Hannibal has ruined cooking shows for me.
Actually, ruined might be the wrong word. What the show has done is change my perspective on cooking programs. I used to like to zone out to shows with close-ups of a perfectly grilled steak, beautiful lamb curry, succulent pork chops, etc. But now whenever 30 Minute Meals is on all I can think is: “Well, that’s probably people she’s cooking.”
NBC’s newest drama takes place in the time before Hannibal Lecter was found out, before he was branded as a serial killer and a cannibal. He’s still known as a talented cook and host of lavish dinner parties. And while the focus of the show is not on Hannibal’s cooking skills (don’t tell Tumblr), the cinematography is so well done and striking that Hannibal’s people-dishes make my mouth water.
The food isn’t the only thing that’s beautiful about this show, though. Hannibal could very well have been a simple re-hashing of Silence of the Lambs, but it isn’t. This is a show that is well aware of all of its parts, all of its implications, and is working very hard to make them all surprising and new.
Which makes sense, because the man running the show is Bryan Fuller. Fuller was behind Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, two shows that have cult followings and for good reason: they both have dynamic characters, really interesting premises, and great camera work. Unfortunately, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies also have something else in common—premature cancellation.
But fear not Hannibal fans, for us that awful fate has been postponed. Hannibal was recently picked up for a second season.
At the heart of the show is Will Graham, a criminal profiler able to see murders from the murderer’s perspective. Will (Hugh Dancy) is recruited by Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to help the FBI catch otherwise elusive serial killers. Mads Mikkelsen plays the titular Hannibal, acting as Will’s psychiatrist and as an FBI consultant on the grisly crimes. The cast is rounded out by Will’s colleague and friend Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), a trio of forensic experts (played by Hettienne Park, Scott Thompson, and Aaron Abrams), and tabloid reporter Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki).
Hannibal follows a murder-of-the-week format, pitting Will and the rest of the FBI team against a series of gruesome serial killers. The ingenuity of these weekly serial murders makes me worry for the sanity of the writing staff. My favorite crimes so far include: sinners made into angels by carving wings from their backs while they are still alive; mushroom farming using sugared-up corpses as fertilizer; a corpse totem pole; and, most recently, a retelling of the monster-under-your-bed horror story.
However, there’s more to this show than just procedural crime drama. Underneath this murder-of-the-week structure is a game being played by Lecter that only the audience can see. He hosts a dinner party and we are the only ones aware of what his guests are eating; he helps Crawford solve a murder, while committing more; he offers friendship to Will and at the same time he undermine’s his new friend’s mental health. He’s supportive and genuine when he needs to be, ruthless and chilling otherwise.
There is enough in his interactions with Crawford and Bloom, the latter of which considers him an old friend, to suggest Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal—while at the same time making the character something altogether different. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is so nuanced that he can, at times, convince us he’s the good guy.
The symbolism in Will’s hallucinations, the careful research into psychological conditions, the revelation and obscuring of character—these are all details created for the audience to interact with, and they create a layered experience that spills over into discussion and debate.
The writers know we know who Hannibal is; they want us to both rely on that knowledge and to throw it out the window. And while the show is accessible and enjoyable to those who aren’t familiar with Silence of the Lambs and the other movies and books, there are more layers revealed to those that are, mostly because the show often subverts or reverses the events that we think we can expect.
Hannibal is a show that doesn’t talk down to its audience, and it maintains that we are a part of the storytelling. The great thing about Hannibal is not that it makes us ask when the good doctor will be revealed, but if we actually want him to be caught.
Hannibal airs Thursday nights (tonight!) at 10pm on NBC.