In 2011, NBC announced Hannibal; a Brian Fuller helmed drama based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. At first, people were skeptical that something with such gruesome subject matter would work on network television. Skepticism turned into anticipation as the cast list was slowly released. Finally, in February 2013, the first teaser aired on NBC. The internet went wild; everyone was basking in the hype. The teaser promised a new interpretation on Hannibal Lecter, delivering intrigue that kept people asking “Will this work?”. The short answer is “Yes.”
Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham in a way the is slightly different than Edward Norton’s performance. He’s a former detective, now working as a teacher. Graham is someone who experiences “pure empathy” (as Hannibal puts it). This allows him to approach crime scenes as if he were the killer. This is a talent that Graham clearly does not welcome. Dancy plays Graham as antisocial and direct; someone who will go on at length about why he won’t look people in the eye. Soon, due to his talent, Will is approached by Jack Crawford and pulled back into the world of law enforcement; this time as a criminal profiler. We see him as his mind unravels, case after case, as he is pushed to his breaking point. It is an excellent performance, making you feel as though he’s not just a Character, but a living person.
Laurence Fishburne is Jack Crawford, an FBI agent who contacts Graham for help in various cases. He plays Crawford as a by the books agent, aggressive, but not threatening unless the situation calls for it. He is an obvious foil for Graham, offsetting the profiler’s reluctance to work on cases with his determination put criminals away. Crawford gives the sense that he will manipulate anyone, if necessary, to solve a case.
Caroline Dhavernas plays Alana Bloom (originally Alan Bloom). She is an FBI consul, ant with a “Professional curiosity” for Will Graham. She is highly critical of Crawford, predicting that he will cause Will psychological distress. Dhavernas gives Bloom an air of sympathy. She connects with Will, and is very protective of him. She is strong willed, and quick to voice her disagreement with Crawford’s treatment of Will. She is a romantic interest for Will, but she is a defined character.
There are a handful of other characters; including three members of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, played by Hetienne Park, Scott Thompson, and Aaron Abrams. There’s also Freddie Lounds (formerly Freddy) a crime reporter for a local tabloid called “The Tattler”. Also worth mentioning is Crawford’s wife, played by Laurence Fisburne’s real life spouse, Gina Torres. Torres brings a lot to he relatively small role, and makes you want to see more of her. Another interesting character is Hannibal’s own therapist, Dr. De Maurier, played by Gillian Anderson. She is a woman who clearly knows more than she lets on about Hannibal. These are supporting characters, and very well defined. Each has an established personality and sticks to it.
The standout character is, of course, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Played brilliantly by Mads Mikkelson, he toes the line between a terrifying killer and the perfect gentleman. He gleefully serves pieces of his victims to guests at dinner parties, and, one scene later, debates music and philosophy. Mads gives a deliciously layered performance, forming a close bond with Will while at the same time manipulating him. He serves as Will’s psychiatrist (as recommended by Bloom), and quickly decides to use the profiler’s talent against him; making Will believe that he is unhinged.
In the first episode of Hannibal we’re introduced to Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) as he enters a crime scene. He surveys the evidence before him, and we soon see him placing himself in the killer’s shoes, literally. He stands on the stairs, looking at the entrance to the house. “This is my design.” he says, uttering the show’s first line.
We flash back to the crime scene. Will moves through the house as the killer, taking out his victims with pinpoint accuracy. The scene is gruesome and quick, almost methodical. Will pauses, and we’re jerked back into reality as if from a dream.
This opening scene sets up the feel of the show, and Will’s character, in one fell sweep. You’re left with a feeling of stretched reality, and it is decidedly nightmarish.
The rest of the episode focuses on the Minnesota Shrike, a serial killer targeting college girls. Will’s pursuit of the Minnesota Shrike is the catalyst for the events of the first season. The killer sticks in Will’s mind, and every case of the season is effected by it. The show moves at a slow pace, but it’s not agonizing. The buildup only increases the anticipation of what is to come. I found myself engrossed i the show’s gruesome world. Surely, that is helped by the gorgeous cinematography and production design. The colors are vibrant, contrasting very well with the shows dark atmosphere. The costumes are well chosen, modern without dating he show to its era, and believable for each character.
The writing is solid, but I was distracted by the heavy use of sentences like “Must not dwell on what we fear.” These truncated sentences took me out of a scene every time. It would be one thing if only one character use them, but it’s everyone, and nearly every other line. I suppose it was a technique employed to make the dialogue sound more realistic, but I don’t know anyone who speaks this way in reality.
The crime scenes also grow more gruesome with each episode. The show is surprisingly graphic for network television. There is some dark humor, such as descriptions of Hannibal’s murders being punctuated by scenes of him preparing meals. The characters, for the most part, feel organic and complete. The show is excellently cast, from the one-off villains to the long runners.
Overall, it’s an impressive effort by NBC. One of their best dramas in a very long time. The season was well received, by critics and fans alike, and the reason for that is not hard to find; with it’s stunning visuals, Excellent casting, and (relatively) great writing, Hannibal has the makings of a long lasting addition to NBC’s roster. I’ll give you one warning, however, it is definitely not for the faint of heart.