Hannibal is an American NBC television series based on characters and elements appearing in the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. It initially focused on the budding relationship between FBI special investigator Will Graham and Doctor Hannibal Lecter, a forensic psychiatrist destined to become Graham’s most cunning enemy. David Slade (30 Days of Night) directed the first episode and serves as an executive producer.
Hannibal received critical acclaim, with the performances of the lead actors and the visual style of the show being singled out by critics.
British actor Hugh Dancy plays the lead role of the FBI criminal profiler who seeks help from Lecter in profiling and capturing serial killers. In June 2012, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen was cast as Lecter, narrowly defeating former Doctor Who David Tennant for the role. Soon after this, actor Laurence Fishburne was cast as FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit commander Jack Crawford. Other well known actors, such as Molly Shannon, Eddie Izzard and Lance Henriksen also guest-starred on the show.
Screenwriter Bryan Fuller outlined the limited episode order and the continuing story arc he envisioned: “Doing a cable model on network television gives us the opportunity not to dally in our storytelling because we have a lot of real estate to cover. There is a cheery disposition to our Hannibal. He’s not being telegraphed as a villain. If the audience didn’t know who he was, they wouldn’t see him coming. What we have is Alfred Hitchcock’s principle of suspense—show the audience the bomb under the table and let them sweat when it’s going to go boom”. He went on to call the relationship between Graham and Lecter as “really a love story”, saying “As Hannibal has said [to Graham] in a couple of the movies, ‘You’re a lot more like me than you realize’. We’ll get to the bottom of exactly what that means over the course of the first two seasons”. Fuller plans for the show to run for seven seasons: the first three consisting of original material, the fourth covering Red Dragon, the fifth The Silence of the Lambs, the sixth Hannibal, and the seventh an original storyline resolving Hannibal‘s ending.
- Hugh Dancy as Special Agent Will Graham, a gifted criminal profiler and hunter of serial killers.
- Mads Mikkelsen as Doctor Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant forensic psychiatrist, cannibalistic serial killer and culinarian.
- Caroline Dhavernas as Doctor Alana Bloom, a psychiatry professor and consultant profiler for the FBI.
- Hettienne Park as Special Agent Beverly Katz, a crime-scene investigator specializing in fiber analysis.
- Laurence Fishburne as Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford, head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI and Graham’s boss.
Season 3 of Hannibal introduced some new characters, such as Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde as serial killer The Tooth Fairy and Rutina Wesley as Reba McClane, a blind woman whom Francis is attracted to. Meanwhile, the role of deformed psychopath Mason Verger was taken over by Joe Anderson, whilst Zachary Quinto played a former patient of Doctor du Maurier, and Tao Okamoto played a handmaid to Hannibal’s Aunt, Lady Murasaki. Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) also joined the show.
The first season of Hannibal set a new quality level for television, offering a potent mix of police procedural, psycho killer and gothic horror stories that worked perfectly as an extended narrative allowing individual episode stories to be told while developing a season arc that was effective and gripping. The series immediately swept aside any memories of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Mads Mikklesen’s portrayal of the character immediately becoming the definitive one, far removed from Hopkins’ increasingly camp portrayal.
The first season introduced us to the characters that were first portrayed in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, and the second season continued with that pre-novel narrative development. The joy of a show like this, coming after the novel series has been (hopefully) completed is that it can reference things from the stories, telegraphing and expanding on moments that would be referenced as past events in the books (and films). This ensures that the series maintains a connection to the existing stories, even though it is telling a story that is new. So in the second season, for instance, we got nods towards Lecter being interrupted by a census taker and are introduced to Mason Verger, a victim of Lecter’s who played a significant role in the novel and film Hannibal.
At the end of season one, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) was framed by Lecter as serial killer The Chesapeake Ripper and locked in a hospital for the criminally insane – the same location that we are used to seeing Lecter in from the movies. He’s determined to recover his lost memories, knowing that Lecter – the real ripper – has set him up, but not knowing how. Those who had worked with him as an FBI investigator in season one are understandably torn, unable to believe his accusations against Lecter yet wanting him to be proven innocent of the crimes – even though they believe him to almost certainly be guilty. And so much of the first half of the season follows Graham slowly convincing other people of Lecter’s possible guilt – or at least, of his own innocence.
Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), who brought Graham in as an investigator and feels guilt for having pushed the fragile investigator to breaking point, seems especially torn – wanting to believe, yet maintaining a friendship with Lecter that prevents him from seeing the true. Dr Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), Graham’s almost-love interest from season one is even more torn, especially when she starts a romantic relationship with Lecter. It’s Dr Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), the arrogant psychiatrist in charge of the hospital, who first comes to believe that Lecter is a killer and a cannibal, while Lecter’s own therapist, Dr Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) also starts to fear her client. Lecter, meanwhile, does his best to sow seeds of doubt in Graham’s mind.
The second part of the season sees Graham freed, but his mental state becoming ever more fragile, as Lecter tries to bring him into his own world. It soon seems that Graham has indeed moved to the dark side, turning killer and possibly cannibal himself. Soon, the story twists into a game of bluff and double bluff, staying nicely ambiguous about which side Graham is actually on, all the way to the extraordinary and brutal final episode, which ends in a bloodbath as Lecter’s real personality is finally revealed. This is no spoiler – the show offer this upfront as the opening scene of the first episode, a spot of telegraphing that it can get away with because of our familiarity with the coming story. We know Lecter won’t stay undiscovered indefinitely, and this telegraphed opener – a powerful way to kick the season off – sets up our anticipation for a finale that still has plenty of twists to it.
The fear of a show like this is that it won’t be able to maintain the pace and the power of the initial season, simply because we are already familiar with the storyline – all too often, TV shows will become variations on the same theme as they go along. That’s certainly not the case here. While it has the same overriding theme, the treatment of the characters and the narrative arc are a distinct development from the first season. This feels the same, but story wise, it’s rather different, with the imprisonment of Graham proving on ongoing story.
In the second season new characters were introduced, most notably Mason Verger (Michael Pitt) and his sister Margot (Katherine Isabelle), both of whom become Lecter’s patients and pull the newly released Graham into their various schemes. We also see characters develop from the first season, notably Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), part of the forensic team who agrees to investigate Graham’s case in exchange for his help in solving cases she is currently investigating (a nice twist o the familiar Lecter story). And people die. The loss of one established character is genuinely shocking and horrible – not only in the manner of the murder but in the loss of the character, but it certainly keeps the viewer aware that almost anything could happen here – and in this rewriting of the story, you don’t even feel secure that established characters from the novels like Crawford are safe. This series could easily kill them off.
Hannibal looks remarkably cinematic, and has some first rate talent involved as directors – Tim Hunter, David Slade, Peter Medak and Vincenzo Natali are among the people helming episodes. It’s deliberately paced – not slow, per se, but certainly less frantic than many a modern film or TV show – and remains eerily creepy throughout.
The show is certainly gruesome, with ripped-open corpses and bizarrely theatrical crime scenes. Indeed, there’s a sense that Lecter has inspired other murderers to become more extravagant, leaving corpses almost like works of art. That said, the show isn’t excessively violent, as these gory set-pieces are usually post-mortem, but there are still some surprisingly brutal moments. They perhaps stand out more because this is an astonishingly elegant, beautiful looking show – every moment seems to be carefully staged, every location considered – and moves at the sort of deliberate, stately pace that you probably couldn’t get away with in a movie. Of course, being a network show, it also exposes the lunatic nature of American television censorship – you can show brutal throat slashings, but naked female corpses have to have arms placed strategically and unconvincingly placed across their breasts.
Like many shows these days, Hannibal seems to have been made with at least one eye on box set sales. At thirteen episodes, you could gorge on the whole season in a day – or at least a weekend, with a beak point nicely provided when Graham is released from the asylum – and the series certainly rewards multi-episode viewing, working as much like a single epic film as it does as a TV series.
Much of this show is dialogue-driven, and the dialogue is pretty much perfect. Compulsive and brilliant, Hannibal is primed for box-set bingeing, and if you missed the show on original broadcast, you should take this opportunity to catch up with it. This is what horror TV should be about.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“A prequel TV series about Hannibal Lecter has to overcome a lot of preconceptions… But guess what? None of that matters when you actually watch the show, because Hannibal is terrific.” IGN
“The stab at classy horror mostly succeeds due to excellent performances from the leads, genuine suspense and surprises, well-constructed short and long-term mysteries, and an appropriately disconcerting mood that permeates the action right from the start…” Shock Till You Drop
“… finely acted, visually scrumptious, and deliciously subversive.” Entertainment Weekly
“… The most beautifully shot and produced show on network TV, with many scenes simply and literally breathtaking…” The New York Post
“Hannibal is a haunting, riveting… drama that has the look and feel of a show audiences have become more accustomed to seeing on cable than broadcast,” and concluded that “It’s also extremely well executed… bound to leave viewers hungry for more.” Chicago Sun Times
“Restores the seriousness of purpose to a genre long in need of it…. Hannibal is interested in death and murder as a means to glance sidelong at some of life’s largest questions. When not functioning as a cop drama, it’s an intricately twisted serial-killer thriller, but it’s also a surprisingly deep series about psychiatry and the state of the human mind.” The A.V. Club