When I first heard the rumor that my beloved character Dr. Hannibal Lecter was coming to the small screen via a TV series I was horrified and frightened. Not only was Sir Anthony Hopkins not playing the role he made infamous in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991 for which he won an Academy Award), HANNIBAL (2001) and THE RED DRAGON (2002) but the show was going to be based loosely on Thomas Harris novels. Anthony Hopkins, for better or worse, will always be Hannibal Lecter to a generation of film audiences. You can’t think of them as separate entities; similarly one can’t order Chianti without following that up with a comment referring to liver and fava beans. The duality is synonymous and ingrained in our psyche.
The TV Series does to its credit break down the third wall between the character and viewing audience. The story takes place long before his incarnation when he was still a practicing psychiatrist, functional in society, and serial killer. It may only be subtlety plausible here and there but you know what he’s up to without a word being said. The main focus here is his relationship with a young FBI criminal profiler, Will Graham. Graham’s talent (first introduced in the film MANHUNTER played then by William Peterson) is his ability to empathize with serial killers by recreating the horrific scenes of their murders in his mind. He becomes the killer, sees what they see, and feels what they feel, which brings an understanding to their nature and ultimately how to catch them.
So what was my trepidation with Lecter coming to the small screen? It wasn’t so much that it was now a television show. Networks have made incredible strides in the last decade when it comes to dramas; their grit, realness, and unblinking journey into the reality of the world we live in. It certainly isn’t all roses and walks along the beach. It had to do with the character treatment of Hannibal. Would he now be a caricature of himself? I’ve never thought of Lecter as the happy-go-lucky type. That notion was surely put to rest in the film HANNIBAL RISING which goes all the back to when Lecter was a young child and teenager. There is where the background of his need to kill began.
As it turns out, I had nothing to fear after all. HANNIBAL is nothing short of brilliant. What creator Bryan Fuller has managed to pull off is an inside look into the beginnings of a toxic relationship fueled with manipulation and cunning overtures. Mads Mikkelsen a Danish actor, portrays Hannibal with such a cool and calm demeanor that is unsettling and mesmerizing. He is stylish, sophisticated and nothing short of captivating. As familiar as I am with Lecter, watching Mikkelsen is a real kick. There are subtle nuances that can be picked up if you’re really paying attention. There are instances when you can pick up Lecter’s intellectual smugness. A slight smile emerges when it appears Graham may be on the right track of a killer. However never realizing the one he seeks is standing next to him. The greatness of this show is you know ‘what’ Hannibal is, a pure sociopath. Yet I revel in the knowledge of knowing he always has the upper hand, is ten steps ahead of everyone, and is more dangerous here than he’s ever been. You know he’s killing, you just can’t prove it and aren’t sure what the victim count it up to.
Hugh Dancy as Will Graham plays the torture of his gift perfectly. There is empathy I feel when watching him dissect a horrific crime scene. Just a short note, this show isn’t for kids. There is graphic violence that doesn’t pull any punches and is unwavering in its reality of the subject matter. My hats off to the special effects department and their amazing work. Dancy is at odds wondering at times if he can still continue his work without being damaged himself. This is where Lecter comes in as his psychiatrist/mentor. Lecter is part is helping young Will capture those he seeks.
Laurence Fishburne is Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn in The SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), the head of the Behavioral Science Dept of the FBI. Fishburne is a tough as nails, no-nonsense type of guy that is somewhat the ‘guru’. He oversees Graham and pushes his buttons like no one else. He may not know what makes Graham tick but he can make him do his bidding; he is a puppet master of sorts. There is no real soft side when it comes to Crawford. The only possible exception is his wife (Gina Torres – Fishburne’s real life wife) and an FBI trainee he lost (not Clarice Starling that’s a much later chapter) to a serial killer.
Let’s face it there are a dozen worthwhile television shows to watch every week. HANNIBAL is not to be missed. It is suave, sophisticated, calculated, and brilliant storytelling at its best. Hopefully the show will survive and surpass its sophomore season. There’s so many more Hannibal tales to tell.