This week, season one of Hannibal was released on DVD & Blu-ray. Gillian Anderson’s attachment to the project in the minor role of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier is what initially put the show on my radar, but my love of Hannibal Lecter extends way back to my childhood. My initial introduction to Hannibal Lecter was watching The Silence of the Lambs in about the third or fourth grade. I fell in love with the character of Clarice Starling, even if the intricacies of the plot thankfully went over my head.
The new Hannibal TV series from NBC is based loosely on the characters from Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. It shows us the first meeting of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter as they work together on the Garrett Hobbs case, referred to in Red Dragon only in a flashback. Show creator Bryan Fuller already has a seven season plan for Hannibal. Seasons one to three will consist of original material set prior to Red Dragon while seasons four, five, and six will follow the plots of Red Dragon, The Silence of The Lambs, and Hannibal respectively. The final, seventh season will return to original material and resolve the story. I was interested to see how a Hannibal Lecter plot would perform after being extended to work as a television series. What I found was that I dreaded watching each episode, knowing I would spend that hour being horrified by what I saw, but that the nature of how that feeling occurred steadily shifted throughout the thirteen episodes.
At the beginning of the season the horror came graphically. Each episode fed us a steady diet of the grotesque and the macabre. Each crime scene was steadily more disturbing until by episode eight (“Fromage”) I was literally watching through my fingers and wincing as I wondered how much worse it could possibly get. These episodes introduced us to the key players in the drama that would shape the latter half of the season: Special Agent Jack Crawford, Abigail Hobbs, Hannibal Lecter himself, and most importantly Will Graham.
Will is a profiler capable of empathizing with serial killers to such an intense degree that he is able to enter a crime scene and effectively become the killer, seeing how and why the scene was dressed in that particular manner. His skill scares him as he worries that one day he may find himself not just imagining what a killer did. Will’s ability is so unique and so accurate that FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford is reluctant to let him back off, even when the constant crime scenes start to take their toll. It becomes obvious to everyone that Will needs to get away; setting the stage for act two and the latter half of the season.
Jack’s pushing mixed with Will’s guilt over events in the first episode combine into a potent mix that is ready to ignite. Unfortunately for Will, his therapist, confidant, and friend Dr. Lecter happens to be a world-class psychopath intent on using Will’s mind as his own personal toy box. The second half of the season sees the disturbing crime scenes scaling back as Will’s mind takes center-stage. Instead of being horrified at the violence and gore on our screens, we are instead horrified by Will’s crumbling sanity and at the treatment he receives from others, most importantly from Hannibal. As Will realizes the truth we have known all along too late and events build to the season finale, I found myself wishing for the simpler, more tolerable horrors of the early episodes. Physical horror is so much more tolerable than the psychological.
The season naturally ended on something of a cliff hanger as Will’s innocence and sanity are called into question by the other players in his own personal drama and viewers prayed that Hannibal’s mind games might come to an end. As Dr. Du Maurier implored him toward the end: “Whatever you’re doing with Will Graham. Stop.”
Bryan Fuller drew from the work of David Lynch (Twin Peaks) for inspiration in creating the series which was picked up for 13 episodes without a pilot, purely on the strength of his script. David Slade (30 Days of Night) serves as an executive producer lending some heavyweight horror credentials. The show also features some major geek names in both recurring roles and as guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, Gina Torres, Gillian Anderson, and Lance Henriksen. Hannibal is a perfect lesson in the nature of horror and of how to create it perfectly in multiple styles. It is not for the squeamish, but if you’re looking for a highly intelligent drama with incredible character development then give it a shot.