NBC's Hannibal just wrapped its first, intensely gripping season on Thursday, and it was quite a ride. I've mentioned a few times what "my kind of show" is, and this is an example of something that ordinarily would NOT be up my alley. Graphic murder and mutilation scenes and long in depth conversations about the nature of serial killers and mental illness is not exactly my cup of tea. In fact, the only reason I can even stomach it is because it airs on the content censored NBC- if this was HBO, forget it.
Despite the nature of the material though, Bryan Fuller is doing something different here, and his treatment of the story is why it can and does appeal to someone squeamish like myself. This is of course, based on the Thomas Harris books about Hannibal Lecter, but not yet the stuff we've already seen, like Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon. It's set before Red Dragon takes place and acts as a prequel to Hannibal's incarceration years, when he was out in the open and still a practicing psychiatrist. Fuller and his writers have the freedom to make up his backstory, while still using familiar characters to fans of the book. He plans to eventually enter the book stories and go all the way through (given enough season renewals of course), in order to create the definitive Hannibal Lecter screen adaptation. It's a pretty ambitious plan and not totally dissimilar to what Game of Thrones is doing, but with more freedom to play around in these early pre-Red Dragon years.
And he's got quite the Hannibal to pull it off. Played previously by Brian Cox and then of course to unforgettable heights by Anthony Hopkins, here it's Mads Mikkelson who takes on fiction's most notorious serial killer. When your goal is as lofty as trying to make people forget Anthony Hopkins, this would seem to be a difficult reach, but Mikkelson instantly inhabits and creates a brand new and mesmerizing Hannibal that's all his own. He's cold, suave, charming, but sincere and serious, even underplayed, in direct opposition to the way the films portrayed him. You're drawn in by him, wondering what his game is, what his angles are, when and if he's going to strike. Mikkelson has the benefit of course, of playing him while hiding in plain sight, rather than openly taunting his opponents from behind the glass, yet his charming sociopathy wins you over in even the darkest moments. It's thrilling to see Dr. Lecter in this new and insightful light.
But I should warn that the show will definitely try your patience. It's extremely cerebral and as I said before, much of it consists of long conversations between people about the philosophy of killers and people who can think like killers. Hugh Dancy is Will Graham, the first first FBI agent to go up against Hannibal Lecter, and he's actually the true lead of the show. In this pre-book era, he tracks murderers for the FBI and is a patient of Lecter's, whose assigned task is to keep his sanity functioning while he's constantly using his Sherlock-like abilities to inhabit the minds of killers. Of course, the ever lingering question is when will the truth come out, and I'm extremely happy to say that it is not Fuller's intention to let that drag on for years and years, as he has the complete saga in mind here.
There are however, some things that annoyed me about this first season. One is the extremely over the top, gruesome nature of the murders. Not the gore itself, but more the fact that there seem to be way too many insanely creative serial killers on the loose all at once, and every time they start to track a new one whose victims are showing up in the nuttiest and most public ways possible, I couldn't help but think this kind of thing happening every single week would make national news- not just everyday humdrum. It's not as if the show is happening in a total fantasy world here, it is still the United States in present day, right? The other factor is the slight repetition of the deterioration of Will's mental state, which (spoiler alert) seems to go on to the point of ludicrousness in the way the FBI insists on keeping him there, despite his own pleas to quit and requests for help. This continues for several episodes in a row (like 6-8!) and was starting to remove me from the story at one point, but any time a narrative plot starts to bug, Hannibal shows up to save the episode and captivate your attention once again. And with the finale, it ends on such a great cliffhanging high note, that it made me want it back so much I'm willing to forgive every slight that bothered me about the season. I personally cannot wait to see Clarice Starling show up in a hypothetical Season 5 and go toe to toe with THIS Hannibal Lecter. Any votes for who should play her? Mine's Jennifer Lawrence. It's a pipe dream, but hey, we've got years to get there.