Hannibal by Ben Aherne May06

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Hannibal by Ben Aherne

Hannibal is the newest thriller developed for NBC by Bryan Fuller whose first episode – deliciously named ‘Apértif’ – aired on April 4th this year.

Like Red Dragon and Manhunter (to which this series is a prequel) and Silence of the Lambs before it, the star of this show is not the star of the show. Rather the series follows special agent Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy, a special consultant for the FBI who was deemed too psychologically unstable to be a member of the FBI but who is an extremely gifted criminal profiler –  too gifted to let go to waste. Will Graham, you see, experiences ‘pure empathy’; he has the ability to see inside the mind of any criminal and understand: understand why they do what they do and how they feel when they do it. This is his gift and his curse, and what a dichotomy it is.The stress and horror of putting himself in the mind of the worst humanity has to offer has taken its toll on the young Graham, so he is forced by his superior, the head of Behavioral Sciences Jack Crawford (played by Morpheus), and the agency psychiatrist Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) to seek professional help. To this end he begins to see the psychiatrist Doctor Hannibal Lecter – an impeccably dressed psychiatrist played by Mad Mikkelsen whose only emotion, so to speak, is good manners and charm and who wears a tie with a knot so extravagantly large that it could fill several issues of Vogue Magazine cover to cover. With Hannibal as his emotional guard and confidant, Graham is once again in the field finding murderers, mycologists and mutilated bodies to make the world that little bit safer.

As for the show itself, it’s gorgeous. Time and time again we are transported inside the mind of a man whose greatest skill is becoming any person he pleases. The special effects, the scenery, even the horrifically abused remains of the unfortunate victims of the insane are all beautifully presented. Not only does this show catch your eye, it gently removes the hook, tags you and places you in a fishbowl with its other prized catches to keep you there, lovingly taken care of, so you can watch it whenever it walks through the living room. Blatant yet clever misdirections, classical music and fabulous food set the mood. The production values are simply fantastic.

Speaking of food, it’s not just once that you’re teased into salivating in shame at the cuisine, when you know full well it’s not the animal Hannibal claims it to be as he serves it with a fine red berry sauce or some fava beans to the unsuspecting Jack Crawford scene after morally horrifying scene. You want to tell him to stop, to test the food he’s about to eat, but even if you could you’re not sure you would. There is a sick satisfaction in knowing – or at least thinking you know- about what he’s about to eat, what he’s about to become. The writing is a bag of chocolate chips and coffee beans, and a fifty-fifty chance of putting the wrong one in your mouth. It has as strong a pilot episode as I’ve seen, so full of promise, but with little niggles that turn into great big scratches in later episodes. It seems as though the show has two writers, one of whom is amazing while the other could well be Michael Bay. Luckily Bay only gets to play with the script for the time it takes his superior to go to the loo.

A series of unresolved plotholes which are glaringly obvious even when not paying attention detract from the otherwise brilliant and fascinating stories presented in each episode. One thing that is consistently strong however is the dialogue. Like Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, there is nothing you look forward to more than when Hannibal speaks. In the series he lacks the seemingly non-sequitur analogies ending in an emotional gut punch (“When your daughter is on the slab, ma’am, where will it tickle you?”) and snappy one-liners he casually and confidently lets slither through his glass cage and barred mask, but he is still an overwhelming presence. For a man who does not raise his voice, show emotion or use his body to silence those around him, he captures your attention with such ease he might as well be blaring through a megaphone. Sometimes charm is more powerful than strength.

Of course writing can only get a show so far. To compete on TV today one must have great acting. Luckily there is no shortage of that here. I was convinced before the debut I would not like this show. No one could ever replace Hopkins in my mind, for he is Hannibal incarnate. But to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an insult. Mikkelson takes to the part like a fungus to human flesh and is exactly what he should be. Hopkins’ Hannibal was captured, shamed and had nothing to entertain him but playing with his captors – cautious yet reckless – he knew where he stood and how far he could push the boat all the while having nothing to lose; this Hannibal is young. He sees himself as superior to everyone else. He’s playing them for no other reason than they came to him for help and he thinks he is invincible, immune to the plebeians who are, without their knowledge, hunting him down. He makes mistakes yet his position allows him to cover them up and hide the evidence using nothing more than a word to the FBI. You know he’s spelling his downfall and he does not. There is a satisfaction in being smarter than Hannibal Lecter.

Graham is equally well played. Dancy takes to the role far better than Edward Norton did, and this Graham is closer to his counterpart in the book. He is a broken man doing his best and it shows with absolute clarity. He is vulnerable and defensive, unhappy but with a certain confidence, and knows he must struggle through his gift for the greater good. He feels like a real, troubled person with a gift and not just another character to create a plot around :something difficult to portray when the character has a ‘super power’.

Secondary characters are also well acted, but one of note is Miss Fredrika Lounds, portrayed by one Lara Jean Chorostecki, the reporter trying to destroy Will Graham’s career, simply because it would make a good story. She could most politely be described as a despicable creature. This is not because she is a criminal or because she runs around hurling racist slurs and kicking children. No, fingering what it is about her exactly that instills disgust is a mystery, and it can be put down largely to good writing and acting. While she does not induce the hatred that Jack Gleeson does on Game of Thrones, she does a good enough job that, like Gleeson, if you saw the actor on the street you’d think “God, what a horrible person”. You’d never even want a chance to find out what she is really like as a person.

Between the writing, the acting, the production, the cuisine nomenclature for the episodic titles and the magnificent knot, which could well be considered the pinnacle of fabric manipulation, that winds itself Full Windsor around Hannibal’s neck, NBC’s Hannibal is a stellar thriller with 350 degrees of melt-in-the-mouth potential cooked in segments of 44 minutes at a time. Certain hiccups and the fact it has seemingly fallen into a formula so early on means it does not quite fall off the bone, but it is a series worth trying out. I have high hopes for it going forward and if I were to force myself to use the archaic system of marking out of ten, I’d give the show as has been presented so far a strong 7.5: that could maybe push itself up to an 8 if it tries.

If absolutely nothing else, Hannibal will make you want to take a cooking class, and as long as your meat is from the butchers, a new hobby can only be a good thing. On the other hand you may find yourself making bad food metaphors. It’s hard to make a show whose not-so-subtle side plot is eating human flesh classy- yet here it is. The Walking Dead, eat your heart out.