Hannibal: my thoughts on the first two episodes

25 May 2013, 8:29 p.m.
Murder, cannibalism, bad manners. I have my priorities totally straight.

I've been vacillating for a while on whether I want to watch Hannibal. On the one hand, the trailer promises lots of gore, beautiful sets and dramatic irony, with Mads Mikkelsen as the urbane cannibal himself. On the other, it looks very much an American crime drama serial. While I do watch those as mind candy at my mum's house, I wouldn't go out of my way to follow one normally.

I'm sick in bed at the moment, so this seemed like a good time to check out the first couple of episodes. Based on those, I won't be watching the rest. Really, what bothered me the most is how impolite everyone in it seems to be.

The main character in Hannibal is Will Graham, a profiler with the FBI who is persuaded to go back into the field by Laurence Fishburne's character Jack Crawford. Will seems anxious, troubled, a bit fragile. He has an 'empathy disorder' and has difficulty being social; he is haunted by hallucinations based on murders he has worked on, "the price of imagination," as another character says. The people around him both need his profiling gift, which stems from his very high empathy, and express a cloying need to protect him. To me, though, Will Graham seems to be the only normal person in the team. The behaviour of the others just demonstrates a total lack of empathy, imagination or any social skills.

For instance, in his introductory scene, Crawford goes to recruit Graham to his team. He does this by fiddling with the glasses on Graham's face and wondering aloud why Graham is teaching when he has "problems being social." Later on, he approaches Hannibal Lecter to give Graham a psychological evaluation. He does this by barging in through the private exit to Lecter's consulting rooms and rifling through the drawings on Lecter's desk. He overreacts bizarrely to frustration on a number of occasions. Hettienne Park's character, Beverly Katz, is just as bad. "Oh, you're unstable!" she tells Graham in their first meeting, a shit-eating grin on her face. She also walks in on his target-shooting practice and corrects his posture without asking. Does nobody in this universe have any concept of personal space?

Other characters in the first two episodes include a team of know-it-all forensics guys and Dr. Alana Bloom, a psychiatrist whose role is to emphasise Graham's unusual psychology and vulnerability. It's quite possible that she gets more to do as the series goes on. Right now, though, she comes close to one of my bugbears, the female character whose responsibility is emotional caretaking for male character(s). (Ariadne in Inception was a perfect example of this.)

Besides this, of course, there is the matter of Graham's 'profiling'. This is shown with sequences at crime scenes, where time runs backwards and Graham takes the place of the killer, acting out what he envisages about the crime. His information comes from crime-scene analysis, from deduction and from 'empathising with the criminal', which in Hannibal apparently means something equivalent to psychic powers. Given that real-world profiling is a combination of cold reading and guesswork, I almost feel it would be better for the series to flat-out call Graham's abilities psychic, rather than bringing in all this tortured psychoanalysis about empathy. But then, since the show is about torture and psychoanalysis, it might fall a little flat.

This brings me to the centre of Hannibal, the psychiatrist-serial killer-cannibal himself, who is given a fine portrayal by Mads Mikkelsen. I have no complaints there. Lecter is also rather impolite at times, but in a way that feels in keeping with his character, and Mikkelsen plays him with an enigmatic propriety, broken with occasional humour, that I found very enjoyable. In the second episode, there's a tabloid expose with the headline, "It takes one to know one," which alleges that the FBI is using a psychopath (Graham) to understand and track other psychopaths: a nice bit of irony, capped by a shot of Lecter's unreadable face. I also doubt I'm alone in being more interested in a Hannibal Lecter-hosted lifestyle-porn show (interior design! suits! cooking!) than I am in watching the actual series.

As it is, I don't think I'll continue with Hannibal. Aside from Graham and Lecter, none of the characters have caught my interest or sympathy, and I'm too distracted by the empathy nonsense to want to follow Graham's arc. The plot set up around Hobbs, the 'Minnesota Shrike' from episode one, might be good, but the serial killer in the second episode was frankly so baroque in his methods as to be ridiculous.

Here, instead, are some gifsets of Hannibal Lecter cooking, drinking coffee, being in his beautiful home and wearing ties.

Edit, 24.11.2013: what if Hannibal told lame jokes instead of implying cannibalism? This gifset series is the best thing anyone has done with Hannibal and I love it.

(Apparently, writing grumpy crime-thriller reviews is what I do when I'm sick. Here are my thoughts on Heartsick by Chelsea Cain and Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.)