NBC finally decides to play with the big boys, premiering the high concept and visually rich Hannibal, pushing the boundaries of network television. Does the pilot episode prove that Hannibal can compete with its premium cable counterparts?
Let’s bitch it out.
There’s definitely been talk of the emergence of ‘deeply disturbing’ and ‘groundbreaking’ television over the past couple of months with shows like The Following and Bates Motel premiering, but I’ve been largely disappointed with how those shows have panned out. Not hearing too much about Hannibal beyond its concept of adapting the now iconic Thomas Harris characters to the small screen, my expectations were low. If ‘Apéritif’ is an indicator of how Hannibal the series will shape up, we can expect great things going forward (airing on NBC no less!). Hannibal is definitely something never before seen on network television, living up to the hype that the aforementioned shows, in my opinion, simply couldn’t do.
The opening sequence of the pilot episode is a thing a beauty. Our protagonist Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) reconstructs a murder by literally inhabiting the role of the murderer as he goes through the crime. We see the victims killed in stunning slow motion as the scene is bathed in warm yellow filters, beautifully offsetting the flashback from the here and now. The scene is not rushed, which allows the audience to uncomfortably inhabit the disturbing nature of the crime.
Accompanying the murder reconstruction is Graham’s leveled narration, which provides an additional layer of uneasiness. We’re meant to identify Graham as our hero, but when we literally see him enact the crimes, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly subscribe to him as the ‘good guy’.
It helps to know that Graham is meant to be “a bit off”, self-proclaiming that he falls somewhere along the autistic spectrum with a tinge of Asperger’s Syndrome. Dancy plays the role quite well, as he’s equal parts sympathetic as the profiler who clearly has undergone some traumatic event (which will no doubt come out later in the series) and terrifying whenever he inhabits the role of the killer(s).
We’re introduced to the titular Dr. Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen) as he’s brought in to help out on a case involving another cannibal who is abducting various young women. FBI Agent Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) brings both Graham and Lector onto the case and initially we’re meant to believe that Lector is the cannibal in question. As Graham starts piecing together the case throughout the episode, shots of Lector meticulously preparing various meals are intercut. The one sequence where he slices up what is presumed to be human lung as Graham narrates is particularly disturbing.
This makes it possible to believe that we’re in for a multi-episode arc of Lector outsmarting an increasingly ignorant FBI force (another trope we’ve seen ad nauseam). Thankfully Hannibal doesn’t fall into this trap, as Graham and the team solve this particular case at episode’s end.
But Hannibal is far from your run-of-the-mill procedural. I’m uncertain if we’re going to get a case-of-the-week with each passing episode, as that’s left ambiguous at the end of ‘Apéritif’. That being said, the pilot shows so much promise and complex character development that even if we were stuck with one case after another, I believe it would be a while before it got redundant and repetitive. There’s a definite thoughtfulness and tact exhibited in the visual construction of the show, in addition to tight writing and tremendous performances. A palpable tension runs throughout the episode that honestly hasn’t been seen anywhere else on network television.
Quite frankly I have no idea what direction Hannibal will take in its next few episodes and that’s definitely a delightful surprise, especially when talking about a network drama. Here’s looking forward to what’s ahead.
- The scene that Graham and Lector share in the motel room is incredibly effective. Visually it’s gorgeous as light and shadow very purposely punctuate the cat and mouse dialogue that goes on between them. Bonus points added since we, the audience, know that Lector is ‘bad news” but Graham is (apparently) clueless to this fact at this point. And how cringe-worthy is it when Graham wolfs down that breakfast sausage?
- The visual prowess of the show reminds me of the dearly departed Awake, also seen on NBC last season (in this very timeslot). Let’s hope Hannibal has a happier ending.
- There’s some serious acting talent in this cast, which definitely bolsters the overall quality of the series. I could do without the smarmy junior FBI agents (Hettienne Park & Aaron Abrams) but Dancy, Fishburne and Mikkelsen more than adequately carry the show.
- Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit weird to see Kids in the Hall alumnus Scott Thompson show up as an FBI agent?
What did you think viewers? Do you think Hannibal has legs? How quickly do you think Lector will be able to stay on the “good guy” side before being discovered? What’s with Graham and all of his stray dogs? Sound off in the comments section below.
Hannibal airs at 10pm EST, Thursdays on NBC.