Sir Anthony Hopkins’ role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one of the creepiest characters I’ve seen on film. The fact that he is a cannibal just serves to put him over the top. I’ve read some of the Thomas Harris books and seen the movies. I was actually interning in D.C. when they were filming some of the scenes at Union Station and just missed seeing him in person. I’ve enjoyed the cat and mouse relationship Lecter has had with FBI agents, including Starling and Will Graham (played by Edward Norton in Red Dragon). So I was intrigued by the NBC series Hannibal.
First off, it must be said that the content of the show can be grotesque and disturbing. This would be true even if Lecter was the only killer involved, but as the show follows various FBI investigations into murders it’s even more so. The unit involves is the BAU, so we’re dealing with even more disturbing individuals. If you are squeamish I would definitely not recommend watching.
I think what makes the show so good is that we know who Hannibal really is and what he is capable of. It colors how we watch the interactions and we marvel at Hannibal’s audacity; he is working with the very FBI team that is attempting to track him down. Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Lecter is interesting. It’s before he is caught and imprisoned, so it’s really the first time we’re seeing him out in the real world. In each of the movies he has already been incarcerated, or in the case of Hannibal, has escaped custody. On the television series he has not been caught. He is a brilliant surgeon, psychologist and cook. Or I suppose I should say chef, really. I am constantly waiting for him to trip up or do something to give himself away. There was a moment in the last episode that aired May 9 (“Sorbet”) where I thought Will Graham, one of the FBI agents, had a light bulb go off and start to suspect Lecter, but I’m not so sure.
Speaking of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), for me he is the most intriguing character on the show. He’s a professor at the FBI academy who has a unique set of mental conditions/issues. This combination allows him to really get into the mind of the killers they are investigating, to be empathetic to an entirely new level. He couples this ability with insights into the evidence to look into the killers’ motivations, actions, etc. as a fantastic FBI profiler. Unfortunately for him, it’s hard for him to turn this off and his work intrudes into his personal life, causing issues. So to help him handle some of these issues and maintain his usefulness to the FBI, as well as his sanity, he begins to have “conversations” with Dr. Lecter. Lecter clearly seems to differentiate between Will being a patient versus them having these conversations, but looking at the sessions there is more certainly are doctor-patient aspects, but they treat each other more like equals or colleagues than a traditional patient. Through these conversations, and his relationship to others working for the FBI, Lecter is able to monitor their progress on murders involving him and so far has managed to stay ahead of the FBI.
I like Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, the FBI agent in charge of this group within the FBI, but there is nothing spectacular here. There’s a female professor, played by (Caroline Dhavernas), who provides a possible love interest for Will as well as someone who is concerned about his well-being. She is the only character on the show, other than Will himself, who puts him first as a person and does not try to use him for something.
I’m not sure if this show will make it past this season. There is definitely a market for this type of dark show, as evidenced by the success of Showtime’s Dexter, but that’s a little bit of a different animal as it is on a subscription channel and not network television. Hannibal earlier this year actually did not air an episode because of the involvement of children and a fear that in the wake of the Newtown shooting it would be too much and there would be a backlash. I think to overcome some of this backlash possibility there needs to be really good ratings numbers, and from what I have read online, that is not the case. My guess is that the show will finish out its inaugural season and that will be all, but I am hopeful there is more to come.
Final thought: I love how each show title is a reference to food.