Jun 20, 2013

Hannibal: Season One

By Josh Oakley

 "Every person has an intrinsic responsibility for their own life, Hannibal. No one else can take on that responsibility. Not even you."
-Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson)

Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Special Agent Will Graham are the centerpieces of the freshman drama, named for the former. Or rather, “centerpiece” should be singular, for the above quote was not only shown when these characters receded (which was quite often), but in each other’s company. Will was a man, crumbling due to disorders both mental (his ability to over-empathize) and physical (encephalitis). The former was exploited and the latter hidden by the man he thought to be his friend and colleague. As the sharp greetings that close the season prove, neither of these descriptors hold true anymore. Before we explore what may come, let’s focus on the season at hand, because it was a near-masterpiece.

Everyone knows what Hannibal Lecter does, except of course for the inhabitants of the show that features him. This is dramatic irony ratcheted to an unbearable degree, as we are dealing with an iconic character. Much has been said of Mads Mikkelsen’s interpretation of the serial killer, and I’ll only add to the choruses of praise here. Every angle of the man is explored in the season finale, from a powerful blending of his true identity and the masks that hide them in his first scene with Du Maurier to the cruelty in his smile that ends the episode. Mikkelsen has not only created a man, but also melded Hannibal’s interior and exterior so his motives are consistently muddled. This sounds like a detriment, yet it works beautifully. It is never that we fail to understand the character’s actions, rather suspect the level of humanity within them. We know that Hannibal is the purest of evil, but moments such as his gladness that Will survived in “Fromage” prove that the situation is much more complicated.

What remained unclear, and will most likely continue to do so is how Lecter viewed Will Graham. Did he see him as an experiment, as he did with the late Abigail Hobbs? Or as a true friend, a figure who revealed connections he never knew he desired? Both of these are most likely true, and in this final hour we see a third side, Will’s placement as scapegoat. As he is locked in a mental institution heading into season two, all of Hannibal’s crimes have been pinned on Will. This was a long con, brought about by Hannibal’s utilizing the cracks in Will’s psyche. When Graham’s encephalitis was discovered, Lecter knew to keep it hidden until it no longer mattered. The disease is gone, but the damage is done. One of the many brilliant and heartbreaking reversals showrunner Bryan Fuller pulled was ending a season of a show that starred a cannibal with the innocent lead character behind bars.

Due to the focus on Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy has not received the proper amount of praise for his work as Will Graham. Graham is more straightforward (at least from where the audience is seated), but Dancy plays the character with such uncertainty in himself that the truth becomes meaningless. Will now knows at least a fraction of Hannibal’s true nature, but he can do little to convince others that believe him a killer. Dancy captures the hopelessness in the early portion of the finale, then the determination encapsulated in his cold delivery of “Hello, Dr. Lecter”, the last words of the season.

The surrounding material this season was also strong, though the sense that Alana Bloom was mostly built as a foil to the leads (she questions Will’s uncertainty, Hannibal’s habits, and Jack’s thoughts on Will) could be felt. Again, this was never too concerning, and with every character’s position shifted in the finale, she will likely only continue to grow. Caroline Dhavernas triumphed tonight; as Bloom felt her ultimate hope invested in Will fall away. Dhavernas showed not just the heartbreak of a man her character loved, but the beliefs she held to be untrue, or at least seemingly so. Yes, her crying in the car was emotional, but her yelling at Jack to shut up was maybe the most openly personal moment the show has pulled off yet, when all the pretenses of hidden motives are stripped away. Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford grew throughout the season as well, and he too will be in a dramatically different position next season. We know that the weight of Miriam Lass has strangled him, and Graham’s institutionalization will only make his psyche worse. It seems that in this state, especially with the added ache of a dying wife, Crawford could be an easy target for Hannibal’s games of the mind.

Returning to those games, and looking at the quote used to open this article, we see what made Will so vulnerable to Lecter’s therapy. Will felt the death of Garrett Jacob Hobbs the first, and almost last, person he killed all season. Compare this to most crime shows, where stock characters drop with ease, and the core of Hannibal as a unique and powerful statement is found. Will takes on the responsibility of every life he encounters, from the one or two he takes for his own, to the endless number of innocents who continue to perish. That is why he continues to work long after it becomes evident that he is in no mental state to do so. Jack reminds him that many will die without Graham around, knowing this will trigger his empathy in a cruel, manipulative way. Jack’s method isn’t that far from Hannibal’s, though their ultimate goals lie at two opposites. But both Jack and Hannibal show a disregard for Will’s pure state. In the finale, when they tell each other that Will is neither of their victims, they are lying to themselves. Will may have had a physical ailment that neither man caused, but both ripped open his psyche for their personal means. Though Fuller has said that Hannibal truly feels something towards Will, and, as stated above, I agree with that, his mechanisms do wind up putting Will behind bars for Hannibal’s own crimes. The season-ending smile betrays the idea that anything close to pure friendship is felt here. Hannibal knows how to brush off the responsibilities he has for the lives he’s ruined or ended. Even if that life belongs to the only man he could call his friend.

Grade: A

  • I wanted to mainly focus on the duality of Will and Hannibal above, but there are other great things that the show pulled off, mainly its use of sound. The bleariness and shrill qualities of certain music cues, countered by the beauty of the opera, or the slow build of terror, aided the overall tone of Hannibal in an important way
  • This season also did an excellent job balancing episodic stories with arcs both season-based, and series-long. Each episode’s story wasn’t always the centerpiece, but the smaller tales consistently added theme and purpose to the larger narrative (never more so than with the never-aired Molly Shannon-starring episode “Œuf”, my favorite episode until the finale).
  • The second season is perfectly set up, twisting the usual Hannibal/FBI Agent dichotomy into a fascinating reversal of expectations. Especially with Will’s knowledge (well, educated guesses) that Hannibal is a killer, there are a number of ways the show can go from here, and my guess is whatever’s the last thing I’d guess.
  • I have many other thoughts on the show, some of which I’ll write about in the next week or so, and the rest of which I’ll get into next season, which thank god we’re getting.

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