(in which Jason and Kate review NBC’s Hannibal and try to go more than a paragraph without mentioning Tumblr)
JASON: Whether it’s because of my writing style or because I publish these reviews on a website with my name in it, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m not an actual critic. I like to think that I know a little bit more about film and television than the average viewer, but no one has ever paid me to talk about them, so officially, I’m just an interested amateur. So, when I watch a show, I don’t always do so as a professional, meaning that I don’t engage with the program on a very high level. All this is to say that “Trou Normand” is the first episode of Hannibal that I’ve watched with my “critic hat” on at all times.
Or maybe I just feel that way because the thematic stuff was right up in your face this week. One thing I like about this show’s killer-of-the-week format is that the killer is never the point. Sometimes, Will just figures out who the killer is and they track him down without any trouble–in one episode, the guy just hanged himself. Last week was an exception: Tobias was clearly the focus of the plot, and Will and Hannibal’s developing relationship just hung off of it. In an episode like “Trou Normand,” the serial-killer plot is pure thematic fodder, a smaller story about a father that echoes the larger story of Will and Hannibal’s relationship to Abigail.
Like I said, the parallels aren’t that subtle, but no one calls them out, either. Hannibal explicitly tells Will that they are now Abigail’s surrogate fathers, but he doesn’t say, “I mean, we can at least be better fathers than that guy who killed his son, am I right? Eh? I eat people.” Or whatever he would say. I can’t do it, but you know.
Okay, I’ll just say it: the deft use of parallel plot points, along with the long-form storytelling and attention to character detail, makes Hannibal the Mad Men of serial-killer shows.
What say you to that, Kate? WHAT SAY YOU?
KATE: Whoa, whoa, whoa…okay, sure. That parallel kind of works and I can’t explicitly argue against it; however, I don’t know if it matches up. For one thing, we’ve only seen one season of Hannibal. Mad Men has been consistently subtle and engaging for six seasons. Hannibal has only made it through half of one. Any number of television shows can manage to pull off a great first season before muddling off into Crazy Town (Lost, Nip/Tuck) while any number of others have subpar first seasons before becoming something great (Parks and Recreation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Not that I doubt Hannibal. If it manages to be renewed (looking at you, NBC) I think it has a great run ahead of itself, as long as it doesn’t stray into Hannibal Rising territory.
Speaking of Hannibal Rising, let’s talk Mischa and Abigail. Mischa, as I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, is the younger sister of Hannibal, introduced in Hannibal Rising. Her demise (on the part of flesh eating Nazis) is also the apparent source of Hannibal’s cannibalism, although in this more modern interpretation, that’s up for debate. I have to wonder when or if the show will attempt to explain his cannibalism. They can only do better than the source material, but they would need to come up with something better than a chewed up version of Godwin’s Law. As flawless as Mads Mikkelson looks, I can’t in good faith believe he’s secretly 70 years old. So why do I bring it up in the first place? Well, there’s a ton of parallels between Mischa and Abigail.
Mischa is Hannibal’s younger sister. After the death of their parents, Hannibal feels an understanding amount of responsibility for her well being. This is ultimately undone when she is eaten in front of his eyes and he is forced to watch, unable to help her. So, he becomes the Hannibal of Red Dragon fame. Hannibal, in the television show, has an odd fascination with Abigail. He helps her to dispose of a body, he agrees to keep her role in the Shrike case a secret and decides to enlist Will in all of it. But why? It makes sense for Will to have an odd fascination with Abigail. This is the man who adopts any stray dog he comes across, let alone a vulnerable teenager with a cannibalistic psychopath for a father. He shot her father, ergo he feels a sense of responsibility to her. But Hannibal? What does he see in Abigail that he feels the need to endanger himself so boldly?
JASON: Now, the Mischa thing is interesting: the way I understand it, Bryan Fuller and his cronies only have the rights to the characters in Red Dragon... but anyone who’s read Hannibal has got to be thinking about Mischa whenever Abigail shows up. When “Trou Normand” went all greyscale at the end, I honestly thought for a second that we were flashing back to a scene of young Hannibal and his sister, which proves that for all my talk of parallels and motifs, I am actually a moron who doesn’t understand how television works. As long as we’re (tangentially) on the subject of Mad Men: when Peggy left SCDP last season, I spent a full week trying to convince everyone that she was leaving the show for good. Like I said: moron.
If we operate under the assumption that Mischa doesn’t exist in this universe–and we have no reason not to–then Hannibal’s feelings for Abigail are pure mystery, which I think is the intention. My guess? Hannibal is intrigued by her semi-latent murderous impulses, and not just in a clinical way. I have no doubt that most of Dr. Lecter’s actions are fueled by curiosity, completely removed from all human emotions, but when you consider his relationship with Will and Abigail, it looks to me like Hannibal is trying to build a family. He’s doing it in a pretty horrific way, of course: identifying people with severe mental disorders and manipulating them into trusting him. But given that this version of Lecter was also an orphan, it stands to reason that he might want to form a makeshift family… even if it’s only as an experiment.
There’s a line from episode four that I keep going back to. It comes during a session between Hannibal and Will, in a scene so important it was included in the cut-up “webisodes” version. In it, Hannibal is questioning Will about his parents, and Will says “There’s something so unnatural about family. Like an ill-fitting suit.” I’m starting to think that “family” is a major theme of this season, since it’s so tied-in with Abigail and her struggles. Let’s not forget that Will keeps his own canine surrogate family at his home. What do you think, Kate? Am I grasping at straws, here? It’s hard to make these sort of declarations about theme when you’re barely 2/3rds through the season, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.
KATE: Wait, you really thought they were going to write Elisabeth Moss off the show? You fool! As the show goes on, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Peggy is the show’s protagonist. She’s certainly more developed and likeable than Don, at any rate. I also should admit here I have the worst kind of fan crush on Peggy Olson, so don’t pay attention to me.
Anyway, back to Hannibal. I don’t think the theme of family is a stretch at all. It’s right up there with the complexity of the human mind and what motivates actions versus merely thinking about them. The idea of family as presented on the show, either as an ill fitting suit or what we make ourselves, is all over this show. After all, Garrett Jacob Hobbes killed young women bearing a resemblance to his daughter so he wouldn’t have to kill her, Hannibal is busily assembling his own idea of family with all the strays he’s picked up and Jack is increasingly haunted by his failure to save his wife or his surrogate daughter. I do think, however, that Hannibal’s apparent fondness for Abigail and Will is equally motivated by curiosity and…well, fondness, in so far as Hannibal can feel it. He’s curious about mankind on the whole but when he meets someone who strikes him as clever or talented, he is right in the middle of it. There’s a reason so many fanfiction writers out there write about Hannibal and Clarice Starling. Actually, I can only assume that they’re out there. Having never read any of it, save the unfortunately canonical Hannibal, in which Clarice and Hannibal run off to Buenos Aires together, I can only assume there’s far worse. This is the internet we’re talking about, after all. At any rate, Hannibal is extremely rich in symbolism, like we’ve pointed out before. Some of it is bound to be less or more intriguing as the season progresses.
Do we even want to delve into the Dr. Bloom/Will romantic subplot? I found her rejection speech to Will a little strange and lacking motivation. Was he ever trying to just sleep with her? I never got the vibe. It was more of a desperate grasping at straws, part of the general “Will be crazy” character motivation they keep pushing. I’d like to think that their little chat would stop this from continuing as a plot development, but I’d just be lying to myself. Tumblr won’t let anything die, let alone an on screen kiss.
JASON: I just realized that we haven’t mentioned the fact that Lance “Frank Black” Henriksen made a cameo appearance in this episode! I was hoping we’d get a full-on MilleniuM reference and Henriksen would play Will’s mentor who taught him the ways of criminal profiling… but instead he was just the killer of the week. Oh, well.