In the first episode of the first season of Hannibal, I feel strangely prepared for this, and it’s clear that THIS ISN’T GOING TO MATTER. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Hannibal.
Let’s get a few ground rules established:
1) Please do not spoil me for the show. I do not currently know when I will have time to watch and review the second season of Hannibal, as pulling this entire thing off Beyoncé style took a few weeks’ worth of work. I am under the unique position of being fairly familiar with the source material. I’ve seen The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon, and I’ve read all three books by Thomas Harris. (Who I mistakenly call Richard Harris in the beginning of this video SORRY ABOUT THAT.) I am more than willing to discuss existing canon in the movies/books, but I ask that you rot13 it and mark it as such so that others who are not familiar with it don’t know what’s going to happen or what might happen. And about that!
2) Please use rot13.com to cypher all spoilers. The gibberish in the comments is cyphered text so that spoilers can be discussed without newbies like myself and anyone else having the show’s canon ruined for us. Please stick to this format, and do not argue with the mods if they have to go in and cypher a comment of yours.
3) Please read my Site Rules and FAQ. This will explain the strict moderation for comments and the extremely strict spoiler policy. If what you’re about to type is not explicitly in what I have seen, it’s a spoiler. Don’t post it without a cypher. Please listen to my moderators; they know what they’re doing, and they are enforcing my rules.
4) The entirety of season one’s commission videos are available right now for $11.99. In order to pull this off as a surprise, I needed to forgo my usual system of having videos commissioned for $20 an episode. I did all of these for free. Individual files are $0.99 a piece or $11.99 for all of them at once. Each file can be downloaded ten times, so you are welcome to give the free copies away! The system is built this way so that people who can afford to contribute help me out, but then those who cannot can still download the videos for free. The wonderful folks at Mark Spoils, THE PREMIERE MARK DOES STUFF FAN SITE, have a Black Market, where you can trade/share extra video files! Anyway, this helps pay for my expensive video hosting, as well as the multitude of costs that I have to keep my sites running. If you’re feeling charitable, you’re welcome to read this post, which details how you can help me! Otherwise, enjoy this. It was meant to be a gift to y’all.
5) Reviews for this season will go up at 10am Pacific time EVERY DAY (including weekends) until all 13 of them are up. Another benefit of me having finished these in advance: no need to skip weekend posts. ENJOY.
6) Congrats if you realized how I spoiled this. Shout out to aadikah, who was the first to guess this correctly on the second day!
AND NOW, IT’S TIME FOR ME TO WATCH HANNIBAL.
Trigger Warning: There’s talk of a lot of disturbing things here, so generally, every episode has to talk about about blood and death. I also discuss ableism in regards to autism, as well as PTSD and triggers themselves.
I do feel it’s necessary to repeat myself at times, at least in terms of what I say in the video commentary versus a review, so bare with me. I first saw The Silence of the Lambs in the fall of 1991; I was eight years old. It was the first live-action movie I had ever seen in a theater, and it seemed so real, that I was convinced it was a documentary for five years. I lived a very, very sheltered life, but my mother had a knack for thrillers and horror movies, which… it never made sense to me, and it still doesn’t. We were a nondescript conservative Christian household; we never went to church, but I heard enough fire and brimstone from my mother to last a lifetime. And yet? I was raised on Star Wars, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, and The Silence of the Lambs. I DON’T GET IT EITHER.
(Years later, when I was in my twenties, I asked my mom why she made exceptions to her strict Christianity, specifically why she let me watch something so clearly depicting evil. “Well,” she replied, “I knew you could tell the difference between fact and fiction.” NO, MOM, I LITERALLY COULD NOT.)
I admit it’s been many years since I’ve re-watched the film. (Time and a lot more knowledge about the world can make you watch things through a new lens, and I really don’t think I want to see Jame Gumb on my screen again. I know that Demme has expressed regret for how that came about and how it offended people, but I know it’ll make me too uncomfortable.) I watched both Hannibal and Red Dragon on opening day, and I liked them both. (Oh god, I also have a very, very vivid memory of seeing Hannibal opening night at a giant theater, and we got there too late, so I had to sit in the front row. I will never forget watching that final scene super close up, and hearing the entire theater freak the fuck out.) But my interest waned, and I never saw Hannibal Rising or ever revisited the novels or the movies. I also must be truthful: when this show was first announced, I assumed it would be utter garbage. There was so much canon. How could this show do it again? How could it ever differentiate itself from the massive book and movie worlds?
Then I watched all of Bryan Fuller’s shows last year after resurrecting Double Features, and I knew Hannibal was airing, but it was one of those cases where I simply couldn’t add a currently-airing show to my schedule. (Oh god, I bought the Pushing Daisies Blu-rays and I have been dying to watch the show in glorious high-definition. I MISS IT. I MISS IT SO MUCH.) I loved Fuller’s fictional worlds and the style he used for those three shows, so I was certainly intrigued to see how on earth he’d handle a show that was so… I don’t know. NOT WHIMSICAL AT ALL?
Hannibal, at least from this pilot, is an unnerving exercise in suspense, one that’s predicated on the fact that we generally know how this ends. Even if you aren’t familiar with Red Dragon‘s chronology or canon, we know the show is about Hannibal the Cannibal. And my god, what a brilliant introduction to him. There’s a point nearly twenty minutes in where I actually said, “How is this connected to Hannibal?” Fuller and director David Slade hold the reveal for a long time, instead focusing on profiler/lecturer Will Graham. I was actually confused about the opening scene because I didn’t know if the show was going to tackle Graham’s apparent “pure empathy,” and I must say, I prefer this show’s version of that ability far more than any other. I could have used a better distinction about him being on the autistic spectrum, since I’m not even sure that Graham even qualifies as one based on what we see here. And that’s a fair criticism because we often see autistic characters in fiction who are merely socially awkward or sociopathic, and it’s never explored fairly beyond that.
The reason I found this so fascinating was because the way Graham’s empathy works reminded me eerily of my own experience with memory. I don’t often speak of it, but I have a near eidetic memory, and a psychologist I used to see years ago said I had hyperthymesia, a form of memory that means I can recall a vast number of the memories of my own life. I don’t really put a whole lot of stock in that, given that it was so long ago that I saw this doctor, and the ability has certainly faded over time. I can’t recall specific dates so much anymore, but my triggers do the work instead. All of this is my complicated way of saying that due to my own memory and my longstanding PTSD related to my abuse, I can relive entire events in my life in complete detail. It sucks. I’m extremely good at memorizing things, and I always have been, but that also means I can’t forget a lot of things. Watching Will Graham empathize with these people was an unsettling thing because you can see it physically affect him. That opening scene – where he walks through the murder with his own “deadly precision” – establishes the pain that this causes Will. And while it’s easy to see that Will operates within a fairly common trope in serial killer narratives, there are tiny things along the way that hint at something more.
Will is protective, first and foremost, of himself. He’s not the sort of protagonist who speaks callously about those around him and doesn’t care about how he’s perceived by others. I’d say Will deeply cares. He cares about having to socialize with others because he knows he’s not very good at it. He cares when he thinks he’s being psychoanalyzed. But he’s also deeply aware that the line between his empathy and his own mind is very thin, and I think that’s something the show is clearly going to explore. Throughout this episode, Will seems frustrated whenever he can’t properly convey how the murderer is behaving, and it’s clear that his empathy is a lot more than simply being able to see himself in someone else’s shoes. It’s almost as if he temporarily becomes that person, and then that identity within him is frustrated for not being understood.
And look, I know I was utterly ridiculous during the scene where Will rescued a stray dog, but that scene is SO IMPORTANT for his character. Will isn’t out of touch with his own humanity, and he’s not a careless, loveless person either. Just because he may possess an intense social anxiety does not mean he isn’t a complete person without his own tenderness. In this case, he’s beautifully affectionate with DOGS. WHICH IS MY FAVORITE SINGLE DETAIL IN THIS WHOLE EPISODE. IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL AND PERFECT.
For the most part, this episode twists around Will’s perspective, though we do get a great deal of screen time with Dr. Lector and Jack Crawford. I love that Laurence Fishburne is Crawford, and he’s both exactly like the Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs and nothing like him at all. He’s got that air of properness, that professional suave nature that I remember so strongly from watching the films. And while there’s definitely not a whole lot explored in any of the secondary characters, I can already see that Fishburne’s Crawford is a beast all its own. The weird thing is, I don’t know how much of canon Fuller and company are going to address! I mean, Dr. Alana Bloom is a totally new character (PLAYED BY ACTUAL PRINCESS CAROLINE DHAVERNAS oh my god i’m dying); so is Beverly Katz. (Obligatory mention that while it’s a difficult film to watch, you should watch Young Adult, which Hettienne Park is in, because IT IS NOT THE FILM YOU THINK IT IS.) Alana is protective of Will for reasons… I wasn’t quite sure of, actually. She’s considered a colleague, but they haven’t actually met? That was a little unclear to me, but I’m excited that Fuller has invented a character like her. It means that there are things for me to figure it. It means I don’t have all the answers. [Edit: I should state here that I totally forgot Dr. Alan Bloom was in Red Dragon. I told y’all it’s been a long time since I read it!]
BUT THEN THERE’S EVERYTHING INVOLVING HOBBS AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I DIDN’T PUT THAT ALL TOGETHER. Oh my god, the dual reveals here are done so well, though the second one concerning Hobbs works only if you know existing canon. But gods, we must discuss that brilliant moment where Will realizes the killer is a cannibal, AND THEN CUT TO DR. LECTER, AND EVERYTHING IS SO TERRIFYING. Look, Anthony Hopkins is Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and most of us have had that character burned into our minds. It’s so fascinating to me that Mads Mikkelsen doesn’t even try to replicate what Hopkins did. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is still obsessed with neatness, with class status and high style, and he’s quietly horrifying. But between the accent, the matter-of-fact way he speaks, and the daunting way he holds his posture in every scene, I could tell that we were seeing a complete reinvention of this character. Which is an incredible achievement in just a single episode, you know?
Of course, as I said before, this is all an exercise in suspense, and I can’t deny that as soon as Dr. Lecter was introduced, I spent the remainder of the episode shouting at the screen for Will to RUN AWAY. DON’T EAT THAT. OH MY GOD, WHAT THE FUCK. And that’s a unique way of framing this show: We already know who the killer is. Granted, this episode deals with a case that’s largely solved at the end, but the deliberate “gift” that Lecter provides for Will suggests that Lecter isn’t even close to being done with Will. So I find it incredible that we’re given the answer in the beginning, and we’re left to wait, agonizing, to see how long it takes everyone else to discover the truth, too. I don’t think that’s going to happen for a while, obviously, but it’s there. And it makes this show electrifying.
And really, this episode has to establish how the show will be framed; how the narrative is going to work; and why we should care about Will Graham. His worsening health over the course of “Apéritif” is clearly going to be a part of his characterization this season, as well as Dr. Bloom’s warning to Jack Crawford that Will should not be allowed out on the field.
But it’s also clear that Fuller is going to develop the Will/Hannibal relationship in a similar manner to Red Dragon. Will and his team will try to solve murders, and Hannibal will continue EATING PEOPLE right under their noses. (Oh my god, just briefly, but that scene where Hannibal pressed the oxygen out of the lungs? NO, NEVER NEEDED TO SEE THAT EVER AGAIN.) But how close will Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter get in this version? Will has no idea that Dr. Lecter set up that bloody and traumatizing confrontation at the end of the episode. Will also didn’t see Lecter passively standing by, observing the horror, which was the scariest fucking thing about that scene. And in the end, Will finds that Dr. Lecter has been watching over Hobbs’s daughter. Just… WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? Is he going to eat her next or something?
I’d love to see more on the supporting characters, but goddamn, what an unreal and impressive pilot episode. I was drawn into this narrative so quickly, and for having so much doubt that anyone could pull off a show like this, I have to admit that the cast and crew did it. They nailed it, and I’m really excited to see more.
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