Hannibal Delivers High-Stakes, Violent Thrill Ride

“’Hannibal the Cannibal.’
That’s what they’ll call him,” quips Frederick Chilton in the latest episode of
Bryan Fuller’s cult hit TV series, Hannibal.
Finally, someone said it.

Imagined as a prequel to Red
Dragon
by Thomas Harris (the first novel to feature Dr. Hannibal Lecter) and loosely
inspired by the sequels and films the book spawned, Hannibal
has big shoes to fill, but wears them well. This low-budget NBC show is perhaps
the most haunting, visually stunning, finely tuned show currently airing,
if not the outright best.

It’s certainly not all cannibal jokes and tomato roses.
Fuller, who created Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, has a way with death.
Some of Hannibal’s most striking
images are its intricate death tableaux: bodies sewn together in the shape of
an eye, grafted onto a tree, converted into a beehive. Fuller’s imagination
transforms the show’s body count into a work of art—fantastical, mesmerizing,
and terrifying all at the same time. Hannibal
is not for the faint of heart, but those with an inclination toward the macabre
will appreciate its creative violence.

This year, that violence is hitting closer to home. Whereas
the first season focused on a group of FBI agents and psychiatrists solving
murder cases, the show’s heroes are facing murder and its consequences
head-on in the current second season. No one is safe—not even the eponymous cannibal. A savvy audience knows
Dr. Lecter cannot be killed, but the show can still threaten his life for
dramatic effect. 

During his botched crucifixion, Hannibal owns his first real
moment of fear and vulnerability, a significant departure from his place at the
head of the table. Mads Mikkelsen plays both sides of the character with a
subtle energy that hints at the man behind the “person suit.” Hannibal Lecter
is one of pop culture’s most iconic villains, and Anthony Hopkins is a tough act
to follow, but Mikkelsen holds his own. 

Not yet the over-the-top “Hannibal the
Cannibal,” he is sly Dr. Lecter—the charming, intelligent psychiatrist and
gifted chef. He’s able to make nice with the FBI while staying two steps ahead
of their investigations, hiding his malevolent impulses behind layers of plaid
and paisley. But as the season progresses, we see more of his calculated
manipulation and brutality, his slaughter and seduction of key players. Hannibal reminds us that the captivating
artist is a killer, not an anti-hero.

The real hero of this story is Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the
empathic profiler now locked up in the Baltimore State Hospital for the
Criminally Insane for crimes committed by Hannibal Lecter, his former friend.
The first season of Hannibal depicted
Will’s descent into madness via re-imagined crime scenes, phantom ravenstags, and
melting clocks. But over the course of season two, Will aggressively
attempts to regain his lucidity as well as his freedom. He creates his own
vengeful design: to kill Hannibal Lecter. 

The irony that Will is most powerful
behind bars is darkly satisfying. A promo for tonight’s episode shows Will
leaving prison holding a gun to Hannibal’s head. After watching Will bend
and break under Hannibal’s influence, it’s thrilling to see him finally
saving himself.

The catalyst for Will’s breakthrough is Hannibal’s murder of
Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), a crime scene investigator who knew too much.
Skeptical, cerebral, and ultimately sympathetic, she became a valuable ally. But curiosity got the better of her, and she was found snooping through Hannibal’s basement in a chilling
cliffhanger.

Her death was scarring; we had come to know this character, to
root for her, only to have her brutally ripped from our grasp. Moreover, the departure
of a prominent female character (and a woman of color) tips the scales
uncomfortably in favor of Hannibal’s
leading white men. 

After the episode aired, Park posted an essay on WordPress titled “Racism, Sexism, and Hannibal: Eat the Rude.” She defended the move and
Fuller’s “open-minded, non-racist, pro-feminine writing and casting,” and
praised the character for evading both female and Asian stereotypes. But Beverly Katz’s departure as a well-written woman of color makes her departure that much harder to swallow. Television can’t afford to plant the seeds of such
progressive characters only to rip out the sprouts in order to “raise the
stakes.”

The stakes of Hannibal
can be quite high for viewers as well. The show’s stylized
violence can be downright terrifying—a head full of bees, gouged-out eyes, and
skin flayed into wings are to be seen through parted fingers—but it can also
get very real. 

Characters calmly contemplate the merits of suicide. Wrists are
slashed. Blood is prominent. Such a positive, aesthetic portrayal of violence
can be problematic, to say the least. Furthermore, when the generic “Viewer
Discretion Advised” is plastered onto every act of every episode, it’s hard to
foretell the difference between the triggering and the merely scary. 

Nevertheless, I wholly recommend Hannibal on the merit of its writing, acting, and cinematography.
Pretentious purple prose lifted from Harris’ novel is oddly effective, and
accentuates the show’s oversaturated Gothic atmosphere. The actors always hit
the right marks, from subtlety to hysteria to dark humor. Deep reds and
clinical blues flood carefully positioned scenes and the senses. The food is disturbingly
appetizing. Ultimately, it’s difficult not to get swept up in the elaborate
world of Hannibal

Taste the madness
Fridays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

Lea Bejtvoic PO ’15 is studying English. She is from Dallas, Texas. She misses sweet tea and Lost

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