkelsen was playing Hannibal himself, and I thought, yeah, that’s a great choice, I’ll probably watch that. But still I wasn’t in any hurry. Then people started talking about how great it was–people whose taste I generally trust, and then I started seeing images from it pop up on my Tumblr dashboard. These striking, mystifying, indelible images. And I thought, yeah, I need to see that. Thanks to the generosity of Sean Demory, I got a crack at the first season on DVD, and proceeded to watch the entire thing in about three days. Which isn’t saying as much as it otherwise might, since that’s kind of how I watch TV shows, and why I don’t watch more of them than I do. I tend to either get addicted and mainline them, or I lose interest quickly and move on to something else. But Hannibal is something special.

I said on Facebook, when I was only two episodes in, that it was some of the best supernatural horror I’d seen in a while. Now that I’ve finished the series, I could easily strike “a while” and replace it with “a long time” or maybe even “ever.” And yet, like the movies, the show ostensibly isn’t supernatural, but it so so is, in every way that matters. Back when I was talking about boogeymen and slashers, I mentioned that Sean had introduced me to the term “murder wizard” to describe Lecter, and yes, it’s the perfect description, here more than anywhere. And not just Lecter, either, but all the serial killers in Hannibal. Their supernatural properties–while never overtly regarded as such–are there, everywhere, and the imagery of their killings is steeped in numinosity, reminding me at times of the very best work of Clive Barker.

Speaking of killings, yeah, Hannibal is gruesome, probably as gruesome as any show I’ve ever seen, but, again, for me at least, there was something otherworldly about the corpses. Not transcendent, not exactly, but, yeah, again, going back to it, numinous. Teratological.

There’s Wendigo imagery galore, of course, deployed expertly, as pretty much everything in the show is deployed. There’s a stark sense of how terrifying it must be to hallucinate, especially if you work in a field where seeing weird and horrible shit is part of your daily life. There’s the fact that the killers can almost always identify each other uncannily, immediately. Like in a World of Darkness game, when two vampires meet and their inner beasts immediately recognize each other and react either by vying for dominance or by cowering in fear.

As if the show felt the need to woo me, in spite of all this, there are even human fungal beds, as early on as the second episode. Don’t worry, show, you already had me by then.

I was going to do this post as a list of things that the show does well, but then I realized it was just going to be one bullet point that said: Everything. The acting is all top notch. Mads Mikkelsen gets deserving note as a Hannibal Lecter who can somehow make me immediately forget that the Hopkins version ever existed. Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham does a wonderful job showing a character who is actually tormented by his gift, actually teetering on the edge of a black abyss. All of the supporting cast is solid, and the guest stars are great. The shots are beautiful, the editing graceful, and the soundscape of the show is fantastic, a substantial contributor to its power.

The show’s biggest drawback–that the audience is well aware of who and what Hannibal is, of where this is all headed and where it must inevitably end–is actually made into one of its greatest strengths, as mundane scenes become freighted with terrible implication while we watch the characters become tangled more and more inextricably in webs that only we can see.

So yeah, I’m a fan. This was a big show for me, and I’m looking forward to the second season, though I can say that my one and only concern is that there’s only so far this train can go. The showrunners claim to have a seven season plan, which seems like a long one from where I’m sitting, but I’ll trust them until they start to falter. As long as they’ve got the sense to stop where the story needs to stop, rather than trying to run it past its expiration date, I’m along for the ride.

  1. Huh. Was actually talking about this earlier tonight – looking for Hugo recs, actually – and impression I came away with was “hallucinatory, but not supernatural”. Will take another look.

    • Basically, I think this is all part of my continuing inner dialogue about what’s more important when determining supernatural-ness: the stated explanation, or its narrative effect?

      • …okay, I haven’t had coffee yet, but that is /very/ interesting. Trying to think how articulate questions.

    • Sean and I had talked about “murder wizardry” as an explanation for how serial killers in movies are able to do things that they really ought not be able to do, but only where appropriate to their murder pathology. (See, for example, the ability of the killers in Hannibal to quickly and seemingly effortlessly construct the elaborate installation pieces in which the bodies of their victims are displayed, often in places that are semi-public.)

      Also, Hannibal-as-Wendigo is almost certainly intended by the showrunners to be hallucinatory, but really, to me, the dividing line there has become so fuzzy as to be moot. What is a Wendigo, then, really, and why isn’t Hannibal one? Why is the skin that everyone sees any more real than the black stag? Etc. I think it’s symbolism and hallucination that has become as real and potent as consensus reality, sometimes moreso, which therefore makes it supernatural to me in every way that matters.

  2. axolotl said:

    I agree with a lot of what you have to say Orrin but “acting in Hannibal is top-notch”? I couldn’t disagree with you more and I ditched the show after 4-5 episodes. You haven’t read Red Dragon? My friend, you are desperately missing out! Its genius is the very fact that not everything is spelled out, hammers the reader over the head. The Silence of the Lambs is good and Hannibal an admirable piece of cerebral pulp (though not as good as the first two books) but to have missed Red Dragon is to be very much remiss, I’m afraid–especially given your interests.

    • Red Dragon is certainly on the list. It already was, and moreso now. As for the acting, I can see how it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite liked it, Mikkelsen (who I always like) and Dancy especially. Was there anyone in particular you had a problem with, or just across the board?

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