Don’t Be Rude: Why You Should Watch Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal

On Saturday, August 29th, the final episode of Hannibal season three aired in the United States. It has not been renewed by NBC, nor has it been picked up by streaming services Netflix or Amazon. Given Bryan Fuller’s commitment to American Gods, as well as the casts’ moving on to other projects, the final episode of season three is very likely a series finale. Fuller and the production company have said they’d like to come back. The cast has said they’d like to come back. Perhaps, in a few years, that may happen: we’ll get what would’ve been season four as a mini-series or a movie on another network. Maybe it’ll even get Kickstarted! But right now, that’s a pipe dream, and to be honest, season three provided a fantastic series finale.

Art by Risa Rodil
Art by Risa Rodil

Today’s post isn’t to talk about that finale. Rather, it’s to lead into something else entirely: now that the show is over, it’s the perfect time to watch and see what all the fuss is about. You don’t have the worry about the show getting canceled, because it’s already canceled. You don’t have to worry about it not coming to a satisfying end, because it did. All you have to do is curl up and start watching, get addicted, and join the rest of us who identify as Fannibals in hoping that Bryan Fuller will get to continue his vision in some form or fashion. After all, he never did get around to introducing Clarice Starling.

I thought it might be fun to interview myself, as if I were the prospective viewer who hadn’t yet watched the show. I polled my FB friends to find out what reservations they had to watching, and that, combined with my own experience of watching the show, is the basis for the following “interview.”

So please, don’t be rude. Read on to learn why, after four books and five film adaptations, you should give Bryan Fuller’s vision a shot.

So. You think I should watch Hannibal. Why did YOU decide to watch it?

Truth be told, when the project was first announced, I rolled my eyes. I’d seen all of the movies except Manhunter (which I didn’t know existed at the time) and Hannibal Rising (which I heard was a piece of shit), and I just didn’t need another take on the material. I’d enjoyed what I’d seen, but I didn’t need MORE, you know?

Seen? What do you mean, seen? Haven’t you read the books?

Nope! Not a word. Still haven’t, actually. But a good friend of mine in college was a HUGE fan. She gobbled Harris’ Hannibal the moment it was published and told me all about what she loved and hated. She insisted we see the film adaptation on opening night. I knew a lot about the franchise because of her.

Okay. So you’d seen the adaptations featuring Anthony Hopkins, but you haven’t read the books. Since Hopkins is the DEFINITIVE Lecter, I’ll allow you that. Why bother with the show?

It was a slow seduction. The first thing that REALLY got my interest was the casting of Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter. I was a huge fan of him as the villain in Casino Royale, and as soon as I heard the casting, I thought, “Well, if anyone can give Hopkins a run for his money, it’s Mads Mikkelsen.”

That doesn’t sound very convincing.

No, it doesn’t. But at the time, I was a pop culture JUNKIE. I poured over websites like Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and TV Line religiously, often multiple times per day. The fall television premiere season was, like, one of my favorite things ever, because I couldn’t wait to find a new show that might become my new Profiler, Alias, Lost, Fringe, or Battlestar Galactica.

So I heard all of the hype. I knew Bryan Fuller was in charge, and let me tell you: I absolutely ADORED Pushing Daisies. Talk about a show that was a victim of the writer’s strike! It was wonderfully acted, whimsically shot, beautiful to watch. Fuller’s guidance combined with Mikkelsen’s talent meant that I was reading the reviews of Hannibal’s pilot, and to my surprise, they weren’t just, “Oh, this is good.” The reviews were like, “OMG THIS IS THE BEST PILOT OF THE YEAR!!!”

Seriously?

YES. And at the time, I couldn’t resist that kind of hype. Books, movies, television…. if it got that kind of hype? I had to check it out for myself. HAD TO.

And obviously, you did.

YES. And I was absolutely STUNNED by the pilot alone. I don’t know how to describe how I felt after watching it for the first time, other than to say that I immediately put Hannibal on my DVR. I re-watched the pilot a couple of months ago (I actually re-watched the first two seasons when Season Three started), and I am still in awe of what a fantastically constructed episode the pilot is.

Art by Risa Ridol
Art by Risa Ridol

Okay, so you watched the pilot, and you’ve been hooked ever since. Tell me, what does this show even COVER?

Hannibal has always been billed as the prequel to Red Dragon. All of the books and movies (let’s forget Hannibal Rising exists, because I hear both are abysmal) focus on Lecter while he’s incarcerated, when people already KNOW who and what he is. When he’s already a monster to be feared. Bryan Fuller presents to us, instead, the period when Hannibal Lecter is in his prime. When he’s killing with impunity, immersing himself in high society, consulting with the FBI, and no one knows who he really is.

Except for Will Graham, right?

That’s the rub. When the show opens, Graham and Lecter meet for the first time, and you see two men who are complete opposites. Graham is brought on to consult on the Minnesota Shrike case, and Lecter is brought on to make sure Graham has an anchor, because Crawford isn’t entirely sure Graham’s all that stable.

What do you mean, stable?

It’s all about Will’s empathy disorder. When Will is visiting a crime scene, he literally puts himself in the killer’s mindset. That translates on the screen as Will Graham actually committing the crimes, and let me tell you: it’s freaking unnerving, especially the first time you see it happen. And when I re-watched the pilot, after having seen two full seasons of the show? STILL UNNERVING. But the show is so smart: you see Will at his potentially most frightening and then you see him at his most compassionate. It’s great character development.

Okay, shush. NO SPOILERS. I might actually watch this, you know.

Good! You should! What other questions do you have?

You’ve talked a lot about the pilot. But what kept you watching from there?

Well, part of it was just watching with a viewer’s insider knowledge. The show knows that the viewer knows that Lecter is a cannibal. But the characters don’t, and the way this plays out is SO DELICIOUS. They have SO MUCH FUN with the dialogue. Seriously, the cannibal puns Lecter makes should’ve given him away so many times, but he’s so cheeky and careful, always the smartest man in the room. And the characters never come off as stupid for not knowing. When you look at it from THEIR point of view, Lecter is a rich man of culture, a successful therapist, and a amazing chef. Who in their right MIND would think that HE’S the Chesapeake Ripper, the serial killer that haunts Crawford to this day? NO ONE. And that’s some of the thrill. You keep waiting for someone to figure it out.

Like Will Graham.

Exactly. Graham and Lecter develop a professional relationship because the FBI is using Lecter to make sure Graham isn’t getting over his head (again, due to his empathy disorder). Will and Hannibal talk about the cases, and the conversations they have are fascinating. We know what Will doesn’t, so much of the thrill is watching Hannibal, listening to Hannibal, and wondering just what exactly does Hannibal have up his sleeve and WHEN will Will Graham figure it out?

So it progresses?

Yes, but in ways you don’t expect. Fuller loves taking what we think we know from the books and/or movies and subverting our expectations. We KNOW that eventually, the show has to get to the point where it leads into Red Dragon. But how it gets there? Is kind of amazing. You just keep wondering: how to they get from HERE to THERE? When and how will Will capture Hannibal, and knowing what we know HAS to happen, isn’t it fascinating to watch this genuine friendship develop between two men who should complete and total adversaries?

Friendship. Is that all it is? I keep hearing… THINGS. People are SHIPPING Will and Hannibal. And apparently, they aren’t far off…. ?

Yeah, okay, here’s the deal: pick a show, any show: viewers are going to ship the leads. Sometimes the leads are meant to be together, sometimes the shipping is simply a pipe dream. So the shipping isn’t a big deal. In fact, I’ll admit to being a shipper myself: I’ll read Hannigram fic all day long (and have), and that DEFINITELY colors the way I view the relationship I see on screen. But there are other ways to read a scene, the way a line is delivered, the motivations. It’s wonderfully speculative, and ultimately, no matter how you read the end of the series, it’s satisfying.

So no kissing? No sex?

Oh, there’s definitely kissing and sex on the show (and talk about trippy and surreal cinematography during those scenes!),  but not the kind Hannigram shippers are begging for.

Isn’t that a spoiler?

You asked. And believe me, watching the dynamic play out between Will and Hannibal from season one through season three is AMAZING. It’s a very character-driven show, very organic, and watching the way these two men manipulate each other and betray each other and still recognize something of themselves in each other? AMAZING. Because Will, at his heart, wants justice no matter what the cost, and Hannibal loves manipulating people to see just how dark they’ll go. Put those two together? ENDLESS TENSION.

I guess I’ll have to watch and make up my own mind about it, eh?

Absolutely, yes. What else do you need to know?

Who’s the definitive Lecter? Hopkins or Mikkelsen?

Absolutely Mikkelsen. Not to take away from Hopkins legacy (because he’s legendary in Silence of the Lambs), but Mikkelsen’s performance (again, the famous cannibal IN HIS PRIME) is mesmerizing. Mikkelsen’s take on the character is as if the character is Lucifer himself, and that’s a very apt metaphor, one that’s driven home in the third season. It’s probably not fair that in terms of screen time, Mikkelsen’s inhabited Lecter the most, so it makes sense that he’s now IT in my mind, but trust me: he’s fascinating to watch. I get so wrapped up in the performance that I’ve been caught yelling at him while watching (Shhh… don’t tell Lecter. I’d like to keep my internal organs, thank you). It’s a crime he’s never been nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe. CRIME, I tell you.

Art by Lauren Skaggs (@thetuxedos)
Art by Lauren Skaggs (@thetuxedos)

So the acting is that great?

Not just from him, but from EVERYONE. Lawrence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford? He’s a force to be reckoned with. Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham? The character development from season one to season three is so dynamic that I’m insulted he never got nominated for a Golden Globe or Emmy. Season One Will Graham just needs all the hugs and puppies in the world. But he evolves from that point, as a direct result of his friendship with Hannibal. The show is named after the famous cannibal, but the person who changes the most? The character whose arc is absolutely the most complete by the end of the series? That’s Will Graham.

I don’t want to take away from the rest of the cast either: everyone does a wonderful job, they really do. But a special shout-out to Gillian Anderson’s Bedelia du Maurier, as well as Raul Esparza’s Frederick Chilton. OMG. I never thought I would love his character, but I love his character! And I’d be TOTALLY REMISS if I didn’t mention Richard Armitage’s Francis Dolarhyde because HOLY SHIT his inhabiting of that character and the Dragon is AMAZING.

Wait, wait, wait: you said this show was a PREQUEL to Red Dragon.

Well, it’s a prequel that ENDS with Red Dragon‘s storyline. And, in interest of full disclosure, Fuller takes a lot of liberties with the overall source material. He’s concerned about telling a great story, and so you’ll get to meet the Vergers. You’ll see shades of Silence here and there. And apparently, very faint shades of Hannibal Rising, but only what’s important to support the story. And because Fuller plays fast and loose with the chronology (remember, he never got the rights to Clarice Starling or Buffalo Bill), you can never assume you know EXACTLY where the show is going to go, except for the times you actually do.

Okay, so the show keeps those of us well-versed in the books and movies guessing. What else do I need to know?

It’s the little things. You should watch the show in the dark, because it’s THAT kind of show, but you probably shouldn’t go to bed right after, because the murder tableaux are both beautiful and disturbing. The cinematography? Mesmerizing. The score? Not like anything you’ve heard on television, and I’m not making that up. Brian Reitzell does a wonderful job unnerving you.

This is an EXCELLENTLY produced show. It’s hard to believe how much they got away with, being on network television, because it can be so gruesome. But it’s done in such an artistic way that even when you’re horrified, you can’t look away.

That brings up a good point: what if I’m squeamish?

Um… don’t eat while watching? Seriously, I can’t answer that. I’m NOT squeamish, and while there are definitely moments in season three that DISTURBED me, and there are moments through out the show that BROKE MY HEART (season two, I’m looking at you), I just found myself fascinated. I will say, though, that the violence and the gore never felt gratuitous to me, or done simply for shock. You might get away with calling some of it pretentious, but not gratuitous.

Art by Lauren Skaggs (@thetuxedos)
Art by Lauren Skaggs (@thetuxedos)

Okay, okay…. let’s wrap this up. Let’s say I want to watch, but I’m a SUPER FAN of the source material. It’s gonna be hard not to be critical.

Let me introduce you to Eat the Rudecast. I discovered this podcast during season three. These podcasters really dive into the television show as well as how it relates to the source material and the movies. So if you’re a SUPER FAN of the books and/or the movies, it would be a great way to complement your viewing. Watch an episode, then listen to the podcast for that episode. You can download the episodes on iTunes.

Now, for full disclosure: I discovered the podcast in season three. I know how the season three episodes work, because they were posting new episodes after the show aired a new episode, but the early stuff? Those podcasts are based on their re-watches, so I don’t know if the early episodes of the podcast contain spoilers for the SHOW. That said, I think if you’re a fan of the books, the movies, and are watching the show, you’re going to really engage with this podcast. I did, and I haven’t even read the books or seen all of the movies.

Anything else you want to add?

Eat the Rudecast said it best when they said the Fuller’s adaptation breathed new life into the books and the movies, and I whole-heartedly agree. This show made people EXCITED about Hannibal Lecter again, and that’s SUCH a good thing. Before Fuller, the franchise had gotten watered down in the worst of ways (thanks mostly to Hannibal Rising, from everything I’ve heard), and it seemed the franchise was doomed to wither off and die, with only Silence of the Lambs being the crown jewel of adaptations. Fuller’s adaptation changed all of that. It’s made die-hard fans of the books and movies re-engage, and it’s made viewers like me want to discover the books for the first time and re-watch all of the movies. That’s not a bad thing: a great adaptation has a conversation with the source material, and if it’s done its job right, it brings fans to the source material that wouldn’t have explored the source material otherwise.

Hannibal is not your usual procedural. It’s a horror show, and as such, there’s a certain sense of surreal, dreamlike-realism that permeates the entire series. It evolves from something that seems quite familiar into something that’s so unique that you’ll wonder, over and over, how they got away with so much on network television. Fuller’s vision isn’t like any other adaptation of Harris’ work you’ve ever seen, and it’s not like any other procedural you’ve ever seen either, especially when you get to season three, which has two very distinct arcs. The show may not be perfect, but it’s a masterclass when it comes to storytelling and character-building, something I didn’t realize until I re-watched the first two seasons while also watching season three for the first time.

Thanks to Hannibal, it’s safe to say: In Fuller I Trust.

Also, if you need more convincing? Leah Schnelbach from Tor.com has a great post here: A Post-Mortem for Hannibal, the Greatest Television Show of All Time, but beware, there are various plot points that get spoiled for the series.

ALL RIGHT ALREADY. How do I watch it?

You can watch the first two seasons, FOR FREE, if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber. You can BUY all three seasons on iTunes AND/OR Amazon right now. You can also buy the first two seasons on BluRay or DVD now, and get season three on BluRay/DVD whenever it’s released. Which will hopefully be soon, and I really hope they come out with a nice boxed set of all three with LOTS OF EXTRAS because I want it all.

One last bonus question: Hannibal has been canceled, and no one has picked it up for season four. If nothing else happens, and this is all you get from Bryan Fuller’s adaptation, is it worth watching to the end?

Yes. Hell yes. To infinity and beyond yes. From beginning to end, it’s a complete arc, and…. well, to quote Will Graham, “It’s beautiful.”

*mic drop*

4 thoughts on “Don’t Be Rude: Why You Should Watch Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal

  1. I’ve seen most of season one and parts of season two. I’ve been meaning to watch the whole thing for awhile now, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    I, like you, am also not squeamish. This show has the distinction of being the only show or movie that has ever made me feel queasy, to the point that I had to shut it off and lay down until my head stopped spinning. And then I got back up and watched the rest of the episode, but still, that doesn’t usually happen to me, to the point that I’m not entirely sure if it was the show or my blood sugar dropping, but the faintness seemed to correspond pretty closely with the reveal that Mason had cut off most of his own face and fed it to Will’s dogs, so I’m not discounting that. So, that may legitimately be the only time an entertainment medium has almost made me pass out. (I’m not sure why that was the bit that got to me specifically. I hate to say he deserved what he got, but Mason kind of deserved what he got.)

    One thing that really got to me about the show–and this may just be me and my reading of it–is how LIKEABLE Dr. Lecter is, at least in most of the first season. I kind of feel like that’s true to life, in a sense, because many sociopaths, whether killers or not, do have this odd sort of charisma about them. Now, I haven’t read the books or seen any of the movies, but Hannibal Lecter has so seeped into the pop culture consciousness that damn near everybody knows who and what he is whether they’ve seen the movies or not, and I’m no exception. The fact that I still find myself liking this character even though I know he’s a serial killer and a cannibal is…well, it says loads for the actor and the direction, and in a way it makes the show even more disturbing. And again, the connection to real life killers makes it more disturbing still, because it reminds you that real monsters don’t look like monsters.

    Also, I haven’t gotten into fan stuff with this show, but I’m not surprised about people shipping Will and Hannibal. In a way, it’s kind of apt, because their relationship in the show is in some ways a seduction–just not the kind the shippers have in mind.

    I really need to finish watching this thing. My sister-in-law has been pushing me to watch the rest for months; she’s an orthodontic assistant, so she kind of has to have a strong stomach. The same cannot be said for my brother, sadly, who absolutely refuses to watch it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you need to finish watching! Did you see the season 2 finale, “Mizumono?” Because it’s the most perfect episode of television EVER, let alone finale. Be sure to watch through the credits.

      Mason feeding his face to Will’s dogs. Yes, that was incredibly disturbing. I would wonder too about your blood sugar that day, but there is something intensely horrifying about knowing what the dogs are being fed… they’re getting CORRUPTED, you know? And the dogs are symbolic of Will’s goodness, his innocence…. the choices made writing that scene were very, very deliberate.

      What you say about how likable Hannibal Lecter is. Absolutely yes. This show is constantly putting the viewer in an uncomfortable role, because you know what you’re watching is wonderful and beautiful (acting, set design, cinematography) and yet you’re talking about BAD THINGS. A serial killer who is also a cannibal. Murder tableaux. Someone in film studies and/or sociology could have a FIELD DAY with this show, discussing society’s relationship with violence and beauty. It’s RICH with metaphor, here.

      Yes, please finish watching! And in the meantime, here are some fan-made songs inspired by the show. I love them. 🙂

      Halia Meguid: “Forensic,” “Ravenstag,” “Daughter,” and “Waltz for Lecter.” http://haliameguid.tumblr.com/tagged/downloads

      And here’s the video that NBC.com posted for “Ravenstag” (the other songs I discovered when I discovered her tumblr):

      Like

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