With such an iconic figure as Hannibal Lecter set at the forefront of Bryan Fuller’s latest series, NBC’s “Hannibal” manages to find success in Fuller’s carefully executed artistic direction, and an ability to tease out the less often explored aspects of these already well established characters. Particularly, while the title of the series creates a presumption that it’s the cannibalistic doctor himself who will be acting as the protagonist, it is Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of Special Agent Will Graham that draws the audience in and pushes the series into fresh territory.
“I’d love to have you both for dinner.”
Following his involvement in the investigation of the latest string of serial murders, Will Graham is assigned to the expertise of forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), who is tasked with helping Graham live with the consequences of his emphatic abilities. While Graham has become renowned for his ability to connect with the drives and emotions of the serial murderers he pursues, he becomes plagued with feelings of guilt and fear as he finds himself often identifying too closely with those he is meant to catch. As each case is solved and another murderer is captured, Graham becomes further entangled in his own conflicting emotions.
In exploring Graham’s psyche and the influence of each case on his personal development, the series carries Fuller’s signature flair for imaginative imagery and vivid colouring. As Graham proceeds in his descent and his mental instability becomes more prominent, a bleak, sort of isolating tone that comes to define the series is introduced through an unrelenting darkness that is only broken up by periodic splatters of vivid reds and browns. The result is very atmospheric and reflective of the series’ themes. Mix in the carefully designed hallucinations and creative murder sights and you have a show that could very easily be watched for the cinematography alone.
“This is my design.”
Unlike other procedurals of this nature, “Hannibal” never feels episodic or as though it’s simply rehashing the same mysteries every week. The connections made between Graham’s development and the discoveries made in each crime allow for a natural progression in which the murders act more as a catalyst for the deeper insights which the show goes on to explore. Problems, emotions, and characters uncovered through one case will continuously re-emerge in later episodes as Graham and Hannibal discuss the events and slowly work through them. Also unlike many other series in the genre, the cases presented expand far beyond expectation in their clever and disturbing execution. None of them are immediately solvable and, with the violent and intricate nature of each, they represent killers who could plausibly be viewed as particularly dangerous. I’m still not completely over the mushroom garden and flesh angel cases.
To appropriately back up the careful considerations given to set design and cinematography, Dancy performs amazingly as the tormented Will Graham. As an empath, the ongoing struggle in keeping his own docile, introverted self separate from the overpowering emotions that drive the killers he hunts acts as a major source of conflict throughout the episodes. Dancy’s ability to shift between emotional states infuses each scene with urgency as the audience is left to watch as he is literally torn apart. He, alone, makes the emotional weight that such an ability carries perfectly clear.
While Dancy is most definitely the star in this show, Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter cannot be ignored. As the series takes place well before Hannibal is revealed to be the serial murderer that he is, there is a strong sense of control and calmness in the way he carries himself. He covers his tracks well and is confident enough in his ability to avoid suspicion that frequently, and with great pleasure, he can be seen feeding cooked meat to his fellow companions. The psychosis that has become so characteristic of his earlier incarnations has yet to appear, which allows the audience a better glimpse of his intelligence and enjoyment of finer living. Yet, just under the surface, there is that sense that there is a merciless killer waiting for the right moment to appear. The series never allows the audience to forget who Hannibal is, after all
NBC’s “Hannibal” presents a worthy update to the Hannibal Lecter story. Through a mixture of haunting visuals, unnerving mystery, and a cast brimming with talent in series regulars and side characters alike, Bryan Fuller’s take is definitely not one to miss.