This amazing show wrapped up its first season with a phenomenal episode. I really can’t wait to see what the writers have planned for the next season. This may end up being one of the most memorable TV shows of the year for me – it will certainly rate very high if I do an end-of-the-year review.
The series is based on characters of the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. The main focus is a developing relationship between FBI special investigator Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal’s a psychiatrist and a serial killer, but that’s old news for anyone familiar with the movies about him. Even having foreknowledge about his character or future doesn’t spoil the series for you, as reviewers are quick to point out. I must confess that I’ve yet to see the movies or read the books, so I was going in with very few spoilers. Now I’m in a serious dilemma; should I watch the movies or not? I’m leaning more towards no – perhaps I’ll do once the series wraps up.
The photography and directing are superb. The series uses muted colours to set the mood; it’s all browns, dark blues and yellowish hues that give us a sort of depressed, haunted tone. It helps bring out the bright red of blood, the whiteness of skin. Even the buildings have their own muted colour palette that continues this trend. The music and sound effects enhance the experience as well, adding to the creepy, pumping up the fear and overall scare viewers to death in some choice moments. It’s not for the faint-hearted, that’s true. Despite the high body count (and graphic gory parts) it is far from a horror story. This is a pure thriller, a psychological drama of the finest calibre.
Acting itself is superb and that applies to the entire cast. The main stars stand out especially for their portrayals of these complex characters. They all have flaws and faults which is what Hannibal uses to manipulate them. He’s not your usual villain – he remains low-key, carefully hidden behind his masks. You may hate him with a passion, but you won’t be left unaffected by his calm control of every situation. The thing you can always expect of him is to use every surprising turn to his advantage. And despite the evil he does with this ability, you can’t but be a little awed by it. At the same time you’re angry that Will and FBI haven’t figured him out, but you can’t deny that he knows how to clean up, and clean up fast. What also drove me wild were the sequences where he prepares one of his famous dinners. Every time they show you some piece of meat you have this sick feeling in your gut that it could be human in origin. And at some point it most certainly is, if I’m not entirely mistaken in my human anatomy. Prepare for some serious shock factors. Yet despite the outrageous character, Mads Mikkelsen portrays this cannibalistic serial killer in an amazingly understated way. He’s certainly an actor I’m going to keep my eye on. (I liked him in The Royal Affair.)
The next actor that I very much adore is Hugh Dancy and his portrayal of Special Agent Will Graham. He’s got an amazing ability to slip inside the killers’ minds to recreate the motives and crimes themselves. The stunning camerawork here must be noted and the sequences themselves are pieces of art. I do wonder how much time it took to create them. It’s also uncanny how Will slips into the killers so that in the end it is he who kills the victim in his mind and recreated scene – grisly but fascinating. Hannibal calls this ability ‘pure empathy’ or something similar. There are some proper psychological terms thrown about, I just don’t remember them anymore. It is enough to know that while it helps immensely with catching killers, it is a destructive force for Will. He has problems dissociating from the killers once he slips into their personas, the result are constant nightmares, problems with forming relationships with other people, and being a bit awkward at first with strangers. He’s a great guy, good lecturer, but the work he’s asked to do is too much for his own psyche in the long run. That Hannibal is playing with him in the guise of his psychiatrist doesn’t help. But their relationships is like a train wreck waiting to happen – you can’t avert your eyes for a moment.
Then there is Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI, who’s using Will to catch killers with little regard to the man’s mental health. As long as things get done he’s happy, sort of. He has good instincts but a rather blunt way of going about proving them right. He loses points here for appearing too cold and driven. His life is centred on catching bad guys and he lets nothing block his way. What drove me mad was how he only looks at evidence but never at a person. He’s far less likable character than he normally would be in other shows (where driven, blunt and otherwise brilliant detectives shine) because we, as viewers, are firmly on Will’s side. He’s our star.
We also have some strong female characters which is no mean feat in a series with two main protagonists being male. We have Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), a psychiatry professor working as a consultant profiler. She’s a friend to Will and also a possible romantic interest, though she knows that moving beyond friendship is not what Will or she really need. She is a far better judge of character than we initially give her credit for, and I dearly hoped she would be able to help Will better than anyone. She’s not afraid of taking Jack to task for his abuse of Will. It is she who demands psychiatric counselling for Will so he could work in the field and yet remain psychologically whole. I also liked how she took care of Abigail Hobbs, the daughter of the killer that brought Will into the field in the first place. (Abigail develops a complicated relationship with Hannibal; he sort of becomes her new father figure, though Will offered himself as well. It’s complicated.)
Special Agent Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), a crime-scene investigator specializing in fiber analysis, is another strong, competent woman. I liked her, though she was always kind of wary of Will. She doesn’t appear that important at first, or she didn’t to me, but slowly we learn to appreciate her.
A really exasperating character is Freddie Lounds, a tabloid blogger running a true-crime website called TattleCrime. I hated this woman with a passion whenever she came on screen, truly. It’s the sociopath character of hers. She uses people without a shred of guilt, shame or any other emotion. If people die, lose jobs, or have their lives ruined in any other fashion, she doesn’t even blink an eye. She gets what she wants. She exposes all kinds of information (even in ongoing cases and investigations), pretends to be family or friend of the victim, photograph crime scenes, steal from people, dig into their past… if that gets her more readers. I believe she’s a great match for Hannibal and he’s quick to spot her sociopath nature to use for his own game. As I said – I hated her as soon as she revealed her true nature. She has guts, determination and a cat’s ability to land on her feet, but I’ll never like her. Her personality disgusts me too much. She is a competent woman though.
Then there is a very minor role of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier played by Gillian Anderson. She is so fascinating as Hannibal’s psychiatrist. You are unsure about her at first and how much she knows about him, but by the end of the season you are fairly convinced that there’s more to their relationship than what we’re given. Hannibal doesn’t look at her the same as he does at anyone else – he treats her as something of an equal. I wonder what this means for the next seasons.
The series is a must watch for any fan of thriller dramas, great acting and a suspenseful storylines. Be prepared for the gore and disturbing dream sequences. Not that reality is saner in this particular TV show.
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