Hannibal: Season 1 - 10 Reasons Why We Loved It
Feature by Rob Carnevale
THE first season of Hannibal drew to a memorable close on Sky Living on Tuesday night (July 30, 2013), so we’ve decided to look back over the first series and pick out 10 reasons why we absolutely loved it. Please be aware, however, there are spoilers contained within…
1) Subverting expectation – When Hannibal was first announced, few could have been expecting it to subvert expectation so spectacularly. Rather, most would probably confess to having expected a prequel that fed into the events we all know as Red Dragon, the first of the Thomas Harris novels upon which the characters of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham are based. Yet, as each episode began to unfold and Hannibal’s macabre grand plan started to become clear, the sense that this was going to deviate from the known path became increasingly pronounced (whilst also remaining reverential in a lot of other ways to the source material).
It was a brave move (and one that likely alienated some fans) but it also proved a masterful one. The final shot of season one, as a free Hannibal went to see a captive Graham (who stood accused of being a copycat serial killer because of the psychological mind games Hannibal had played upon him) was pure genius. And Hannibal’s half smile almost felt like a wink to the audience that it should be treated as such.
2) Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal – While it can’t have been easy to step out of the shadow cast by Anthony Hopkins’ vivid cinematic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter (most notably in The Silence of the Lambs), Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen did so with considerable style. His portrayal of Dr Lecter was a completely different beast and one that avoided anything too flashy or even reverential. Here was a character who quietly charmed… and even more quietly killed. His slow-building destruction of Will Graham was a masterful piece of psychological manipulation that was as brilliant as it was pure evil. Mikkelsen’s performance was meticulous, from his attire to his penchant for cooking. He was a strangely seductive presence throughout… yet completely hiss-worthy come the final two episodes.
3) Hugh Dancy as Will Graham – The British actor had previously been better known for his rom-com roles but surprised everyone with his intense portrayal of Will Graham here. At first, Will was a loner who was difficult to warm to, by virtue of his own inability to connect emotionally with people. By the first season finale, he had become a heartbreaking victim of Hannibal’s cruel manipulations… a tormented soul who had been skillfully framed by a formidable opponent he just hadn’t seen coming. A friend. Or rather a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dancy conveyed the character’s mental deterioration in utterly compelling fashion, cleverly becoming more human and endearing as his grip on reality loosened. He did eventually work out the truth, by which time it was too late to prevent Hannibal’s plan from coming together.
4) Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford – Always a masterful actor, Fishburne once again excelled as Jack Crawford, another of Hannibal’s unwitting pawns and a boss who was often blinded by his own arrogance. Crawford pushed Will Graham to his limits and beyond in a bid to save lives. Yet in doing so, he also delivered Hannibal his second ‘victim’, following in the footsteps of a rookie profiler he had sent many years before. Indeed, such was Hannibal’s hold over Crawford, that he never even realised he was eating some of Hannibal’s victims when being enticed over to dinner. And yet, for all of Crawford’s failure to recognise the true enemy before him, there remained a highly sympathetic individual – a man struggling to come to terms with his wife’s terminal diagnosis, whose own dogged pursuit of his career had saddled him with many of his own demons to conquer. His final scenes with Will Graham were evidence of a man struggling with his own guilt, forced to uphold the law-abiding principals he continued to hold dear. As ever, Fishburne made the portrayal of such complexity look effortless.
5) Bryan Fuller, Thomas Harris and fellow writers – Series creator Bryan Fuller and his writing team deserve maximum credit for the intelligence they have brought to this excellent series. Week in, week out, the scripts were of the highest calibre, brimming with intelligence as well as subtle plays on established Lecter conventions and those aforementioned subversions. Above all, though, the quality of the writing gave rise to some absolutely brilliant conversational exchanges… many of which had to be seen twice to be properly savoured. Scenes between Dancy and Mikkelsen often sparkled, as did those between Fishburne and Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson and Mikkelsen. It was sometimes a challenge to keep up. But the eventual revelations made the journey a privilege to be a part of.
6) David Slade, Guillermo Navarro and Michael Rymer – David Slade, who also served as an executive producer, deserves most of the credit for instilling Hannibal with such a distinct identity. Almost every episode possessed a macabre feel to it, like some piece of grotesque art masterpiece that disgusted as much as it impressed. Crime scenes were as wince-inducing as they were difficult to take your eyes off, while the imagery that accompanied Graham’s fractured state of mind was genuinely disturbing. The show as a whole had a unique feel… one that was often claustrophobic and unsettling, yet which was able to draw you into its psychological minefield.
7) Caroline Dhavernas as Dr Alana Bloom – A strong part of the Lecter package has always been the strength of its female characters. But while Clarice Starling has yet to feature (and may not), Caroline Dhavernas’s Dr Alana Bloom more than compensated. The show’s one genuinely everyman character, Bloom provided a possible love interest and a credible tower of support for Will Graham. Dhavernas portrayed her with a great deal of sensitivity and really came into her own during the final episode, as she attempted to stand by her man and act in his defence in a bid to overcome her own feelings of guilt in his mental deterioration. Could she yet be the key to Will’s salvation? Or does Lecter now have a grand plan for her to keep his secret intact?
8) Gillian Anderson as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier – The former X-Files luminary provided Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter with a suitably intelligent colleague upon which to sharpen his own focus and mental stability. The scenes between Anderson and Mikkelsen were among the most intriguing in the show… how much does Du Maurier know or suspect about Lecter’s psychotic tendencies (she identified a dangerous pattern in the final episode)? And who was her attacker, alluded to in the penultimate episode, who was obviously known to Lecter? Anderson imbued Du Maurier with an ice-cold exterior and often felt like she was also being played. And yet she could also hold her own too and may also have a part to play in any potential downfall of her ‘patient’.
9) Episode 7, Sorbet – One of the standout episodes from the first season was undoubtedly this corker, which pitted Lecter against the friend (Demore Barnes’s Tobias Budge) of another of his patients (Dan Fogler’s Franklin). If for nothing else, it exposed Lecter’s proficiency as a killer, able to think on his feet and outwit any and all forms of opponent, whilst providing further fascinating insight into his character and psychology. Furthermore, it never lost sight of the emotional complexity at play, as evidenced by the continuing storyline of Fishburne’s Crawford coming to terms with his wife’s cancer diagnosis and estrangement from him.
10) Episode 10, Savoureux – As season climaxes go, this had to rate as one of the best of any series. A race against time of sorts, this found Will Graham desperately trying to save his own skin by grappling with his sanity and attempting to pull together the pieces that would eventually lead him to Hannibal. It kept you utterly gripped throughout, while also setting up that terrific final scene. And it also did what every good cliffhanger should do… leave you waiting impatiently for the next season, if only to see where the story can go from here. This was an episode that had everything: emotional complexity, an ending you couldn’t see coming, excitement and enough to keep your mind buzzing for sometime afterwards. It was a stunning finale to a consistently brilliant series. Now roll on season two…