The first season finale of NBC’s wonderful Hannibal is upon us and all I can say is that I’m incredibly grateful that we’re guaranteed another 13 episodes of this engrossing drama.
Let’s bitch it out…It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this column that I am in love with this show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drama on network television that is so eloquent, so understated and so well-produced. Every shot is clearly constructed, dripping with meaning and metaphor and the performances are to die for (I couldn’t help myself). Initially I was saddened that the show wasn’t finding a bigger audience, but this was mostly out of a selfish fear that I would lose out on future episodes because the show might be canceled. Thankfully international co-production financing (and critical pedigree) saved the show and ensured that showrunner Bryan Fuller was able to execute his vision.
With 13 episodes now under our belt, I can unequivocally guarantee that this series will end up on my Bitch Awards list for the best of the year’s television.
Early on I was worried that the series would follow the same structure (and fate) as another NBC show that aired Thursdays at 10pm, Jason Isaacs’ sublime Awake. That series, despite its greatness, struggled to maintain its narrative depth and complexity across its procedural episodes, which occasionally diminished its power. Hannibal – in its first three or four episodes – felt like it might go the same way: a possibly great series undone by a crime-of-the-week format. After watching ‘Savoureux’, however, it’s easy to overlook a few episodes that feel less valuable because so much of the first season does exactly what it needs to do.Consider how much of this episode calls back to Hannibal‘s amazing pilot, among other episodes (including the fishing lure from 1×04 ‘Oeuf’). It’s clear that a great deal of planning went into maneuvering our core cast into position for this finale. Did anyone predict that by the end of the season, it would be our protagonist Will (Hugh Dancy) who would be behind the plexiglass instead of Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen)? If I remember correctly, the majority of our conversations centered on how the show’s premise would fill a season, much less multiple seasons. How silly we must seem to showrunner Bryan Fuller now?
It’s been a difficult – and blood fueled – season for the mentally wounded Will Graham. There’s a beauty in Dancy’s weary performance, particularly in this last stretch of episodes as Will slowly unraveled, a pawn in a game played for someone else’s amusement. The delirious moment Will confronts Hannibal in the Hobbs kitchen is satisfying not only because Will has finally discovered the secret that we – as an omniscient audience – have been waiting for him to deduce, but because he calls Lecter out for using him for his own pleasures.
There’s a reason that we, and Will, are so interested in Lecter and that’s because he a completely different kind of monster. Unlike the other villains we uncovered this season, there’s a rationality and a precision to Hannibal. Even when he’s crying in grief during a session with Dr. Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) we have no idea whether it’s a performance or if it’s genuine…or, most terrifying of all, whether it’s both. He’s unlike any of the other villains Will has investigated – one who hides in plain sight.
I’m interested in reading the reaction to ‘Savoureux’. I have a feeling the episode will be celebrated among critics. Audiences may have more mixed reactions; I imagine some will have been expecting a more dramatic confrontation between the adversaries, or a more definitive resolution (the final exchange between the two men is coy so that it’s unclear what Will does and does not remember). For me, the episode ends the only way it can at this point in the series. The evidence was far too stacked against Will for him to escape unscathed, though he is eventually properly diagnosed, so that’s progress. And besides his mental imagery of Lecter’s face on the stag, Will has no evidence that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper so it’s unrealistic to expect Lecter to magically end up in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane by the end of the hour
I love the delicious irony of seeing the players on the wrong side of the bars in the final haunting scene. Hannibal has taken our expectations and inverted them, promising more cat and mouse games in its second season.
It’s just too bad we have to wait until 2014 to see the next chapter unfold.
- Special shout out to Laurence Fishburne, who in these last episodes, has been saddled with the role of the dupe. In order for this series to work we must believe that it would be difficult for others to see Lecter for who he is. Because we’ve been privy to all of the behind-the-scenes machinations, however, it makes it hard for us to believe. Fishburne has had the unenviable job of making this seem relatable and I think for the most part he’s succeeded, although it has come at the cost of his subplot with his wife (presumably to be continued in S2)
- Caroline Dhavernas certainly gets more to play with here – going through a gamut of reactions as she came to grips with the knowledge that Will is not only sicker than she thought, but possibly homicidal. I like that she and Jack differ in opinion. Despite her romantic connection to Will, she’s always been more emotive. I hope that we learn more about her outside of her proximity to the men on the show next season as she still feels defined by her interactions and feelings about Will, Jack and Lecter
- Poor Kacey Rohl. The actress has been an MVP on the series for the better part of the series and when I saw her name in the guest starring credits, my heart leapt. Unfortunately her only scenes are reconstructed flashbacks that aid Will to uncover the truth about Lecter. Aside from that her presence is only felt when we see a large bloody stain on the kitchen floor of the Hobbs house. RIP Abigail: you’ll likely be remembered in Freddie Lounds’ (an unseen Lara Jean Chorostecki) inevitable trashy tabloid bestseller (and as a delicious “veal” dinner for two)
- My favourite sequence of the episode involves two conversations between Will and Lecter: the first after Will calls Hannibal when he vomits up Abigail’s ear <gag> and the second when Will escapes custody for an impromptu session in Lecter’s office (Sidenote: very Gideon of you, Will!).
- The first is cut and framed in such a way that both men are seen in profile, the missing half complimented in the other. In this way, the two are visually mapped as alter egos (paging Dr. Freud). The visual is mirrored to some degree when Lecter and Jack sit on either side of Will’s bed, depicted like surrogate father figures
- The second is the dramatic restaging of the four Chesapeake Ripper murders. The scene is a masterful combination of make-up (the charcoal grey/black of the bodies and clothing made to resemble the stag) as the camera pans in circles and the two men seemingly jump from location to location absent time constraints. It’s a beautiful visualization of Will’s mental process as he pieces together the evidence
- Finally, no examination of the series would be complete without highlighting its integral use of sound. In the long downtime between seasons, go back through the episodes and pay attention to the sound design used to highlight Will’s mental static. The white noise hum and static are so understated, yet clear as day when you listen for them. So effective…
- Will (to Hetienne Park’s Bev, when she asks why he was at the FBI if he was ill): “I thought I would get better”
- Du Maurier (when asked if she’s seen Hannibal): “He didn’t make his appointment and he didn’t call, which he would consider rude.”
Your turn: what did you think of the season and, more specifically, the season finale? Did you want more action or were you satisfied with the quiet, deeply felt drama? Were you shocked by the role reversal of the final scene? Do you think Will remembers what Hannibal is? And what would you like to see in S2 (you can read Bryan Fuller’s thoughts here)? Sound off below
Hannibal has finished its first season on NBC. It will return in 2014