My first encounter with the Hannibal universe came with the books (what can I say, I’m a purist) when I was about a sophomore in college. My father had just purchased the third novel in the series and I wanted to read it, but wouldn’t allow myself until I read the first two books. I’ve never had the ability to just jump into a series, whether it be book or other,without starting from the beginning. Actually the very thought of doing something like that makes my skin physically uncomfortable. You know that feeling, when you’re skin wants to remove itself from your bones and you become internally itchy. That. Anyway, I digress.
With the third book just sitting in my parents’s house unread I needed the first book of the series, Red Dragon, stat! Luckily for sophomore in college me a seventeen hour road to Indiana loomed in that summers future. During this car ride I devoured the story of Will Gramham, the Tooth Fairy, and everyone’s favorite cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. At the time it was my first experience with reading a whole book in one setting, a task that would be repeated on the way home as I read Silence of the Lambs, and it seemed like nothing. Thomas Harris had created a world that was so accessible and carefully crafted in which his characters tight rope the lines between sanity and monsters. Unfortunately this was not something Harris could maintain as the third and fourth installments of the series lost that edge. The books reeked of cashing in, and while Hannibal was an alright read, the prequel Hannibal Rising was all types of awful. I would go so far to say that these books helped tarnish the Hannibal mystic as the stories became less about the character and more about making money. The Hannibal series seemed to drop off the radar, and if people really wanted to discuss it they usually stuck with Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs as their source materials. No one wanted to think of Hannibal feeding someone pieces of their own brain because it was all rather cheesy (not the brain itself the act, food pun sort of intended).
Enter Bryan Fuller.
When it was announced that Hannibal would be getting the TV treatment my interest levels were pretty high. I recalled that road trip to Indiana and how much I loved those books, and was more than willing to jump back into that universe. At the time I was in a bit of a show hole, which means I was basically watching and re-watching Community over and over and over again, as well as living in the crappiest basement apartment you could imagine. How crappy was it, you ask? Well my sliding glass door entrance didn’t have a lock, and my landlord refused to pay for one, so the only way to ensure he and his jerky kids didn’t get into my place was with a chain and padlock. Yeah. That kind of crappy. Needless to say I was looking for some escapism.
Hannibal right off the bat was something very different than anything else that was on TV, and was so good that it felt out of place on sinking ship NBC. Didn’t make any sense for something this fantastic to be on the same network that gave us a show where animals were doctors. Fuller took us back in time, way before Silence of the Lambs and even before Red Dragon, to events that were alluded to or talked about only briefly in the novels. Hannibal may have started off as a prequel but ended up being something much greater than that.
Fuller used some creative license and changed some things around like the gender of characters or in some cases the order of events, but it didn’t bother me like the Game of Thrones changes did because everything was so masterful. For starters I couldn’t believe how beautifully the show was shot. The imagery and visual metaphors were abundant and breath taking. While the violence was gruesome and super gorey, I mean how did this get on basic cable gorey, it was off set by beautiful imagery that even though it made you uncomfortable you couldn’t help but find it enthralling.
On top of all the visuals Fuller gave us something we, the audience, hadn’t seen yet. Hannibal before he was arrested. The casting of Mad Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter was brilliant, and I will go so far as to say that he is the best version of Hannibal ever seen on any screen. Mikkelsen totally understood who Lecter was supposed to be, this monster who is present in day light, arrogantly daring you to find him through his charismatic persona. But no monster can be fully realized without his foil, and Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham was a worthy opponent. The chemistry between Dancy and Mikkelsen was fantastic, believable, a little homo-erotic, and most of all captivating. As lines get blurred as the series progresses the in show nickname for Hannibal and Will, murder husbands, fits like a glove.
Season three ended up being the final season of Hannibal, much to my sadness. It was only a matter of time before NBC realized that this critically acclaimed show was too good for their network. As a viewer it is upsetting to see the art compromised for the money. Fuller had plans for season four that would lead us into, hopefully if the rights had been obtained, Silence of the Lambs. While it’s unlikely that we will ever see that play out, we at least got to see the Red Dragon story arc as well as the conclusion of the “prequel” material. Yes the time lines between all four books is meshed in to fit Fuller’s story, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the characters and their actions. The blurring of lines and the compromising of morals that most characters, who aren’t Hannibal, have to face are too captivating to worry about anything else. Plus he somehow makes the story of Hannibal Rising somewhat engaging and less silly.
As far as the season goes it’s easily divided in half from what happens after the murder house finale and the three year jump that brings in the Tooth Fairy. Mikkelsen and Dancy are at their best during both halves of the season as the tension, both hostile and sexual, continues to build. One of the things I did miss the most from season three was the food porn. Watching Hannibal cook, at least once an episode, was such a surreal experience. On the one hand it looks so delicious, but on the other hand you know it’s people. Ignorance is bliss for the characters but for us viewers who find the food looking tasty, well… maybe we have some issues.
If season three ends up being the last we see of Fuller’s take on Hannibal Lecter at least they went out telling the story they wanted to. While the season finale works as a series finale, there’s still enough there to call us back to the table. Hannibal is one of those shows that was outside the box from the start. Dark humor abound mixed in with some of the most beautiful horrific images you could imagine. Characters that jumped off the screen and images that would become nightmare fodder for me. Hannibal was one of a kind, and I will feel the void it leaves behind in it’s wake because, as Hannibal says, “it’only canibalism if we’re equals”. It will be truly hard to find a show that is equal with Hannibal.