The second season of Hannibal is upon us, and I, for one, think this show deserves much more attention than it has. Although this NBC series struggled with its first season’s ratings, many (including developer, executive producer and writer Bryan Fuller) think it showcases how the rating system needs to be rethought. That being said, adapting one of the most fascinating literary characters in a series can be a high stakes game : it can give a new twist to a well-known story, or it can disappoint the fans and be the subject of harsh comparison. What makes this series so entertaining, and fun to watch is due, in equal measures, to both the incredibly talented cast, and to the gore aesthetic done right (which is rarely shown on cable tv). In Hannibal, we see an interpretation of how Hannibal Lecter’s story all began. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy – The Big C) is a gifted criminal profiler with an ability to empathize with everyone, even serial killers and psychopaths. While working as a favor for FBI agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne – Matrix trilogy) on a difficult case, Graham stumbles upon a killer he cannot understand. This killer cleverly hides his kills through the work of other killers. To solve the case, he seeks the help of brilliant psychiatrist doctor Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen – Casino Royale). With Hannibal’s knowledge, Graham believes he can finally catch the copycat killer. Not knowing Hannibal to be the killer he seeks.
One aspect which makes the series so appealing to its audience is the novelty of a younger version of the well-known character Hannibal Lecter. All the movies (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal (the movie), Red Dragon) take place after his incarceration, when the world knows exactly what he is and how dangerous he is. Hannibal gives us a very powerful Lecter still hiding his violent nature and his cannibalism. Furthermore, the audience rarely sees Hannibal commit an act of violence on screen. We all know he is a murderer (we see his victims), but we barely see him do any act outside his sophisticated manners. It is very well played: this way, the series slowly makes you like Lecter. Subsequently, we forget the character’s nature to later have this false sense of security shattered by some sporadic and excessive acts of violence or a refined scene of cannibalism. Fooled or not, the audience is forced to develop some kind of relationship with Lecter as we are the only ones who know what Lecter is really doing.
At first, I thought the series, like its title, would be centered around the famous character of Hannibal Lecter. I was happily surprised to be wrong. One of the best assets to the series is Hugh Dancy in the role of Will Graham, the gifted profiler. Any fan of the books can recognize the potential in Will Graham’s character who only appears in Red Dragon (although mentioned in the other books). He is vital in Lecter’s story as he is the first to catch him. However, the books don’t explain in detail their relationship before the capture. The series wants to fill this gap: to show Lecter in all his power, and the brilliant mind who was able to see the monster through his sophisticated appearance.
In Hannibal, both Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham are highly intelligent. The show cleverly uses their similarities, as much as their differences, to make a clash of titans. The relationship between Graham and Hannibal is a complex one. In the show, Will Graham comes to think of Lecter as a friend, which he doesn’t usually allow himself to have, but Hannibal has always some hidden thoughts and plans from the rest of the world. As the story develops, we feel that Lecter has a real fondness for Graham that he doesn’t feel for anyone else. Lecter finds himself so much in Graham that he wants Will to become just like him. He wants to convince him that it’s okay to have thoughts about killing people, it’s okay even to kill people! From Lecter’s point of view, all the manipulations he ever did to Graham were to help him become free and accept himself as he really is.
The show doesn’t rely only on good script and wonderful acting. The unique aesthetic of elegant horror is as dark as it needs to be (especially when following the life of a genius cannibal killer). The series gives us breathtaking scenes, from impaled women on deer antlers, to a field planted with humans to act as mushrooms compost. Graham’s special gift of empathy makes him reconstitute, from the crime scene, all the steps the killer did to murder his victim(s). He truly puts himself in the killer’s skin. Those reconstitutions are extremely violent, and well done by the Special Effects department. What makes those scenes even more terrible is the effect they have on Will. As he puts himself in the place of the killer, he loses himself more and more. (And do I have to say, what an amazing performance from Dancy?)
From the obvious violence and blood, the show features lighting techniques in each scene which gives them a part-real, part-nightmare effect. A well-suited atmosphere to have on a series constantly playing with the thin line between genius and illness. The darkness is always in the foreground, never far from the characters, or us. So be aware! Moreover, many more mature fears are shown and used to create the terrifying atmosphere. Those range from not being able to tell truth from lie, reality escaping you, slowly losing your mind and yourself, and not knowing if you can trust someone. Additionally, on many occasions in the series, Hannibal, a very meticulous chef, provides food to others. Needless to say they don’t know they are eating Lecter’s previous victims. The horror of eating another human being is far from the horror of murder, and it runs deeper into the meaning of what is truly horrific and monstrous.
The next part of this text has spoilers. If you haven’t watched the first season., I’m warning you, stop here. Watch it. Come back. I’m not the boss of you, but it would be a shame to spoil such a good tv experience.
The first season was a mind game with Lecter as the single player in a mode of seduction. In the second season, with Will incarcerated and accusing Lecter, other players will finally enter the game. Henceforth, the character of Jack Crawford will have to choose between Lecter’s point of view and Will’s. I believe the change in the relationship between Graham and Lecter will bring new and interesting stories. The confrontation, the doubts, and the manipulation will surely give us astonishing performances from Dancy and Mikkelsen. It seems the second season will be a cat-and-mice game between all the characters. Lecter will try to convince Will that it’s okay to have done those crimes, to convince him of his guilt, and to make him accept who he really is. Even if Will does not believe he is violent, he is too logical to dismiss the fact that he had blackouts due to his encephalitis. He cannot be completely sure he is not the killer. In addition, all the characters witnessed how difficult it was, with his ability to emphasize with the murderers he caught, to have his own thoughts.
The end of the first season left us with Will Graham finally understanding the monstrosity of Hannibal Lecter, but in a position where his words matter not. First season was a seduction, second season promises action. We all know that, from the books, Will Graham is the one to capture Hannibal Lecter. Knowing his position at the end of season one, one is pleased to ask oneself « But how? » Also, props must be given to the nice advertising with the iconic image from Silence of the Lambs. The fact that it is Will, not Lecter, makes it a perfect tease to what will be coming this season starting February 28th.
Let me leave you with the second season’s trailer. Please, make sure to notice the beautiful flower made out of human corpses.