There are many shows out there that you are aware of, but never pay any attention to until it becomes relevant. You discover those shows with no knowledge going into your watch of the series, and many times join a fanbase that has been begging for you to come aboard. Hannibal has become that recent show for me due to my recent interest in serial killers and shows about serial killers. I guess I shouldn’t say that they are a recent interest because I’ve always loved crime shows and true crime. I’ve watched Mindhunter and several other shows that fall in line with them, but my recent project has pushed me into diving deep into many shows that I haven’t watched yet. Hannibal being the first while writing my current project and recommended to me by Connor.
What do I know about Hannibal? Silence of the Lambs and the character Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character from a series of books. That is all I know about Hannibal, and (here comes the judging) I have never seen Silence of the Lambs or any of those Hannibal movies. You could say I went into this series essentially as dark and blind as you could go outside of just knowing the broad range of information about Hannibal. The biggest draw for me and this show though is Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal. I’m a huge fan of his work in films that I’ve seen like playing the villain in Casino Royale or his roles in Star Wars and Doctor Strange. This however, was a different beast entirely because he’s given 39 episodes to become a character and show his true acting ability.
I may be getting a bit ahead of myself as I dive into Mads and his performance. Let me turn back the clock a bit and go back to season 1, where it all began. Hannibal in the first season is presented as a typical crime procedural show with a beast of sorts at its core waiting to come out. Okay, I may ease back on the metaphors for my review. It was surprising to me to look back and see that season 1 came out 7 years ago. It does not look like a show that has aged past five years, but it is also a show that hints at and proves to be a series made before its time.
In season 1 it hides itself as a sort of procedural with many hints of a modern day streaming service crime drama like The Outside or True Detective. You can feel that creativity oozing out of each episode through the first season, but being held back due to it being on NBC and a creature too early for its own good. A series that had it came out today, would be regarded as one of the best shows on any of the streaming services, but is now scratching and clawing its way back to relevance in order to warrant itself a continuation. Should it continue though? Let’s talk about how we got here.
Season 1 is tight and good, but does suffer a bit from the procedural shell that it’s trying to break free from. We are introduced to our main core of characters, the only real important ones being Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). The rest of the cast is important don’t get me wrong, but the show thrives and survives on Will and Hannibal. Both roles played expertly by both Mads and Hugh. Hugh Dancy I feel is a bigger standout than Mads only because I’m not familiar with him outside of this show. I knew what to expect from Mads, so Hugh was the bigger surprise.
We get a fascinating dynamic between the two characters. Will Graham being somewhere on the spectrum between aspergers and autistic as he likes to put it. The one thing that does throw me off a bit about Will is this state that he goes into when he relives the crime scene through the eyes and motions of the killer. I understand the point of what his character can do, but the way it is presented makes it come off as a sort of superpower even though it’s not. It’s used for effect so that we can get a better sense of what went down at each scene, but takes a little getting used to.
As I said before, I knew nothing about the books or anything going into this show, so I didn’t know how everything was going to go down. A show can be very ballsy when deciding to tell us who the character is and have him so close to the cases. I think about Dexter which I haven’t seen yet, but I know the jist of. You have to play your cards incredibly well to pull off having the killer that close and telling us everything rather than have it be a mystery of figuring out who the killer is from our perspective as viewers. Rather it’s a contest of seeing if we can figure out how the characters are going to catch Hannibal with us knowing that he’s responsible.
It’s a very difficult balancing act that proves to be quite impressive as we begin to see events unfold in favor of Hannibal, against Will. It was unexpected where the story was going until you got later in the season, but once you understood the real game Hannibal was playing, you want to yell at the TV and all of the characters to stop being so stupid, and of course you feel bad for Will. Poor guy. Season one is what you expect and not what you expected, wrapped up in a shell with an animal inside trying to break free to show its true form. This metaphor could literally be used for many thoughts about this series and actually in the series too.
It sets up a cliffhanger that leaves you angry, but hooked into seeing what is going to happen next. The show finds its footing towards the end, but it isn’t until season two where the show really starts to take off. Keep in mind, yes, I am leaving out several key moments and am being very vague about the events out of courtesy for all of you who haven’t seen the show yet. It’s one of those that I much rather you experience without knowing anything other than the gist.
Season 2 picks up where season 1 left off and keeps you angry at all of the characters, but for good reason. Everything in this show has a point and that’s what makes it so exciting to watch. The season opens to something surprising and makes you want to cheer, but then you go back in time several weeks to experience how exactly we got to that moment of joy. Again, very ballsy to do and hard to pull off, but again they did it. The show starts to step away from the procedural feel and more towards that modern day streaming crime drama as they begin to have more free reign to do what they want.
This season as a whole I feel is the tightest and most complete from start to finish. There are many surprise twists that don’t feel forced and the plot is compelling enough to keep you guessing loyalties and intentions. Everything is up in the air until you get to the finale which makes it just that good.
The problem I find though is that I can’t tell if the show by the end of season 2 knows where it’s going. I understand that Bryan Fuller had a plan for seven seasons or something like that, but the show by the end of season 2 could have just ended there if they wanted to. It’s at that point and going into season 3 that I have a bit of a disconnect. Survivability for some of the characters at the end of season 2 is believable but up to a point. It’s hard for me to understand if I believe more that they live because they could or because they wanted to continue the story with the same characters into season 3. It’s not a huge issue, but it is something that I questioned quite a bit.
This all leads into season 3. The season that is hard to judge because it was made with what I assume is intention to make more seasons, but unfortunately didn’t get anymore. I knew that season 3 was the last and I had heard great things about it, so my expectations were high. We pick up some time after season 2 and just to put it bluntly, the first half of the season just isn’t that good or that interesting. It dragged out and seemed to move slow and took forever to get to a point that could have only taken half the amount of time. The season didn’t become interesting or as compelling until we get to the time jump and the introduction of the Red Dragon.
There is a huge gap in quality for me between the first half of the season and the second half. I almost wish they would have done what they did in the first half in tw episodes and gave us the rest of the season to enjoy more of the Red Dragon plot. It was fascinating as we got to see another serial killer, but also not lose what we’ve come to know and love and hate about Hannibal and his connection with Will. Their chemistry is as good as it’s ever been in the final season and finally brings everything to a head as we make it to the ending. An ending that serves as an ending, but not quite as closed as you think. Very similar to how season 2 ended.
This brings me to how I feel about the overall ending and how hard it is to judge this series on the ending we got when I know that there was still more story to tell. Did they know they were cancelled when they did the ending, or was it after? I don’t know that answer, so I can only judge it from what I saw and felt. The ending works well and makes sense and lives up to the connection and relationship that has been built between Hannibal and Will through all three seasons.
It’s finally an understanding between the two that is somewhere between romantic relationship and true twisted friendship. It was mentioned in the season that Will is a sort of wife to Hannibal and it feels very much so. They both have developed such feelings for each other and understanding of each other that it is very believable that they would develop into this sort of romantic relationship. It’s a revelation that I’m sure many wouldn’t agree with, but it all makes sense, the downfall is that because it was before its time and didn’t have another season to continue this, the show fails to really jump onto that thought rather than just imply it.
In the end, they still have each other. A yin and yang of two people who love and hate that they can’t live with each other and they can’t live without each other. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. Very relatable and understanding of each other with different philosophies but when it comes down to it they are connected no matter what. I said at the beginning of this review that I’m not ignoring the other important characters, but at its core this chow hinges on Will and Hannibal and that proves to be true up to the end of the finale. It’s a character chemistry built on the two actors who developed into one of the best duos to watch on screen for me.
Hannibal is a show that needs to be watched and needs to be understood. It’s a show that came out well before its time and unfortunately is part of its downfall. Had this show been introduced on Netflix or HBO or Hulu or whoever. It would have been a highly talked about and regarded show for its quality. It deserves to be found by new viewers and new fans to support how before its time it really was. Hannibal is excellent despite the few issues I did have with it. Even with the more artistic approach in season 3, it still makes up for the slow start to bring about a close to the series that works as an end, but makes you want more of these characters.
I hope that one day we get to a point where a revival is realistic and a possibility, but at the same time I’m satisfied with what i got to the point where a continuation may end up ruining what I love about the show and where it left me off in the end. It’s a show that will require more viewings to really take in everything it’s trying to tell or allude to in its imagery and metaphors.
This is simply a broad review of the series for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, but are curious about it. There is so much to talk about with this show and I intend on writing some editorials regarding many things about the series that I would love to delve deep into once I have more in depth conversations with Connor about how we both perceived different moments and concepts. Be on the lookout for more Hannibal content in the coming days or weeks as I continue to take it in and understand the series the more I sit on it.
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