I Myself Can Not: “Amuse-Bouche”

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(in which Jason and Kate, two old friends with a single shared copy of Hannibal Rising, discuss NBC’s new Hannibal series)

JASON:  “Amuse-Bouche” is a step down from the pilot of Hannibal, which is not all that surprising. Last week’s episode was quiet, unsettling, and more interested in setting the mood than with storytelling. We spent so much time in Will Graham’s head that there wasn’t room for much else. This week, we trade off some of that psychological intensity for the standard tv-show business of setting up plot-lines and introducing characters. Instead of focusing on Will Graham, Hannibal turns its lens on the supporting cast, and while it’s not as effectively creepy as the first hour, I liked what we saw. Laurence Fishburne is still great, as is Mads Mikkelsen… and of course, we met a new series regular this week, one that sent my fan-service alarms a-ringing before she even spoke her first line: Freddie Lounds.

Freddie Lounds. Everything about that makes me happy. In case anyone’s forgotten, Freddy Lounds was the scumbag reporter from Red Dragon who causes trouble for the heroes and then gets dispatched in the most quotable sequence in the book. And in the 2002 film, he was played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. What’s not to love? But in Hannibal, Lounds is a scumbag blogger/tabloid journalist who has already caused just as much trouble as her male counterpart. Yeah! She’s a girl! They pulled a Rule 63 on us, Kate! I guess once Jack Crawford showed up much blacker than I remembered, all bets were off, but this is still a welcome surprise. Gender-swapping is one of my favorite cheap ways to twist a character, and the writers are already making good use of it–Lounds plays off preconceived notions of female vulnerability in this episode’s murder scene, and it’s implied that she seduced that one FBI agent, if not countless others.

The fact that this version of Lounds is an internet journalist–truly, they are the wretched of the earth–really drives home that this is a re-imagining, not a prequel. As does the fact that she’s a she and Crawford is played byCowboy Curtis. The ‘Hannibal’ series, because of its nature and how contemporary it is, doesn’t strike me as something that will be radically altered by the introduction of modern technology, though it does add a nice wrinkle to this episode’s climax when the killer reads a blog post and is able to get the jump on our heroes. This also reminds me of Bates Motel, another currently-airing re-imagining of a classic series. Unlike Hannibal, Bates Motel is transplanting a classic horror story from the early 60’s, so the introduction of cell phones and raves feels awkward and distracting. And unlike Bates Motel, Hannibal doesn’t feel completely pointless.

Take it away, Kate! Also: I just realized that not only did I never read Hannibal Rising, I never saw the movie, either. Did you?

KATE: I have read the book but I never got around to seeing the movie. Be thankful I read it for the both of us, Jason. It was so obviously a vanity project, designed to tell the story no one wanted to hear, except Thomas Harris, apparently. Not only was it a prequel, it was also an origin story for Hannibal’s cannibalism, which no one needed or asked for. Part of Hannibal’s innate creepiness is that you don’t know much about him. He’s one of America’s top psychiatrists, so you know that he’s smart and good at what he does. He’s classy and prefers the finer things in life, but he consumes human flesh, which is completely barbaric. Ugh. Furthermore, the explanation for Hannibal’s penchant for human flesh isn’t even that good. He was traumatized by Nazis. Yeah. That’s it. But I’m not here to talk about Hannibal Rising, so let’s leave that in the past (where it belongs) and move on to other, better origin stories.

The recasting of Freddie Lounds as a lady is actually a good choice. Like you said, she’s much more deplorable this way, simply because she uses her femininity to be even sleazier than your average tabloid journalist. She lies to law enforcement, she sleeps with cops to get what she wants and she fakes identities to get information. It did seem odd to me that Hannibal let her leave his office with the recording. Did he really think he could trust her? She’s someone so notorious she’s on the FBI’s radar. (And Hannibal’s, apparently, because he identified her almost immediately.) There has to be a reason she’s so interested in Will Graham, the current toast of Quantico. Eh. It’s obviously for sheer plot development. She has to release the interview so Creepy McPharmacist will find Will, etc, etc…anyway, it was all worth it to hear Mads Mikkelson purr how naughty she’d been. It was beyond creepy…and also threatening. We all know (well, Jason and I do, anyway) how she’s gonna end up.

I haven’t seen Bates Motel, nor do I care to, so I cannot comment on the use of technology. But I have seen weird mushroom corpse gardens, so…Jason, what are your thoughts on that particular storyline? It does seem like they will be having a “killer of the week” thing. Are you hopeful or afraid?

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JASON: If I’m afraid of anything, it’s that mushroom corpse garden. Maybe it’s because body horror is one of my biggest weak points, but that plotline gave me the full-on heebie-jeebies, from the reveal of corpses–the way each hand stuck out at the same angle and the camera just kept pulling back to reveal more–to that one jump scare that was directly lifted from Se7en. Whether it was an homage or a rip-off, it definitely freaked me out: is this how people felt when they saw the ‘Sloth’ scene for the first time?

Seriously, though, the focus this week on a new serial killer worried me a bit. There was bound to be some killer-of-the-week element, since it’s almost impossible to sell a new series if it’s not a procedural, but I’m still holding out hope that we’re not going to follow the same pattern every week. It’s the most boring route this series could go down, although if they keep up the good character work, I’ll be more forgiving. And as I said, this week’s killer was unnerving in a way that I don’t usually find stuff on television unnerving… but that could work against the series, too. The whole “mushroom garden” thing was bizarre and unsettling, but if Hannibal starts pulling out a super-crazy-gimmick-killer every week, the writers might try to top themselves every week and end up shooting past ‘over-the-top’ and straight into the realm of American Horror Story.

But the ‘Hannibal’ series has always hovered between realism and pure fantasy. Buffalo Bill–a killer who keeps his victims trapped in a well in his basement and then skins them to make a suit–feels like the kind of maniac you might hear about on CNN, but just barely. If you tweak just a few elements of the story, it swerves into Gothic-esque, B-movie territory… which is exactly what happened in the sequel, where the antagonist was a super-villain who kept a pen of wild boars and collected tears from the children he molested. I’m hoping that Hannibal the show never gets as outright ugly and gross as Hannibal the novel/movie, but Bryan Fuller wants to bring the fantastical, Gothic elements of the series to the surface, and he’s done a fine job so far. That room full of antlers was way more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than anything from Harris’s books, but it worked, and I’m still loving that bird-stag hallucination. Even when it shows up in this episode as part of an incredibly obvious dream sequence–oh, the Hobbs case is leading Will into the darkness–I’m on-board, because most shows wouldn’t even attempt such a blatant visual metaphor, and even fewer would pull it off as well as Hannibal.

Speaking of Will’s descent into madness, how great were those conversations between him and Dr. Lecter?

Hannibal - Season 1

KATE:  Oh, those scenes were wonderful, although I could do without Will’s survivor’s guilt. Similarly, I’m not a fan of him creeping around the hospital after Hobbes’ daughter. It feels like wasted space and story, although she’ll be a plot point in next week’s episode. Anyway, at this point I’ll take any scene that occurs in Hannibal’s office. That set design alone is…man, did you see that couch? The red walls? I love it. The costumes leave a little bit to be desired, though. Does anyone else picture Dr. Lecter not dressing like he’s a 70s game show host? Cause I do.

Next week’s preview seems to suggest that there will be a different killer every week. I guess it’s a natural growing pain of the show. After all, they can’t justify keeping Will around without something to investigate. Like you said, doing with that would mean they’d have to raise the stakes every week or introduce some weird special effects to keep the audience guessing. After two episodes, I’m starting to wish they had followed the path of season one of True Blood, which involved a single unseen killer terrorizing the town until the final reveal in the season finale. Frankly, it’s just hard for me to believe there are so many twisted, unique serial killers out there, especially when you consider how frequently they’re occurring. Again, this is a problem with most of the Hannibal books. There has to be something for Will or Clarice or Hannibal to investigate, but the audience won’t want to invest time if it’s a routine murder/suicide. You have to raise the stakes to making a woman suit (strangely, I buy it) to eating a still living brain of your nemesis to Nazis being…well, Nazis. Actually, Hannibal Rising didn’t really raise the stakes at all, which may be why it was so very awful.

Speaking of the mushroom garden, yes, that reaction shot was totally lifted from Se7en. I like to think that The Walking Dead has given network television the ability to pawn more gore on the audience and have it play off as acceptable. This show airs at 10 pm, which is a point in its favor. Hell, that’s half the reason Nip/Tuck got away with so much plastic surgery montages. At any rate, Hannibal continues to be a visually striking show. The shot of the last victim being ungagged will stay with me for awhile. Jason, we’re on the same page about body horror. Forever and always.

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