Hannibal – Apéritif (Pilot)
The characters in the few episodes of The Following that I managed to sit through – the show’s novelty won me a little at first but quickly grew nauseating – spoke a lot about the Gothic – in the words of Poe, in the temper of the world, in the nature of man – and the way that it influenced their violent acts. Honestly though there was very little about the show itself that seemed influenced by the style; what we saw on the screen was always more gaudy than gothic. Hannibal, though it handles a very similarly structured story, is as Gothic as a raven-clad Gargoyle on a chill German night because, unlike that strained metaphor, it manages to capture the cold and creepy feel that lies beneath that blustery exterior; it gets down to the bloody, ceaselessly-beating heart of the thing and is a miles better show because of it.
One important thing to note though is that unlike the movies that bear the man’s name Hannibal is actually about a cop (the other Hannibal and Hannibal Rising put their focus on the strong, supporting character to what I feel was their detriment), the titular cannibal not arriving until midway through the movie. Another important thing to note is that the cop at the show’s core isn’t Harris’ go to guy Will Graham so much as it is his boss Jack Crawford. As Crawford Fishburne is the show’s real perspective character, its protagonist (at least thus far) with the two psychotic psychologists sitting on either shoulder, whispering their inverted ideas in his ears.
Both Will and Hannibal – the former admittedly more so than the latter – are given their fair share of private scenes but these feel far more surreal and paranormal in their execution while Fishburne’s are always steady and grounded. It is this almost fantastic nature, as evoked stylishly through the slick shooting of director David Slade (the cuts, colors and compositions that he employs both stun an set an appropriately sinister tone), that makes the two competing characters both so compelling and so unsuitable for carrying a crime procedural.
I’ve seen all the films in the loose series but never read past the prologues of their progenitors so my knowledge of Will Graham is limited but it still feels like the way in which he is depicted here has to be the most dramatic version.The actor playing Graham here, Hugh Dancy, is coincidentally married to Claire Danes and it is her work on Homeland that his role is heavily reminiscent of; both are emotionally unstable, obsessive and yet somehow brilliant crime-solvers who ‘hitch their post’ somewhere along the autism scale.
While on the surface he may simply seem another Sherlock archetype there is an important subversion at play here; Graham’s particular psychology allows him complete empathy, the ability to envelop himself inside any mind, including that of psychopathic killers and he uses this to help profile and catch them, often at the cost of his own sanity. The heroes in shows like House and Elementary are actually the opposite of this, they are entirely objective, they don’t ‘feel’ at all and this allows them to see events on a larger scale. That school of thought is displayed during the show, it’s just here that is how the antagonist, Hannibal himself, see’s the world.
Mads Mikkelsen was a rather inspired choice for the role of the cannibal but it was one that could easily have come across as more interesting in theory than in practice (it could also have introduced a strange subtext regarding race, but doesn’t yet). Thankfully then he both delivers a damn fine performance and is dealt good material by Fuller and the other writers to deliver in it. His cold, clinical and contemptuous approach to the crimes and characters that the episode delivered contrasts brilliantly with the ragged, wired way that Dancy is playing Graham and although the two are yet to square off I can see myself enjoying their subtle tics and stares for at least a season.
That’s the thing to remember about Hannibal, it is a TV show and as such a good chunk of the hour is dedicated to a third-party criminal investigation but in this case that’s not actually reason to despair. I don’t know how well the show will fare when someone besides Fuller steps in to script – it will surely lose those smart-alec lines of dialogue that manage to sneak in amidst the drama – but I was enthralled well before Hannibal even made an appearance, the killer that they were chasing seemed strong enough a foil. His MO was intriguing, his methods twisted and the way that they were investigating offered even more of both. There was even an intelligence to it, the psychological observations made are both relevant to the scene (not there to simply show off) and yet of a difficulty high enough that we would rarely think them on our own, they weren’t simply expository.
So while I definitely didn’t think that I needed to see another show on my TV about serial-killers of the people who catch them I was honestly very impressed by this one and if it succeeds in its serialization – the one test still remaining – I can see myself sticking with it for the long run. Hannibal is a creepy crime-procedural that you don’t have to be Will Graham to care about.