Hugh Dancy

I Myself Can Not: “Su-zakana” & “Shiizakana”

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(in which Jason and Kate take on two episodes in a single review and never once mention that Jeremy Davies is on the show now)

JASON: Body horror is one thing, body horror I can handle. But the final scene between Hannibal and Will in “Su-zakana” made my skin crawl like nothing else on Hannibal ever has. Is it too soon to start making predictions on when Hannibal and Will are finally going to kiss? At this point, it would feel weird if they didn’t, right? Forgetting the fact that Hannibal is so deep inside Will’s head that Will isn’t even sure he wants to kill him, the look of pride and wonder on Hannibal’s face as he takes away Will’s gone has the sort of erotic tinge that could launch a thousand ships (so to speak), was this relationship not already so creepy that even the most misguided piece of fanfiction couldn’t make it worse. Hannibal and Will are like Mulder and Scully if The X-Files were written by the devil himself.

Putting aside my lingering discomfort and that gross, clammy feeling I’ve had all over my body since these episodes aired, there’s plenty to geek out about. Most importantly: THE VERGERS ARE HERE! Mason doesn’t make an appearance, although we do get a look at his infamous martini of tears — a character detail so deliciously insane and over-the-top that even Ridley Scott had the good sense to leave it out of the Hannibal film… but it fits in so perfectly with this series that it’s one of the first things we learn about Mason. I’ve been excited for these two to show up, for reasons of both personal fondness (“CORDELL!”) and legit interest in seeing Fuller’s version of the Vergers, and things are already looking up. As Fuller addressed in that episode’s Walkthrough, the Hannibal novel makes it seem like Margot is sexually “abnormal” as a result of being sexually assaulted by her brother, which is, you know, not how things work and certainly not the impression you want to give. So, he has wisely made Mason a little less gross, although we’ll have to wait and see just how horrifying this version is. He still hands out candy bars, after all.

Between the appearance of the Margot and the scientists finding a piece of organic matter in a victim’s throat, I could barely remember which novel this series is supposed to be adapting. That embarrassment of riches was enough to make me look the other way on some of the plausibility issues that came up in the past two weeks. Look, I’m not a jerk; I know that Hannibal operates on a level of heightened reality and I’m willing to be a good sport and suspend the appropriate amount of disbelief. But is there no oversight at all for this branch of the FBI? Does anyone think it’s a good idea to have Hannibal consulting on the same case as Will, a man who tried to have him killed? I actually started to pull away from the show in the opening dinner scene, where Jack, Hannibal and Will all sit down for a nice fish dinner and a little friendly chitchat about how one of them thinks that the other is a cannibal. Given the circumstances, I do imagine it would come up, but the scene just feels awkward and uneasy.

… though that may have been the point, given how these episodes examines the new Will/Hannibal dynamic and pushes it into the creepiest place it has ever gone. In these scenes, it’s clearer what the show is trying to do: things haven’t gone back to normal, but now that everything with the Ripper has been wrapped up, the characters have to pretend like it has. But everyone involved (us included) knows that beneath the paper-thin layer of normalcy is a tangled mess of sex, murder, and the least healthy male friendship ever put on television. It’s anyone’s guess where Jack’s head is at these days, and I don’t know if that’s intentional or just a minor failing of the show’s creative team. When Will was giving him that blatantly metaphorical lecture about fishing, it almost seemed like Jack was on the same page. I imagine he still has some lurking suspicions about Hannibal, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part. Either way, that dude is getting a shard of glass to the neck in T-minus five episode, so he’d better wise up quick.

How did you feel about the first appearance of the Vergers, aside from SO EXCITED? Did you have trouble swallowing the new character dynamics within the FBI? How gross did you feel after watching the first session of Will’s renewed therapy? Guhhhh. Excuse me, I need to go stand under a hot shower and stare blankly at the wall.

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Clearly nothing weird going on here.

KATE: Never say fanfiction can’t make anything worse, Jason, because it can. While you’re at it, never look at the Hannibal tag on Tumblr, either. Between them, Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy have starred in enough romance movies that you’re almost guaranteed a poorly photoshopped photo of them having sex. It’s either that or a gif set of Alana and Hannibal going at it. I’m not sure which is worse, actually. Anyway, the show is doing this on purpose, right? How could they not? Bryan Fuller is a very smart guy! It’s awful. He has to know what he’s doing is terrifying, but he keeps on doing it. Honestly, I’m beginning to find it a little annoying. Admittedly, I’m coming from a place of grief. Fuller has killed off my two favorite characters this season. Beverly had to die because she was suspicious of Hannibal. Chilton had to die because Hannibal needed a fall man for the Ripper case. So what are we left with? This? My beloved Beverly and Frederick were mutilated so we can watch Will and Hannibal exchange thinly veiled metaphors and call it a conversation? Guh. If they aren’t talking in metaphor at a crime scene, chances are they’re trying to out cheekbone each other in Hannibal’s office. It doesn’t leave me wanting more. If anything, it makes me want to go make a snack until the scene is over.

When a relationship is the emotional core of a show, it needs to be something the audience can relate to. At the very least, it should be something the audience actually wants to see. I found myself drifting away during the Will and Hannibal sequences. These episodes may have been total Tumblr bait, but I thought they were boring. Will and Hannibal only work together on screen when they’re in a scene with another character…and that’s a problem. They have a mutually assured destruction thing going on that is actually very fun to watch when it’s played out in the real world. Will knows Hannibal is the Ripper and Hannibal knows that he knows. Watching that dynamic present itself in a crime scene is engaging. Watching it play out in Hannibal’s office is boring. When they’re alone, their conversations come off smarmy and hackneyed. Will’s dreams about Hannibal are so chocked full of metaphor that it falls apart. I don’t want to go so far as to say they’ve worked this relationship into the ground, but it’s very close.

Furthermore, Hannibal is just a terrible person. We already knew that, of course, but his setup of Will in “Shiizakana” was a total party foul. I guess you could make the argument that Hannibal thought he was helping Randall by encouraging him to jump over the edge into full on Cave Bear, but I don’t buy that Hannibal would want to openly attack Will…not yet, anyway. I haven’t read Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs in a while, but the Hannibal in the books was never this forward. Was he? Hannibal usually talks people into hurting themselves, not open violence towards others, right? I mean, before he was put in jail. After his conviction, it’s all nurse tongues and human face masks. Okay, maybe I’m wrong, after all. So why hasn’t anyone noticed? No one at the FBI thinks that Hannibal and Will’s relationship is just a little odd? Hannibal tells Jack over dinner that he is treating Will again and Jack’s barely raises an eyebrow. I know you already covered this, Jason, but you can’t tell me that Jack Crawford would let Will work alongside a man he tried to kill, especially given that one of them is the other one’s therapist. How can he really rationalize that? Will doesn’t want to kill Hannibal anymore because they realized it was Chilton’s evil light therapy all along? Then there’s Alana. Have you noticed that every sex scene between her and Hannibal ends with some sexy pillow talk about their mutual love for Will? Guh, this show makes me feel so uncomfortable sometimes. Heightened reality is one thing; blatantly ignoring reality is another. Yeah, Jason, I said it.

The only thing that saved these two episodes for me was, rather predictably, the introduction of the Vergers. Somehow I had forgotten about them! I am enjoying the new take on Margot’s character. She isn’t the most interesting or dynamic character in the book; in fact, she’s more like a plot device than an actual character. This version is self aware and skeptical of Hannibal’s treatments. People who find Hannibal suspicious don’t tend to last too long on this show, but it was refreshing. I’m happy someone finally said something about Hannibal’s tendency to recommend murder as a therapeutic exercise, even if Will mostly shrugged it off. It’s a shame it took until episode nine of the second season. I’m excited for Mason’s introduction this week. I’m not sure if he’ll be any less gross, Jason, I just think he’s young and hasn’t met Hannibal yet. I mean, he still drinks tear martinis and collects eels. Did you notice the line about the Vergers being the heirs of a meat packing company? Was that in the books? If not, it’s a wonderful detail to add.

Have I gone too far, Jason?

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“Lot of nice bones you got here.”

JASON: No, Kate — I don’t think you’ve gone too far. Every time Jack, Will and Hannibal share a scene, the entire premise of the show threatens to collapse under the weight of massive implausibility. And that’s coming from someone who loves Hannibal and will tear his garments and wear sackcloths on his loins if the show doesn’t get renewed. That’s the reason I get so annoyed with those scenes, actually: because they’re keeping me from enjoying a show that, when it’s firing on all cylinders, is one of the weirdest, darkest and most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on TV.

Let me pause on that for a second, so that I can say something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while: this show really is beautiful, and I didn’t fully appreciate it until this season. The look of the show is unique right from the get-go, but for a while, I kind of thought that the high-contrast image was carrying a lot of the weight… which just goes to show that I am an awful critic. If you take even a moment to actually study the show’s visual storytelling, you can see that it’s not just the color of the image (although adjusting the show’s color palette to acheive a certain mood is an art in itself that should not be discounted), it’s everything: the dark and moody scene design that always stay on the right side of realism, the Brian Reitzell score that functions more as a nightmare soundscape than a piece of music, the way the shot composition will resemble a slightly off-kilter version of a normal procedural in one scene, then shift rapidly into an awful dream of violence without causing whiplash.

Okay! Sorry. I just wanted to pay the show a long-overdue compliment before we dive back into how absurd it is that Jack watches Will and Hannibal have these innuendo-laden conversations and apparently thinks nothing of it. In “Shiizakana,” he has them both working a crime scene at the same time. Gee, Jack, you think that might bring up some bad memories? I know Will’s not crazy anymore, or whatever, but have a little tact.

I don’t agree with you on everything, though. The scenes between Will and Hannibal do sometimes threaten to veer off-course, but the dynamic between those two characters is so unique that I’m able to let it slide. I know, there’s nothing earth-shattering about two adversaries with a uncomfortably close relationship, where feelings of hate, fascination and (dare I say it?) love all intertwine to create a complicated dynamic that goes beyond a simple good-guy/bad-guy dynamic… but its rare to see a pair of frenemies this closely connected, interacting in such a public yet emotionally claustrophobic space. Your mileage may vary, and it clearly does, but I get a little thrill whenever those two take their icky relationship a step further.

Oh, and I also don’t mind that Hannibal and Alana talk about Will whenever they finish having sex. I just assume that they’re both thinking about him the whole time, anyway.

I Myself Can Not: Savoureux

imyselfcannot(in which Jason and Kate finally finish up their season-long look at Hannibal, miraculously getting their final review logged before the second season begins)

JASON: Well, gee, Kate: where do we go from here?

I’ve talked before about my expectations for Hannibal and how they were quickly dashed when the show turned out to be a moody, intelligent, well-shot crime drama with an endearingly dark obsession with death and mutilation. But I formed another set of expectations when Bryan Fuller described the season’s arc as “the story of a man losing his mind” (or something to that effect). I figured Will Graham would slowly drift away from reality, only to be pulled back at the last minute before something really terrible happened. I expected that Hannibal would clean up his mess and move forward with the rest of the world none the wiser to his true nature… and I thought we might end the season with an ironically emotional moment cementing Hannibal as Will’s only true friend.

And that’s sure not what we got!

To recap: after Hannibal force-fed Will a piece of Abigail’s ear, he was able to pin Will for her murder and several other murders that Hannibal himself committed this season. It looks like Will might FINALLY get the medical attention he needs, but due to Hannibal’s meddling, it won’t account for the time he supposedly killed all those people. Will gets locked up in a facility for the criminally insane, but not before he finally realizes that Hannibal isn’t what he appears to be.

Actually, so maybe we should back up a little. We haven’t discussed this show in three weeks, after all.

In a way, these last three episodes all function as one big finale, bringing back characters from previous episodes and tying up their stories. It was especially nice to see Abel Gideon show back, after the show seemingly dropped the Chesapeake Ripper plot, a storyline that impacted all the main characters to some degree. The culmination of Gideon’s storyline was mostly about Graham and his deteriorating mental state, though Jack Crawford’s past failures drove his obsession with the case and informed every action he took, even if we weren’t overtly reminded of it. In fact, the culmination of the entire season ended up being about Will and Dr. Lecter, which is the way it should be… but still, Laurence Fishburne’s version of Jack Crawford was so entertaining, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get any more from the subplot about his wife’s cancer. I’d like to seen him get even more material next year.

Then there’s Abigail… I guess we should have seen it coming, but it was still chilling to see the walls close in on her like that. Before I throw it to you, Kate, I’d like to say that the final scene of episode 12 was my favorite of the entire season, specifically the moment where Abigail asks the question that we’ve been asking all season: why, Hannibal? What drove you to warn Garret Jacob Hobbs of his impending death and then to become so invested in his daughter’s life? The answer: curiosity. It was the obvious answer, but to hear Dr. Lecter say it so matter-of-factly was chilling.

KATE: I agree. Hannibal seems like such a psychopath that it would be folly to try and hash out his motivations, although many will theoretically try and fail in the episodes to come. And yet…he’s astonishingly simple. Hannibal is a psychiatrist. He’s interested in human behavior and motivation, so why wouldn’t he be curious to see what people do when put into certain scenarios? If you throw in the fact that he’s an avid cannibal and all around psychopath, then it makes almost perfect sense. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less chilling, which is why the show works as a series and why Hannibal is a great character.

Alright, now that I’ve effectively praised the show, who’s in the mood for some crackpot theories? I thought so! I can’t tell you why, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Abigail isn’t dead. Yeah, Will coughed up one of her ears and yeah, the floor of the Hobbes’ house is smeared with a mysterious blood like stain…but that doesn’t mean anything! I’ve always been a firm believer in the TV convention that if the audience doesn’t see a body, the character probably isn’t dead. This show invested so heavily in Abigail, both as a plot device and motivation for the other characters to develop and grow. She wasn’t a one episode guest star like Lance Henriksen or Molly Shannon. Why would they kill her? Pure shock value? If Hannibal was trying to frame Will as the copycat Chesapeake Ripper, wouldn’t he have planted her body somewhere in some ornate, ceremonial fashion? If Hannibal did kill Abigail, do you think he ate her? That seems like something Hannibal would find rude, given their prior relationship. It’s one thing for Hannibal to murder a poorly trained flautist; it’s quite another for him to kill and eat someone he thought of as his daughter.

At any rate, all we know for sure at this point is that Abigail is missing an ear.  On the other hand, I may very well be grasping at straws in a vain attempt to convince myself that Hannibal isn’t over for the next year or so. What are we gonna do, Jason? What are we going to do without Hannibal?

JASON: I’d usually agree with you about the bodies, but in this case, I think we actually DID see a body–it was just in the form of veal! Abigail does seem like a major character to kill off, but I think it was meant to shock. Not a cheap, empty kind of shock, but the shock that comes with the title character of the show murdering his surrogate daughter after we spent the whole season becoming invested in her. I just don’t think there’s any way Hannibal could let her live at that point, and I think he ate her because… well, that’s kind of his thing. It also harkens back to the Hobbs family philosophy of “honoring” every part of the kill, which is something Hannibal could definitely get behind in this situation.

But speaking of crackpot theories, I have one of my own! It actually has to do with something you mentioned a few weeks ago, but I never go the chance to address: the one time Freddie Lounds eats dinner at Hannibal’s, she specifically requests a vegetarian meal. As far as I remember, that makes her the only main character who hasn’t eaten human flesh (inadvertently or otherwise). That’s got to mean something, right? Either it’s a nice bit of irony that the most morally suspect character on the show is the only one not to indulge in cannibalism… or it’s a sign that Freddie Lounds isn’t as sleazy as we think, and that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge her!

It’ll come as no surprise to you that Freddie is my favorite character at this point, but I don’t want to make excuses for her. She’s fucked over more than a few people, and she’s (mostly) responsible for that cop’s death in episode two. Still, there’s something so pure in her self-interest and sleaziness… she’s like that grape Hannibal showed off in one episode–the same all the way through, from the skin down to the core. Hannibal is the exact opposite, a black-hearted villain in a “person suit”. Jack Crawford is awfully shifty in his treatment of Will, Jack’s wife lies about having cancer, Will is honest with others most of the time but never honest with himself, and Alana Bloom… well, I guess Alana’s okay. She IS the reason that Hannibal got involved in the first place, but that’s just because she was wrong, not because she was being dishonest. Maybe this crackpot theory is still more of a crackpot hypothesis.

I don’t know what we’ll do for the next year, Kate, I just don’t know! But what are you most excited about in the second season (besides the fact that it’s actually happening?) The prospect of seeing Mason Verger on television is almost too much to bear, and then there’s this little bit of news that I’m very excited to see play out.

KATE: Well now that you’ve told me that, I think I’m most excited about David Bowie! Will it really happen? Do we really have to wait a whole year to find out?  Have they announced the premiere date of the second season? I need to know how much longer I have to wait, Jason! I need to know!

Where is Mason Verger going to fit into all of this? In the novels, Mason is the only one of Hannibal’s victims to survive (albeit with half of a face). He also plays a vital role in putting Hannibal in jail, so where are they going? It’s actually a somewhat interesting prospect. Will and Mason (in the novels at least) are the two characters that experience Hannibal’s violence first hand while living to tell the tale. That seems like a workable angle for the television show to play off of, but will they really put Hannibal in a jail cell this early? He should be nice and incarcerated by the fourth season premiere, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m also curious as to who they will cast as Mason Verger. I have a hard time picturing Mason Verger as anything but a lipless Gary Oldman attempting a southern accent, but I have my hopes! Of course, they won’t introduce Mason already mangled…or will they?

JASON: I don’t know, Kate. I just don’t know! I guess they might introduce Mason Verger pre-mangled and then have his face-cutting incident happen during the season… boy, that’d be a sight to see on basic cable, wouldn’t it? You raise a good point about the parallels between Mason and Will, which I’m sure will not go unexplored by the show’s writers… although, the way things are going for Mr. Graham, it’s hard to say who comes out of the whole thing worse.

Actually, no, it’s not. Being a faceless pedophile is probably one of the worst things you can be.

No exact return date has been set for Hannibal, but I look forward to it with just as much frothing anticipation as you do, and I hope you’ll join me for another lively discussion sometime next year.

Say goodnight, Kate!

KATE: Goodnight Jason!

I Myself Can Not: Buffet Froid

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(in which Jason and Kate attempt to hold a weekly discussion about NBC’s Hannibal in spite of Jason’s insistence on leaving home for weeks at a time)

JASON: Let’s take a moment to celebrate the fact that, after leaving us all in the lurch for several weeks, NBC renewed Hannibal for a second season.

Hooray!

Now, let’s get back to “Buffet Froid,” an episode I found to be mostly effective but slightly troubling.

First, what I liked: almost everything. The opening sequence where Beth LeBeau is stalked and eventually killed by Georgia Madchen was creepy in a traditional horror-movie way that the show usually doesn’t get into, but man, did it work. That first scene proved that if Hannibal wanted to be a more traditional, killer-of-the-week, Criminal Minds-esque procedural, it would be the most stylish one out there.

Fortunately for us, that’s not what the show is. Can you imagine any other serial-killer-hunting show that would go so far out of its way to undermine the main character? Will’s blackouts are getting to a dangerous point now, where he’s almost convinced that he’s going to murder someone while he’s under. But this episode found a new way to demonstrate how unreliable Will is: the clock. When Hannibal asks Will to draw that clock, we see it the way Will does, as a normal (if hastily drawn) clock. But when Hannibal gets a hold of it, he sees it as it actually is, a messy scribble that displays a lack of spatial awareness. The blackouts tell us that Will doesn’t see everything, but that little scene with the clock tells us that even if Will sees something, it might not be true.

Then again, maybe the scene with the clock was only there to set up Will’s newly-discovered illness, which I’m uneasy about. It’s nice that the writers have an explanation for Will’s craziness besides “he saw some messed-up stuff and now he’s messed-up, too,” but it feels like kind of a cheat, too. One of the most obvious themes in the show–and the justification for all of the over-the-top violence–was the weight of Will’s ability, and the fact that it brings him dangerously close to the people he’s trying to catch. But now what I thought were the effects of that weight are just the symptoms of an inflamed brain.

Still, I respect the decision to bring a little more realism into the show, and it actually works nicely with my still-developing theory about the show’s major theme: the separateness of the mind and body. Short version: the way Hannibal barrages the viewer with images of the human body as an object are meant to amplify and connect to the central horror of the show, which is that one of the main characters eats people. On the furthest edge of this theory is the idea that the show is taking us through the proces that Hannibal himself went through, bringing us intellectually, if not emotionally (or so I hope!) to the conclusion that the human body is nothing more than meat.

In this episode, Doctors Lecter and Sutcliffe emphasize a distinction between the “brain” and the “mind,” and while we discover that Will’s problem is actually in his brain, Will himself still thinks the issue is psychological. I may be reaching here, but I think this actually furthers the separation between Will’s body and his mind, because his mind believes something is wrong with itself, with the real issue is his body.

Take it away, Kate! Please, before I disappear completely into my own navel-gazing. Oh, and if you’re taking requests: what do Dr. Lecter’s actions in this episode tell us about his relationship with Will? Does it reveal his true feelings, or has nothing really changed?

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KATE: I’m on the fence about Hannibal’s plot line this week. Actually, I’m all over the place about it. In terms of the show’s development and the character arcs, I thought this was a fabulous episode. Hannibal’s decision to lie to Will, therefore putting his life in danger seemed par for the course. After all, Hannibal’s relationship with Will is essentially about curiosity and psychoanalysis. He may like Will on a personal level, but why would that stop him from using Will as a lab rat? Hardly. He is a literal sociopath. He may be romancing Dr. Bloom over wine and dinner in one episode, but it’s not going to stop him from knocking her unconscious in another. Let’s not forget that Hannibal knows who Buffalo Bill is throughout the entirety ofSilence of the Lambs, but refuses to let Clarice know the identity, simply because he likes watching her grapple with his riddles. He’s kind of a jerk like that. There’s a similar development going on here. While encephalitis is hardly the same thing as being stalked in a basement, it does speak to Hannibal’s motives regarding those he cares for.

Then there’s his decision to kill Dr. Sutcliffe. Did he do it because he found Dr. Sutcliffe morally repugnant? The man did agree to keep a serious medical diagnosis from his patient just because Hannibal told him to. Did he do it to protect Georgia or draw her out of hiding? Probably not. Did he do it to keep Will’s condition to himself? I’m most inclined to go with theory. Hannibal needed a neurologist to confirm Will’s condition and found himself backed into a corner. He either has to kill Dr. Sutcliffe or be stuck with him in some sort of secret pact for the rest of time. To me, this only underscores Hannibal’s connection to Abigail Hobbes. He’s in a similar scenario where she is concerned, but goes out of his way to keep her safe. He helps her to conceal all of the skeletons in her closet, but no one can really understand why.

All of this is essentially to admit that I can’t say why Hannibal does what he does. Much like the serial killer showdown from a few episodes ago, it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it showcases Hannibal in a weird rubber suit.

Also, can we talk about how Hannibal can sniff illness? Or that he was a playboy in medical school? Why isn’t that show on TV?

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JASON: Be patient, Kate. If this show stays on the air for a few more seasons, I bet we’ll end up with a Spartacus-style prequel season, which will hopefully focus on Hannibal as a med-school playboy and ignore the part where he lives with his Japanese aunt while hunting his sister’s killers… although the latter sounds more like a tv show that might actually get made. Oh, I’m sad, now.

I Myself Can Not: “Trou Normand”

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(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?

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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 HannibalMad 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? 

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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.

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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.

I Myself Can Not: “Fromage”

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(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?

I Myself Can Not: “Pilot”

(Kate and I have been friends for a long time, about ten years, give or take, and since 2005 I don’t know if we’ve gone a whole conversation without some reference to the ‘Hannibal’ franchise. So when I decided to write about the new NBC series, it seemed right to invite her along.)

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JASON: Can I say right up front that I thought this would be terrible? When I first heard about Hanibal, I pictured a rote police procedural about an FBI agent and his weeeeeeird partner, with characters from the ‘Hannibal’ franchise slotted into it. I figured there would be the requisite references to the original series, but in the worst, most prequel-y way, with a lot of winks to the audience and clumsy foreshadowing. Basically, I expected Law & Order but one of the characters is constantly making puns about cannibalism.

But Hannibal is not that, and it’s actually really good. At least in the pilot. it’s a visually stunning crime drama more interested in the characters than the serial-killer of the week. Will Graham is probably the least memorable character in the entire ‘Hannibal’ mythos–even though he’s the protagonist of the first book–but I was invested in him from the first scene of the show, thanks to Hugh Darcy’s vulnerable portrayal and the neat trick of having Will live through the actions of the killer he’s investigating. You can see from the start what a terrible strain this talent has on Will, but also how crucial it is to his life. And then there’s the hallucinations…

But before I get too carried away: what about you, Kate? Did you go into this show expecting anything in particular?

KATE:  Yes. I was also expecting it to be terrible, like some unneeded reboot or revision of the original books with the occasional cheesy nod to fans (ha-ha, Hannibal is drawing the Florence Duomo!) And it is a little like that, but like you said, it’s actually good. The characters are recognizable but familiar…the sets are similar to those we’ve seen in other ‘Hannibal’ movies. Anyway, a lot of this is due to the creative edge of Bryan Fuller. He’s all over this show, from the dream sequences to the stylized cinematography. This is very important. Not only has Fuller done a lot of work in TV, he knows how to make something captivating and also slightly off-putting at the same time.

I’m definitely left wanting more. Is this going to be a total reimagining? Or will it have random asides and twists that are familiar to the audience but manage to push the forward in a new direction, a la Battlestar Galactica or Once Upon a Time? Is Hannibal a cannibal yet? Or is the script designed to make us think he is?

You mentioned Hugh Dancy’s performance and I completely agree. (Did they mention he has Asperger’s or did I imagine that? If they did, it’s brilliant and totally works for the character’s obsessive tendencies and skill as a detective.) However, I’d like to point out that the casting of Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal is one of the best decisions this show could have made. He isn’t creepy, but you know something is off, even if you’ve never heard of Hannibal Lecter. What did you think?

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JASON: You’re right about Mikkelsen. I don’t remember him from Casino Royale, but he’s really bringing his A-game, an absolute necessity when you’re taking over a role that’s been played by Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox… and let’s not forget Gaspard Ulliel! Actually, let’s do just that.

Mikkelsen isn’t imitating Hopkins, but his Lecter is closer to Silence of the Lambs Lecter than to Manhunter Lecter, with the vaguely European prissiness and calculated use of language. As I remember it, the Hannibal in Manhunter really just sat around and said mean things. Also: no one in the show has remarked upon it thus far, but if you actually met Will and Hannibal at the same time, Will is the one who’d make you really uncomfortable. Hannibal has an undercurrent of menace to everything he says, but Will is constantly, visibly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Speaking of Will’s fragile state of mind–and you’re not imagining it, Will mentioned that he was somewhere on the Autism spectrum–the dream sequences in the pilot are fantastic. Since The Sopranos, a lot of shows have utilized dream sequences in interesting ways, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them done with this much visual panache. Some of that is due to this episode’s director, David Slade–who is coming back several times this season, thankfully–but I hope the rest of the series follows suit. I especially like how the dreams eventually bleed into something like hallucinations, further suggesting how Will’s instability is linked to his intelligence, because it follows the show-don’t-tell rule. That creepy bird-deer hybrid said more about Will than any tossed-off exposition could.

As for the future of the series, Bryan Fuller said that season four would cover the Red Dragon era, which is sort of exciting and sort of scary, because it suggests that Hannibal will go the Smallville route and become more of a re-telling than an origin story… and we all know how that worked out for Smallville. Apparently, Fuller and company are still working out rights issues with MGM, since they own the character of Clarice Starling (and are developing a show based around her, which I had forgotten about). Even if the rights aren’t an issue, there are about a hundred ways this show could go off the rails. Right now, though, I’m excited.

I have two embarrassing things to admit: 1) I didn’t catch the Florence Duomo reference, and 2) this is the first of Bryan Fuller’s work that I have ever seen. I get the feeling that’s not the case for you, so let me ask: how does Hannibal compare to the other show’s he’s worked on?

KATE: I’m filled with both trepidation and hope when the press jacket includes a show runner talking about a 4th season when the pilot hasn’t even aired. I’m not sure that happens with any other show. In one sense, it’s comforting to know that Bryan Fuller has a plan for the show. I absolutely hate a very promising show that spins into mediocrity because writers have no sense of direction or basic storytelling, like Lost or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Dear reader, if there is something you must know about Jason and I, it’s that I absolutely hate Lost while Jason regards it as legitimate, good television.) So there’s hope…but also fear. A lot of fear. You are, after all, talking to someone who actually thought Hannibal Rising would be a decent book.

Mads Mikkelsen is fabulous, as I gushed earlier. He’s definitely hitched his cart to the Hopkins style Hannibal, but I do think there are certain portions of Brian Cox’s performance at work as well. In my mind, his Hannibal was straightforward, not mean. He enjoyed his interactions with Will because it worked to underscore just how incompetent he made Will feel, which he fed on. At any rate, Hugh Dancy and Mikkelsen have great chemistry, which I hope they continue to rely on going forward.

Hannibal is more of a visual hallmark of Fuller’s style than anything else. Like I said before, it’s his special effects and cinematography. To be honest, I’ve only seen one or three episodes from each of his previous series, but his panache is obvious, no matter what he touches, much like Joss Whedon or Ronald D. Moore.

Did you not like Smallville? I actually thought it was well done for a WB show, especially one that was solely made to retell something it’s key demographic grew up with. However, this was also before fandom got to the oddly huge Tumblr-esque proportions it’s at today.

I want a new episode. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

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JASON: As far as Smallville goes, I didn’t actually watch past the first season, but from what I had gathered, it went off the rails when Michael Rosenbaum left and the writers started introducing more superheroes while not allowing Clark Kent to actually become Superman. I guess that reveals how willing I am to jump on a hate-filled bandwagon, but I think my point still stands that Hannibal could easily screw up all the elements that make the pilot so fascinating. For instance: what if the show runs long enough to cover the Silence Of The Lambs era? Do we really want to see Mads Mikkelsen glowering at Hugh Dancy (and whatever ersatz Jodie Fisher the casting directors dig up) from behind a glass wall? I’m sure Mikkelsen would be great at that, but can you imagine anything more distracting than watching him re-create one the film’s most famous sequence? Also, what if the show covers the events from the Hannibal film? I’m not sure there’s any way to salvage that material. Same goes for the Hannibal book–they’re both two distinct flavors of awful.

At the same time, it speaks to my interest in this show that I’m actually excited by everything I just mentioned. Sure, the Hannibal novel is terrible–but that just means there’s room for improvement. It feels like heresy to even think this, but: a re-telling of the Clarice Starling Hannibal stories, minus Clarice, could make for interesting television. By the time we got to Season 5, the novel of Silence of the Lambs would be thirty years old. I think that’s more than long enough for a re-interpretation.

But I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. Right now, all we have is surprisingly well-made hour of television full of impressive performances (we didn’t really get to it, but is any actor better at instantly switching from genial to commanding than Laurence Fishburne ?) and promising creative choices… which is no small accomplishment, but it doesn’t guarantee that the rest of the show will be any good. I have high hopes, though, which is more than I had before.

P.S. I can’t believe you brought up Lost so soon, Kate. It’s like you’re trying to sabotage our partnership before it even begins.