In both character and content, ‘Hannibal’ Season One excites with charisma and intellect

By Casey Campbell

Season one of NBC’s crime thriller Hannibal aired back in 2013, and I’ve been hearing great things since. After three years on TV, the Bryan Fuller created series was cancelled, despite critical praise and high ratings. Speculation cited the inability to include Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling character from The Silence of the Lambs in season four as a reason to conclude the series, or the immense amount of viewers watching illegally. With the knowledge of a short run, critical and commercial love, and a beloved character portrayed over a longer form medium, I began the series with excitement, and have ended the first season not only satisfied, but completely enamored.

The character of Hannibal Lecter has gone through changes over the years, many to the disdain of fans. The character was created by Thomas Harris in his novels. Though initially brought to the screen in Michael Mann’s 1986 Manhunter, and played by Brian Cox, Hannibal Lecter (spelled Leckter in Manhunter) became a household name after Jonathan Demme’s 1991 The Silence of the Lambs. Lambs saw Anthony Hopkins taking over the role of Lecter, an incarcerated serial killer who cannibalized his victims. This was the best of the film adaptations, due mainly to Hopkins’ portrayal of the brilliant cannibal. What followed were lackluster prequels and a sequel. The only consistent element in the following films were Hopkins’ great character, as sinister and manipulative yet charismatic and intelligent. Given the last three films in the franchise ranged from mediocre to downright bad, it is understandable fans of the character were afraid of the prospect of a series. Bryan Fuller is a great show-runner, especially for this series, because he clearly cared enough to get the character right and sought out an equally terrific actor to fill the shoes of Hopkins’ legendary cannibal.

Mads Mikkelsen plays Hannibal in the show. Here, Hannibal Lecter is an accomplished psychiatrist with a history in surgery and a knack for artisanal cooking. Mikkelsen is an actor whose career I have seen flourish from his work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy and Valhalla Rising, Casino Royale, The Hunt, and recently Doctor Strange. That is some range, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of his career.

In the show, he plays the character through his eyes, much like his predecessor. Never one for extravagant shows of emotion, Lecter tells you what you need to know from what he doesn’t say. A sideways glance or a squint help translate his inner workings. As a psychiatrist, Dr. Lecter is terrifying. He leaves little bread crumbs in the psyche of his patients, leading one to have a full psychiatric break throughout the season. As a character, he is infinitely interesting to watch; he can be charismatic and smooth in one instance, and then brutal and cold-blooded the next.

Hannibal plays second fiddle to the lead of the series, Will Graham. Graham is first introduced as an eccentric police academy professor who can put himself into the shoes of serial killers, at the scene of the crime. He does so by empathizing with the killers, and understanding how they tick. (What could possibly go wrong?) Played with dedication and intricacy by Hugh Dancy, Graham is fascinating to watch, especially as the series progresses. Though, in the name of spoilers, I will say no more. 

The season begins with Graham being requested by Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne), the head of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, to look into a case. While the case is mostly dealt with in the first episode, it lingers in Graham’s mind until the season finale. The structure of the show surprised me. It takes on a “case of the week” style, while continuing the conflict brought on by the season premier. I’m glad it was serialized yet brought new interesting conflict each episode in the form of crazy crime scenes. Each case adds to the characters of Lecter and Graham, though Graham in particular, as the havoc begins to whittle away at his mental state.

The series takes place in the Maryland area, which requires the viewers to suspend their disbelief at the vast amount of crazy murders taking place in one small area. Though, this is the same universe in which a cannibal is named Hannibal, so in the name of entertainment, I can look past my admitted nitpick.

Overall, the series is fantastically entertaining and if this first season is any indication, the show will continue to be great. The supporting cast are fun, and can even lend some comic relief in the darker episodes. The story is crafted well, and the characters are conniving enough to make even their most outlandish actions believable. The thirteen episodes flowed together and I was always excited to see more.

Score: A

Buy here: Hannibal: The Complete Series Collection Season 1-3 [Blu-ray + Digital HD]

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