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I Myself Can Not: “Mukōzuke”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate finally find one minor point of disagreement before discovering they have fused into a single living brain)

JASON: Hi, Kate! Let’s talk about body horror!

The effectiveness of body horror largely relies on the individual viewer–and if I haven’t made it clear, I find it extremely effective–but in general terms, it works by violating the idea of our physical self, which we, for obvious reasons, are very attached to. Body horror is typically more effective when it happens to a central character, or at least one that we relate to on something beyond a surface level. Seeing a total rando get his brain replaced with a beehive is upsetting, but the more we relate to a character, the more we identify with them, and the more upset we our by that violation of their physical self.

And so, as I predicted last week, the sight of Beverly chopped up and displayed like a Damien Hirst art piece hit me hard. Director Michael Rymer and the writing team delicately play both sides of Beverly’s fate: when we first see her, it’s a relief that she’s even recognizable, but as the shot plays out, we discover that she’s been sliced into pieces. Compared to some of the other deaths on this show, it’s still pretty tame, and I appreciate that the creative team didn’t feel the need to rub our noses in it. But they also didn’t miss an opportunity to lower our defenses and then twist the knife.

We get another display of this body horror principle later on, after Will has orchestrated Hannibal’s murder. In a brief dream sequence, Will collapses on the floor as antlers burst through his skin and cover his back. Given how well the show has used the stag symbolism (I loved that moment when Will sees the stagman figure lurking behind Beverly’s corpse), the implication of that moment is obvious. But even though we might morally know that Will has crossed a line, even if Hannibal totally deserves it, that brief yet vivid violation of Will’s body and the distress it causes him drives the point home in a visceral way.

Anyway, let’s talk about what’s really important: Freddie Lounds is in this episode! Oh, and Gideon’s back, too. That was a surprise. Will plays on Dr. Chilton’s oh-so-delicious vanity and gets the man he tried to kill brought in for questioning. I was under the impression that Will’s murder of Gideon was more than ‘attempted’, but it wouldn’t be the first time I misunderstood something. Considering that Chilton survived having most of his organs removed from his body, I’d say the bar is set pretty high for permanent death in the Hannibal universe. Except when it comes to Beverly, in which case you can just choke her out.

Sorry. Too soon?

There’s lot to talk about in this episode, and almost all of it was good. The one thing that didn’t quite work for me was the reveal of Will’s secret admirer. Turns out it was… an orderly in the hospital. Okay? Bryan Fuller says in this week’s Walkthrough that the whole secret admirer plot was built to get us to the moment where Will sends his new ally to kill Hannibal. The seams definitely show, but the end result was good enough that I don’t care.

This episode of Hannibal left me more excited than any other to find out what happens next. What can Jack and Alana actually prove about Will’s involvement in the attempt on Hannibal’s life? What will that mean for Will? What is Will’s next move? How will Hannibal react to having his closest friend try to murder him? When are the Vergers going to show up? When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?

I don't know if I'm really prepared to consider the implications of the way Hannibal is posed.

I don’t know if I’m really prepared to consider the implications of the way Hannibal is posed.

KATE: I don’t think Jack and Alana can prove much of anything, Jason. All of the conversations between Will and the orderly took place in the one room Dr. Chilton can’t spy on. Furthermore, Jack and Alana are already predisposed to believe Will. Alana has an obvious soft spot for Will and Jack, for all his misgivings, took Will to the scene of Beverly’s death so he could give Jack some input. He hasn’t said it out loud, but it’s obvious that Jack is leaning towards believing Will. Besides, most of the evidence at hand suggests the orderly was Will’s admirer and acting of his own accord. If it sounds kinda lame, that’s because it is. The characters on the show are almost too accepting of random serial killers and psychos, which is why I think Will is safe for now.

Of course, Hannibal is another story. Hannibal isn’t dumb and furthermore, he knows how crazy people think and operate. Naturally, I think Hannibal will be very suspicious of the orderly’s motives. How could he not be? He’ll probably (okay, he will) connect the attempted murder to Will, but there isn’t much he can do, right? Will is safely secure in prison. If Hannibal wants to keep up appearances, he can’t exactly openly attack Will. Will, for his part, knows what Hannibal is at this point. He knew Hannibal was the Chesapeake Ripper and he’s beginning to understand that Hannibal is something even worse. We’re half way through the season. There isn’t too much back and forth left to go on that, especially if we’re going to end up with Hannibal getting into a knife fight with Jack.

I have to disagree with you on the reveal of Will’s admirer. Yeah, he was basically a plot device, but the actor really carried the performance from an obvious plot development to something more. He was creepy, he was effective and furthermore, he’s one of the only people around who has been able to get a drop on Hannibal. After Beverly’s death, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little happy that Hannibal got taken down a notch. It was interesting, both in terms of character development and audience catharsis. How will Hannibal react to a near death experience? How will this play into his relationships with Alana and Jack? Why is no one else concerned that every agent in the FBI is continuously attacked and targeted? How are there so many serial killers in the greater DC area? Seriously, I know I mention this a lot, but it isn’t any less true. Anyway, right until the end, I was thinking that Hannibal and Will’s admirer were working together out of a shared admiration for Will. I was wrong, of course, but hey! Of course, then there’s the reveal that the orderly didn’t kill the judge in Will’s trial. Huh. So was it Hannibal? Or is there a third killer out there?

It may be that I spent most of this episode in an emotional coma after the Beverly reveal or that we share the same brain, but you pretty much covered my thoughts on this episode, Jason. Literally, every point you raised mirrors my notes. The only thing I would want to add are some thoughts about Beverly’s death and discovery. We went from heavy organ in the last episode to a lot of bongos in this one. I have no analysis to offer here, aside from the fact that both instruments were used in an extremely jarring way to different effect. It made for an interesting contrast between the tone of last week’s episode and this one.

I only have one last point to offer, which is to say that I have a lot of logistical questions. Why is the observatory such a serial killer hotspot? Does anyone actually work there or is it just a depository for horribly dismembered corpses? Does Hannibal have a source for life size human microscope slides? He can’t just have those gathering dust in his basement. Furthermore, where did Hannibal get his industrial human saw? Even if he did, how did he transport the Beverly slides to the observatory? I can’t see Hannibal driving a pickup truck. Can you? CAN YOU?

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I Myself Can Not: “Hassun”

imyselfcannot

(in which sometimes you just gotta talk to ’em)

JASON: Say, Kate! Have you been reading Bryan Fuller’s weekly interviews with the AV Club? If you haven’t, I would recommend them: Fuller comes off like a very smart man who knows exactly what he’s doing with the show, which is refreshing and means that we’re TOTALLY right about the folder-passing shot last episode. I mention it this week because the interview following “Hassun” made me realize that not a lot happened in this episode, and that most of it was set-up for episode 5, which apparently is going to be the craziest episode yet.

Hannibal is such an entertaining show that even an episode spent moving pieces around on the board is a joy to watch. Question: has the show gotten funnier since the first season, or has it always been this way? I find myself writing down several lines per episode in my notes, just because I’m surprised at how humorous they are. Will’s lawyer, in particular, had a quip for just about ever situation. I don’t know which is better, his muted reaction when he received an ear in the male, or his line to Alana about “stepping in Young Adult and tracking it into the courtroom.” Also deserving of mention: everything about Chilton and Lounds. I cheer whenever Freddie shows up in any context, and even though I love her and her ridiculously inappropriate church-lady hat, it was sooooo satisfying when Will’s lawyer shut her down with two questions. You’re the real Paul Esparza fan here, so I’ll leave any discussion of that to you, except for two words: dat cane.

And I have to hand it to you, Kate: a week after you point out the show’s use of mirroring (which I had missed until then), Hannibal opens with the most blatant example to date. Well, technically, the episode doesn’t open with Will and Hannibal getting dressed for court, it opens with Will dreaming about pulling the switch on his own execution. I’m wondering if that’s going to get more attention, or if we’re just meant to interpret it as-is. My initial impression was that Will was expressing a latent death wish, wondering whether it would be easier to just let himself be convicted and get out of this whole crazy circus. But nothing in the episode bears this out… unless I missed something.

Come to think of it, I probably did miss something. Until I read that interview, I thought we were still meant to believe that Hannibal was the copycat killer. All those deeply unsettling lines about Will not letting the killer’s love go to waste, coupled with that unexpectedly sad image of Hannibal sitting alone in his office, lead me to believe that the new murders were Hannibal’s way of saving Will’s life, while allowing himself to remain free from suspicion. And yet, Fuller seems to imply that at this point, Will’s admirer is a mystery. What’s going on, Kate? Did I miss something? Seeing Will in that electric chair did nearly drive me into hysterics, but I do believe my delicate Victorian lady composure was restored by the end of the episode.

Something else that disturbed my delicate emotional equilibrium: Jack Crawford. Boy, back in episode one, I hated Jack for refusing to believe Will. When the two of them were speaking in the prison, I was almost looking forward to that fast-approaching moment when Hannibal jams a piece of glass into Jack’s neck — and if you ever had any doubts that I was unqualified for legitimate criticism, well, there you go. But now, I’m more on Jack’s side than I’ve ever been. It wasn’t just his act of professional suicide that doubled as a re-affirmation of his own guilt in what happened to Will, it was the conversation he had afterwards with Hannibal. We haven’t seen Bella in a while, and hearing the details of their life together as she nears her death was like a sucker-punch. The way Jack got teary-eyed and choked up was heartbreaking. I forget how great Laurence Fishburne really is, which is the risk you run when you surround him with people like Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy.

One last thing about that interview: Fuller mentions later in the season, we’ll be seeing some “other patients” that Hannibal has been “encouraging.” That’s got to be Verger siblings, right? Oh, man, I can’t wait until Mason Verger shows up. No, that doesn’t do it justice. When Mason Verger makes his first appearance, I am going to split the time-stream in half so I can watch that episode with my 15-year-old self and give him a bunch of high-fives. Wait, that may have been too much in the opposite direction. Well, I’m excited, anyway.

Please don't ever change, Freddie.

Please don’t ever change, Freddie.

KATE: It’s good to be excited, Jason! Embrace it! I’m excited for the Verger siblings to show up as well, although I’ve always preferred my Vergers (especially Mason) post-mutilation. Spoilers, readers: Hannibal likes to mess around with his patients. Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be riveting. Look what the show has already done with the Hannibal/Will relationship! I’m not sure if the readers are familiar, but Red Dragon, the first book in the “Hannibal” series, takes place after Hannibal has been caught by Will and put in jail. The TV show is largely working in unexplored material that we as the audience had only previously imagined. I imagine (and hope!) the Verger subplot will be treated the same way. Let’s face it, good back story and prequelization are so hard to pull off successfully. I know “prequelization” isn’t a word, but bear with me. Just look at Hannibal Rising. Actually, please don’t. It’s awful.

My point being that it is difficult to retroactively pull off a background story of a character, particularly one as well known as Hannibal Lecter. There’s almost no way for it to work and it rarely adds anything. I never wanted to know why Darth Vader turned evil. Everything you need to know about him is right there on the surface. I never wanted to know how the Wicked Witch of the West became so wicked. In great stories, your villains can speak for themselves. It’s not just evil characters, either. No one needed to know how Carrie Bradshaw moved to New York and met Samantha.  All of this is just to say that Hannibal is abnormally good at its job and the Verger subplot will hopefully be no exception. There’s very juicy material there, if someone knows how to write it. As much as I love Gary Oldman, I rewatched Hannibal (the movie) the other day and man, it is pretty awful. The story could definitely stand a new approach. Yeesh.

This season does seem to be more humorous than the last. I think the snappy lines and quick jokes are part fan service and part Bryan Fuller. Like any beloved book turned TV series, there are a lot of inside jokes and foreshadowing for the fans. Look at Game of Thrones! Every time the word “wedding” was said during the third season of GoT, the editors could have inserted this cue and saved themselves a lot of time, but they didn’t. Part of that may be storytelling for people who aren’t familiar with the source material, but I think it’s a subtle acknowledgement to the fan base. The hard core fans want to see Chilton be irritatingly pompous because they know what happens to him; the casual fans want to see Chilton be irritatingly pompous because it works towards what will happen. And yes, I do love Raul Esparza. He isn’t the most subtle performer on the show, but that’s what the role calls for. Chilton is intelligent, but he’s mostly snide and self absorbed. Have they shown Chilton with a cane before? Is that related to his kidney issue? I’m almost positive Chilton doesn’t need it, he just likes showing off.

All in all, I think you covered my thoughts on this week’s episode, Jason. I found it to be a little uneventful, save for the dead judge and Freddie’s hat. Every show has its filler and development episodes, so I’m not too worried. Not to mention, we know by now to trust in the wisdom of Bryan Fuller. If he tells me that episode five will be crazy, it will be. So say we all, in the name of Fuller, Dancy and Mikkelsen.

JASON: So say we all!

I Myself Can Not: “Sakizuki”

imyselfcannot

(in which Jason and Kate talk about Hannibal while Jason idly wonders if he should find a new picture of himself for the header, one where he isn’t three weeks into another failed attempt at growing facial hair)

JASON: I have a lot of stuff I want to say about feminism and world-building, but first I need to stop dry-heaving over that first scene.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, the only notes I wrote for that cold open were “GAHHHH” and “guhhhhh,” because… well, GAH. When this episode opened on a shot of the silo, I was hoping that the victim who woke up at the end of last week would already be dead, just so we’d be spared the agony of watching him die. No such luck, however, as the show then cuts to a shot of the human mosaic and it is clear that only moments have passed. And then…

Look: body horror is one of my things, and when I say ‘things,’ I don’t mean “things I enjoy” or “things that I can watch without feeling sick” — as a mater of fact, I mean the opposite of those two things. You even warned me ahead of time that it would be hard to watch, but until I saw Roland Umber pulling himself free from the mosaic and tearing off chunks of skin, I guess I didn’t believe you. I was eating dinner when this episode started, Kate! The third most important meal of the day!

Aside from being an wonderfully-executed example of something I never want to see again, that opening scene was as tense as anything that’s ever been on the show. Roland ducks in and out of cars while the killer pursues him, and then they end up in a corn field with the killer’s flashlight as the only source of light. Of course, there’s no way Roland is going to make it out of there alive, but even after he hit those rocks on the side of the cliff, I held out hope right until his body re-surfaced. Sorry, Roland; your superpower of having a slightly above-average tolerance of heroin couldn’t get you out of this one.

As usual, I have more stuff on my mind than I could ever hope to whittle down into a single review, but since this episode put a spotlight on Dr. Du Maurier, it seems like a good opportunity to discuss the show’s female characters. Namely, the fact that they exist. Alana Bloom (who appears only briefly in this episode) is an expanded and gender-flipped version of a very minor character from the books named Alan Bloom, and Freddie Lounds is, of course, the gender-flipped version of Frederick Lounds, a character who’s prior portrayals still make me too sad to think about, so let’s not focus on that right now. The point is, Bryan Fuller made it a point to add more female energy to the show, and he’s stated in interviews that this was his motivation for turning Frederick and Alan into Freddie and Alana.

It goes further than that, though: if I remember correctly, the CSI characters in Hannibal were just one character in Red Dragon, and that character wasn’t a woman, much less a woman of color. And then there’s Cynthia Nixon! I’m only familiar with Nixon through the very little I have seen of Sex And The City, but so far I am loving her in this. Her fierce persona is second only to her fantastic Hillary Clinton hair. Trivia: Nixon’s character, Kade Prurnell, is an anagrammed version of the character Ray Liotta played in the Hannibal movie, Paul Krendler! This doesn’t exactly bode well for the ongoing copyright issues that will someday stop this show in its tracks… but we’ve got a ways to go before that’s an issue.

Let’s not forget Dr. Du Maurier, the only person in the world who believes Will Graham and who I absolutely thought was going to die in this episode. Luckily, she only caught a minor case of the Actor-Has-Other-Projects disease, and Fuller says he wants to bring her back as soon as possible. But here’s the thing: even if he doesn’t, he and the other writers have a full roster of female characters the can keep exploring! I don’t know much about Bryan Fuller’s beliefs in regards to feminism, but despite the fact that Hannibal is a show centered on the relationship between two men, it offers a corrective to the major problem of female representation in popular culture: namely, the fact that there are hardly any female characters at all. This is a subject for a much longer rant, but it’s not about having more “strong” female characters — it’s about having more female characters, period. Of course, you also want them to be interesting characters, and Fuller isn’t doing a half bad job at that, either.

Kate, I imagine you’ll be sympathetic to my thoughts on the subject, but still, I apologize for getting distracted that I left 80% of the episode untouched. Was your reaction to the opening scene as strong as mine? How did you feel about Will Graham’s solemn intonation of “one of these things is not like the other?” Is Will’s trial going to have a strong emotional impact on me than any real trial I’ve ever seen?

Look, thinly-veiled death threats are a normal part of any healthy psychiatrist/patient relationship.

Look, thinly-veiled death threats are a normal part of any healthy psychiatrist/patient relationship.

KATE: You know what, Jason? Looking back on last week’s review, neither of us brought up the human mosaic! What’s up with that? It’s like forgetting about the human mushroom garden from season one! Huh. It completely slipped my mind until the opening shot of this week’s episode. That was probably for the best, all things considered. Roland’s last minutes on earth were gripping, disturbing and disgusting. Hannibal is a show that prides itself on arresting imagery and this was no exception. I’m still not sure what was worse—watching Roland peel himself off of the human mosaic or watching Roland realize he’d have to peel himself off in order to survive. I didn’t think he’d make it to safety, but I did admire his will to live, even if it ended with him floating down river split in half.

It’s safe to say we’re on the same page about body horror, Jason. Hannibal’s heart to heart with the mosaic killer, as he lies sewn and glued into his own masterpiece, was just…creepy. They might as well have been two neighbors, comparing different brands of lawnmowers! It also felt a little off, if only for the reason that Hannibal isn’t that big on influencing people directly. He talks people into believing what he wants them to believe from a distance, not in the middle of a crime scene. And because Hannibal can’t leave without a trophy, the audience is treated to a lovely sequence of Hannibal preparing a human leg for dinner. I may be wrong, but is the first time we’ve seen Hannibal definitively consume human flesh? This is our first trip to Hannibal’s memory palace, even if it reads more like an ability to detect other serial killers via smell-o-vision.

Strangely enough, I haven’t put much thought into the show’s female characters, aside from the fact that they gender swapped two of them. I think that’s a credit to the show. Most television has very few female characters, let alone main characters that have actual personality. Alana started off her run as a vague love interest for Will, but she’s also shown she’s intelligent and has a spine. It’s a similar story with Beverly’s character. She began the show as a sidekick technician in the lab; now that Will is in jail, she’s quickly become the lab’s most valued member. In fact, she reminds me a lot of Will. Not only can she pick up random bits of information no one else sees, she’s also learning to connect it to larger patterns that save lives.

This brings me to my main point, which is that the show is very focused on how relationships play off and/or mirror each other. For every Hannibal and Will, there’s a Hannibal and Dr. Du Maurier. Granted, that’s the most obvious mirroring going on here, but did you notice how Beverly has started using Will for unconventional advice, much like Will sought Hannibal? I may be (and probably am) grasping at straws, but with Will stuck in jail, Beverly is the only person on Crawford’s team who thinks outside the box. She may believe Will is guilty, but not enough to stay away from utilizing his skills, so how insane could he really be? This brings me to my other point. It can’t be a Hannibal review without me bringing up something to compare to the source material. Beverly and Will have a certain je nes sais Clarice/Hannibal vibe. I mean, did you see the way she passed him the case info on her visit? It’s the same shot from Silence of the Lambs!

So, I have a couple of stray thoughts about this episode that are neither here nor there:

What do you think Hannibal eats for breakfast? How many plastic murder suits do you think he owns? Where does he get them? Why did Dr. Du Maurier leave Hannibal her perfume? Is it because Hannibal likes to sniff things? Did you see how he sniffed the corpses? How did no one else in the lab see that? AHHHHH. Jason, in a way I’m glad we don’t watch these shows together. I think our combined Hannibal insanity would be a little much for anyone else in the room.

JASON: I totally saw the way she passed him the case! I meant to ask if you thought it was intentional, but I see I need not have bothered! Glad to know we’re on the same page, Kate, quite glad.

(random reminder that Kate co-hosts a podcast about alcohol and pop culture, which makes it my number-one podcast of all time)

I Myself Can Not: “Amuse-Bouche”

Hannibal-102

(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?

Hannibal-Shrooms

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.

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.

Continuum, “End Time”

In this article that went up nearly a year ago, right when Continuum premiered in Canada, Simon Barry is supposed to be selling the show. I mean, in a story like this, we hopefully get some insight into the creative process, but Barry is the creator of the show, it’s about to premiere, and part of his job is to make us want to watch it. I didn’t read this interview until last week, but in six sentences, Barry did the opposite of what he was supposed to do: he made me care less.

We made a conscious decision, early on, that our characters are not in control of what’s happening to them. They’re basically pawns. One of the things that’s different from other time-travel shows is that none of our main characters are controlling the process, or designed the process. These characters are part of somebody else’s plan. So the mystery of whether or not they are changing time will remain open until the end of the show. When we do our last episode, that will be part of the reveal.

So, to recap: Continuum doesn’t know how to do stand-alone episodes, and the series creator just single-handedly sapped all the tension out of the over-arching plot. Is there any reason to watch this show? I guess we can look forward to that “reveal” in the last episode, but I don’t want to wait an unknown number of years and slog through countless half-baked hours of procedural just to find out whether any of this matters.

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Oh no! Kagame carried out his plan to change the past! By… fulfilling it. Wait, what?

Barry’s comments, along with the events of the season finale, reinforce the idea that the plot of Continuum is a Stable Time Loop, a la Twelve Monkeys. “End Time” even throws in a Brad Pitt-esque crazy guy who turns out to be way less significant than he first appears to be. Here’s the thing: Twelve Monkeys is great, and yes, part of that greatness is the circular ending, which reveals that the hero’s efforts were preordained to fail. But—please don’t make me say this, Mr. Barry—Twelve Monkeys is a movie and movies don’t work the same way as television shows. Also, Simon Barry is no Terry Gilliam, but I don’t think anyone, least of all Simon Barry, is going to fight me on that.

“End Time” does its best to impress us, though, throwing out tons of plot points and new mysteries. There’s Jason the technician, who has a lot to say about the event that sent Kiera and the terrorists back in time. There’s the mysterious Mr. Escher, who helps Kiera out of a jam. There’s something about ‘The Privateers’, another group of time-travellers we still haven’t met. All of this stuff sounds interesting, but I’m just not confident that Continuum is smart enough to make it work. Within this episode, the script seems to be confused about Jason—he got sent to an asylum because he said he was from the future, but he clearly was from the future, so why does the show present it as a sad inevitability when his “time machine” is just a collection of crazy-person clichés?

As long as I’m nit-picking: it really doesn’t take much to talk Julien into a suicide mission, does it? I can buy that Julien would be young and angry enough to get confused about what happened at his father’s farm, but the show itself doesn’t seem to realize that the group Julien should be mad at is the government, not “corporations.” Unless I missed something where this version of Toronto has privatized law enforcement, the “they” that Julien is fighting against should be the exact opposite of who Liber8 is opposing.

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This isn’t so much a “nit-pick” as it is a “major inconsistency”.

Continuum could still work if I cared about the characters, and “End Time” reminds us that, yes, there are characters somewhere in there that we could perhaps learn to care about. The members of Liber8 feel more like actual people than they have since Kagame got back. The show even returns to the plot thread of Travis’s contentious relationship with Kagame, and Sonya’s split loyalties between the two. Even the blonde girl gets some characterization, even if she’s just trying to freak out Alec… for no discernible reason. Hey, it’s something.

Kiera, though… the show is in a jam with Kiera, because her greatest goal—to return to her family—means the end of the show if she ever accomplishes it. So we can’t get too invested in her mission because we know it’s never going to happen. Hell, if the show is good enough, then we don’t want it to happen because that means the end. While Kiera has show some personality now and then, it’s not enough to make me want to hang out with her. I hope that season 2 brings her closer to Kellog and Alec—and hey, let’s throw Carlos in there, too—because she’s much more interesting when she’s bouncing off her allies.

And speaking of Season 2, there’s that cliffhanger to address, and I have a confession to make. As the episode wound down and we got right up to the edge of discovering the message Future-Alec sent to Past-Alec, I tensed up. I wanted to know what Future-Alec’s plan was, and I groaned when the episode ended before I could find out. In short: I cared. I still do care! Or at least I’m curious, which says more about how much time I’ve invested in this show than it’s actual quality.

So, ten episodes later, where am I? Curious enough to keep watching,  but not hopeful enough to think it’s going anywhere good. I’ll tune in whenever the second season premieres, and if I have anything to say, I’ll let you know… but don’t count on it.

Other Thoughts:

  • This is the first full season of a show I’ve ever written about episode-to-episode. There were some bumpy parts—like the fact that I got about week off schedule here at the end—but I’d like to think I learned something about how to write about television. If you read any of these reviews… thanks, I guess? Or… sorry?
  • This might be my last chance to say it, so: the gimmick of using the word “time” in the title of every episode is really, really stupid, like Friends-level stupid. It wouldn’t be that bad if the titles made sense, but most of the time, they really don’t. Like this week’s: “End Time.” It’s not the end-times. It’s the end of the season, but that doesn’t count. And the pilot is called “A Stitch in Time” for no discernible reason. Whatever, Continuum. See you this summer, ya jerk.

Continuum, “Family Time”

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This can only end well for everyone involved.

“Family Time” is a well-plotted episode of Continuum that reveals just how sloppily written the show is most of the time. To put it another way, it’s an episode so good that it makes most of this season look terrible in comparison, and it’s not even that good.

The story-structure of Continuum, on a macro level and an episode-by-episode basis, has been shoddy since episode three. The first two episodes (which were originally filmed as a single two-hour pilot) set up the overarching plot in an effective way, but as soon as the show really got down to business and started telling new stories every week, things went south. “Wasting Time,” if you’ll recall, opens with intimations of a murder mystery that turns out to be anything but mysterious, hinges on an unexplained illness that one of the villains contracted off-screen, and ends up in a place that seems totally disconnected from where it began. Aside from the jarring effect of seeing Travis laid up without much reason, the episode flowed well enough that you didn’t notice what was happening, but a simple glance backwards from the end reveals little coherence.

Lack of coherence was also the problem with “The Politics of Time,” or as I prefer to think of it, “The Ninja Episode.” Obviously, I don’t hate ninjas on principle—I’m a red-blooded American man, I can get down with a ninja or two—but the fact that a shadowy martial arts warrior popped up in the climax of an episode about backroom political deals demonstrates how bad the writers are at crafting stand-alone episodes. Early on, these sort of mis-steps are forgivable, easily written off as a show “finding its voice.” Continuum is still relatively young, with only nine episodes, but due to its awkward ten-episode season, those nine episodes are nearly the show’s entire first year. It’s hard to come back from a bad first season. It’s been done before, but not often.

In “Family Time,” the show’s creators utilized some restraint that helped them out immensely: aside from a few cutaway shots, 95% of this episode takes place on the farm where Alec’s family lives. It turns out that Alec’s stepbrother Julien and his anti-corporation friends have a bomb they plan to use to start their revolution. When Kiera and Carlos discover the plan, guns come out on both sides, a few shots are fired, and before you know it, we’re steeped in a classic hostage crisis/face-off-with-the-authorities story.

By building the episode around a Dog Day Afternoon-esque storyline, the writers give themselves a solid structure that they manage not to completely ruin. They can’t craft a murder investigation to save their lives, but they’ve got escalation beats of this kind of story down pat. Alec reveals to Kiera that he keeps a gun in his office and—paging Dr. Checkov—that gun ends up as a major part of the plot. And unlike episodes like “Politics of Time” or “Time’s Up,” where Kiera is one step behind her enemy the whole way through, our hero actually accomplishes her goal in this episode: she stops the bomb from going off. I was let down that we didn’t get another big explosion, but the fact that we got some legitimate dramatic payoff for once more than made up for it.

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The official photo galleries for the past two episode have each included a shot of Kiera lying prone on the ground. This is not good. 

It helps that they feed into this basic story structure several long-developing plotlines, like Kiera’s damaged suit and Julien’s quietly seething rebellion. I know I’m something of a broken record with these continuity issues, but this show is at its best when it moves the overarching plot forward. The premise of this show is interesting, and the writers would do well not to ignore it.

“Family Time” keeps Liber8 in the background, but they do pop up for a couple of scenes. In one, Kagame watches the events on the farm unfold with great interest. We don’t know exactly why he cares so much, only that whatever is happening is fundamental to the creation of Liber8 and to his own personal evolution. This scene is placed right before the climax (where things really hit the fan and Julien’s dad ends up dead), and it adds a layer of suspense that wouldn’t be possible in a show where half the cast isn’t from the future.

What else? Oh, yeah, Kiera and Kellog sleep together. Maybe. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had something very stupid spoiled for me during a Google search, and this is what I was talking about. I found out later that the spoiler-ific page I saw was actually a forum post, but that’s beside the point. I don’t feel the same anger and betrayal that this person felt about Kiera and Kellog hooking up; if anything, I’m pleased to find that Kiera and Carlos are going to continue being just friends.

Kellog presents a reasonable argument to Kiera about why they should be together: he’s the only person she can really open up to about what she’s going through, and the odds are that her husband and son don’t exist now anyway. It’s not an outrageous plot point—if it actually happens, and again, I’m not certain that it does—but it does seem a little pointless. I want to say that it’ll probably end up being a major part of Kiera’s series-long arc, but the lumpy, inconsistent first season we’ve gotten so far gives me little faith that the writers have any long-term plans… or, at least, any that I care to stick around and watch.

 

  • This week, I stumbled upon a news story released when Continuum premiered in Canada in May of last year, featuring some choice quotes from creator Simon Barry. Some of them are humorous—he directly addresses the similarities with Alcatraz—and some of them are… disheartening. I’ll talk more about it next time, but for now, you might want to take a look for yourself.
  • Part of the problem is that Continuum is stuck at season length halfway between American television (usually closer to sixteen or twenty episodes, gives a show more time to figure itself out) and British television (one season is usually only six episodes, just long enough to tell one good story and get out).
  • The flashback in this episode makes it seem that Kellog was only guilty of trying to help out his sister and got himself arrested before he could even become a full-fledged member of Liber8. Not only does this swing his alignment way too far in the direction of ‘heroic’, it doesn’t make any sense: if Kellog was arrested at that point, how did he become such close friends with Lucas? How was even considered a ‘terrorist?’ Does anyone on this show’s writing staff know what anyone else is doing?