I Myself Can Not: “Fromage”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate, two old friends with a shared love of serial killer fiction and inability to meet a deadline, discuss NBC’s new Hannibal series)

KATE: Let’s do this!

Apologies for the delay in reviews. Jason went to Sweden. I was moving and experiencing the living hell known as “no internet.” Things were a little frantic for all of us. But! We’re back and theoretically better than ever.

Hannibal remains a visually stunning show with amazing special effects and set design. However, after the latest episode, I’m a little worried that Hannibal may be relying a little too heavily on it. A lot of genre television can fall into this trap. The Walking Dead, for instance, routinely relies on gore in place of plot or character development or anything that doesn’t involve Norman Reedus in short sleeves. However, after a few episodes of puttering around in front of scenery, the audience is bound to get bored or at the very least, want more. Yes, Will is crazy. Yes, Hannibal is up to something nefarious. We get it. So what’s next? Preferably it will involve forward momentum and not a forced love triangle between Will, Hannibal and Dr. Bloom.

Having said all that, I absolutely love watching this show and want it to last forever. Jason, what are your thoughts on this episode? Can that many serial killers live in the Washington metro area? Does Hannibal even have a receptionist? Are you Team Will or Team Hannibal?

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JASON: To answer the most important question first: I am on Team Willibal. Or is it Team Hanniwill? Whatever you call it, Hannibal/Will is the most convincing love story in the show. Comfortingly, everyone involved in the show seems to realize it. The kiss between Will and Dr. Bloom is played on all sides like a bad idea, something Will is forcing himself to do in search of a distraction. Meanwhile, the moment at the end when Hannibal sees Will walk into his office looks like the end of a telenovela. Hannibal explicitly addresses the idea of friendship in this episode, and he and Will are definitely more than just co-workers at this point. Will drove an hour in the snow to talk to Hannibal about his kiss with Dr. Bloom! They’re besties! They tell each other everything! Well, except for that one thing.

Digression coming: the way Hannibal is playing the Will/Hannibal friendship as tumblr-bait is the creepiest thing in the show this week, and this was an episode where a guy made violin strings out of human guts. Most people would agree that the way traditional violin strings are usually made is kind of icky. But in the midst of all this over-the-top carnage, there’s a real relationship forming between these two people, neither of whom is able to be friends with anyone else. But one of them is a murderous cannibal! It should be incredibly jarring, but the fact that it’s not is a testament to how captivating this show is. It draws you in slowly, but once you’re in, you’re SO IN that you’ll accept a friendship between an autistic teacher and a murderous European psychiatrist.

The show’s pace doesn’t bother me, because it feels like we’re building towards something. Maybe I have too much faith in Bryan Fuller, but I’m betting we’ll get a good payoff from this “Will be crazy” plot-line  That said, I do see how you could be annoyed with it: at times this does feel like the slowest nervous breakdown ever depicted.

Ah, but Hannibal threw us a bone this week, with the most action-packed episode yet! The results were… odd. What did you make of the serial killer showdown, Kate?

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KATE: Ah, the serial killer showdown…as I mentioned earlier, most of my worries about the show stem from the seemingly endless supply of serial killers in and around the DC area. This is no exception. I found the entire relationship between Hannibal and Tobias felt extremely odd to me. Wouldn’t a serial killer as intelligent as Hannibal and Tobias want to not draw attention to themselves? I guess you could argue that it’s all part of the serial killer shtick. Hannibal and Tobias feed on anonymous attention. Hell, it’s the whole reason Hannibal is helping the FBI. It feeds his ego. He likes to test them. It’s part of the reason he likes treating Will. He can test him on any number of psychopathic litmus tests while amazingly maintaining his own secrets.
At any rate, the serial killer showdown makes for thrilling television, even if it wasn’t that suspenseful. Did anyone out there really believe that the title character would be killed halfway through the first season? Honestly, the Tobias encounter seemed to come out of left field. It did serve to force Hannibal into the foreground at the FBI. Why would Tobias attack Hannibal? How did Hannibal escape? They had foreshadowed Tobias’, um, proclivities in earlier episodes, but this felt a little forced all around. They could have let the character simmer a little bit, giving him more motivation or well, character, instead of making him into a cheap Lector  knockoff. Killing a professional musician because he can’t play to your satisfaction? That’s a direct reference to a victim of Lector’s in Silence of the Lambs, although to be fair, Lector’s patient was a flutist and wasn’t turned into a human cello after he died.
This show is obviously a rehashing of familiar material. We vaguely know the characters, the story and the oeuvre of Hannibal at large, but the details have always been a little muddled. Yet, the continuing call backs to previous material is becoming a tad redundant. Yes, Eddie Izzard’s character killed a nurse while feigning illness. Yes, Will Graham finds himself staggering around blind in a killer’s basement. Yes, Eddie Izzard resides in a glass cell. Yes, we find carved angels hanging in rafters. These, as creepily and effectively executed as they may be, are merely rehashing of older source material. Hannibal, at his worst, is an effective villain because his cruelty is severe and disturbing, even as the man himself comes off as civilized and charming. His dinner party (where “nothing is vegetarian”) is a perfect example of this.
Jason, I am happy we’re on the same page as Willibal/Hanniwill, although it is disturbing for me to think that I’m on the same page as Tumblr about anything.
(PS, I’m voting that at the end of the season, we take a poll on the most creative/disturbing deaths. I’m all in on Violin Strings McGee.)
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JASON: Confession coming: I haven’t watched the Hannibal films in a long time. So, while I do catch most of the references (the glass cell, the flesh-angels) I miss a lot of the smaller ones (the way Eddie Izzard killed that nurse, the Florence Domo from episode one), and I’m less likely than you to be annoyed by all the call-backs. You may disagree, but I don’t think it’s gotten to the wink-wink-nudge-nudge level where it’s overly distracting. I don’t know how bad it would have to get before I would complain, since my original conception of this show involved Hannibal turning to the audience and winking every time he made a pun about cannibalism… my quota for in-jokes is pretty high, is what I’m saying, and we haven’t filled it yet. The parallels between Buffalo Bill’s house and Will’s journey into the cellar this week was actually pretty clever. It didn’t call too much attention to itself, but it forged a nice little connection between the series and the show. Best of all, it made sense: Tobias needed a place to make his signature strings, why WOULDN’T it be a creepy basement?

As for things that make sense but still weren’t good, the Serial Killer Rumble was incredibly distracting. Hannibal is about 75% atmosphere, and I’m not complaining–very few television shows have committed so fully to ‘bad vibes’ as a form of storytelling–but atmosphere is a delicate thing, and when something like a karate battle between two serial killers gets thrown into the mix, it can dispel that atmosphere like a thin mist. It was a well-directed fight scene, but it felt like it was from a different, much goofier show, where violence doesn’t matter, and two men can trade blows for five minutes without really doing any damage.

Hannibal certainly has its over-the-top moments: nearly every murder scene contains a tableau that would put Ed Gein to shame ten times over. But as unrealistic as some of these murders are, that heightened brutality is a key part of the show. I might go so far as to say that, at a certain point, the murders are supposed to seem ridiculous. We’re supposed to stop being shocked by them and start feeling exhausted by them… just like good ol’ Will Graham, who gets a little crazier every time he sees the human body so flagrantly abused.

You see how I brought that back around, Kate? You see that?

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