Words: James Ekron
There is a stain which great actors leave on certain roles – Julie Andrews is Maria, Ian McKellan is Gandalf and Anthony Hopkins was Hannibal. NBC has used the talent and reserve of Mads Mikkelsen (the Bond villain in Casino Royale) to rival the film adaptation of a popular novel with a television series. Each episode is scary, like Jodie-Foster-stumbling-in-the-dark-with-a-flashlight scary, and you cannot help but be afraid while watching. And hungry. Despite knowing how our politest serial killer gets his dates onto the plate, the show makes its food look so exquisite you would still love it if Hannibal had you over for dinner.
The series occurs well before the Silence of the Lambs takes place when Hannibal Lecter was a practicing psychologist who advised the FBI. At the time, he was uncaught and undiscovered and ran through people’s brains for fun, like the Joker, but with really, really good hair. A therapist’s drive is “in equal parts counsel and curiosity” says Hannibal and we can’t but look away from his intricate tapestry of manipulation, coercion and drugging. Knowing what we know, the audience is smarter than the characters and the dramatic irony of that relationship makes the slow unfurling of Hannibal’s elegant horror even more delicious.
Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham as an empathic criminal profiler whose ability to occupy the mind of a serial killer makes him a uniquely exposed nerve in a very edged world. As the only person both aware enough of Hannibal’s predilections and able enough to do something about it, Will is the hero we are meant to get behind. Whilst not a killer himself, he uses his unfortunate brilliance to catch killers and this redemption endears him to the viewer. However, Hannibal is far too clever a fish to be caught by an ordinary lure and the season explores the capacity of two very clever fish to be deceived whilst trying to catch each other.
Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus in ‘The Matrix’) plays law man Jack Crawford and shows why he was every bit the trainer which turned out Neo in a fight scene that has already become infamous. It is a gritty, close-quarters, smash-him-in-the-face-with-whatever-you-can kind of fight that is the most memorable melee of two TV characters in modern memory. His real life and on set wife Gina Torres (Firefly, Suits) continues with struggling to overcome a diagnosis that drags death out by the scruff of its neck instead of its usually rapid appearance.
Undoubtedly, however, the shows sharpest knife in the block is series creator, Bryan Fuller. Where most writers would fear to tread, Fuller has grasped Thomas Harris’ source material with great respect and sufficient adaptation to keep its audiences both appeased and surprised. There is possibly too much deviation from canon to keep an audience who came to love the books, however, the terrifying nature of Hannibal’s compulsion is never in doubt. Fuller actually sees the series as a “very, very, very dark comedy” and certainly suffuses his characters arcs with plenty of asides, puns and micro-expressions to underscore his meaning.
Season Two follows the 12 courses of a Kaiseki dinner with the relevant meal subtly hinting at the goals of the current episode. In Tome Wan, for example, two characters are engaged in an eternal chase along a Mobius strip – much like Jack and Hannibal find themselves in at the time. Will swallows a bird drowned in cognac in one whole mouthful so as to win over Hannibal. Food – and our salivation over it – plays a significant role in the series and, as Matt Fowler said, “this show is filled with exquisite, mouth-watering food porn. Dishes so magnificent that I wouldn’t even care that the herbal tea was, in fact, Herb.”
The show has received a 100% “certified fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes and “universal acclaim” from Metacritic. It is the best horror on television today – bar none. This is an upsetting fact when you consider that its popularity is dwarfed by The Walking Dead or American Horror Story in ratings. Anne Donahue said “Lecter is not a Dexter-style anti-hero, and unlike the criminals of Sons of Anarchy or Boardwalk Empire, he is not avenging those who have been killed or killing for business. He kills and then eats people because that’s what he is compelled to do.” Perhaps its lack of viewership is a legitimate expression of fear behind the story that is being told than it is an indictment of the quality of the storytelling.