Hannibal: Pilot Review

Based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon (most widely known for the Silence of the Lambs film) Hannibal follows the FBIs behavioural analysis team hunting serial killers by working out what makes them tick. They’re assisted by Dr Hannibal Lector. It’s Criminal Minds, they’ve just recruited one of the psychopaths without knowing it. Not a great advert for their capabilities.

The title of this blog post is “pilot review”, but that’s really not true. I would ordinarily review the first episode of a show in complete isolation, not even looking at other reviews. But this time I just couldn’t do that, because I was so very confused by the first episode that I was ashamed to write the review. Having watched the pilot a second time, and watched the second episode, AND read some comments AND talked about it with some friends… I’m still confused about the episode, but have at least come to believe that it’s not just me being astronomically stupid.

The problem is that after all those viewings and conversations, I was still confused about who killed who, why, and how. In the first episode alone, by my count there are at least four crimes. The first we see is a home invasion which is being shown to students as part of Graham’s course, but unless I missed something he never actually finishes explaining who did it and why. The other crimes all have some sort of cannibalistic element, and it’s deduced that at least one of those is a copy cat. But, again, unless I missed something, they seemed to just forget about the original crimes once the copier was apprehended. And again, I’m a bit confused about the copier’s motives, and actually got even more confused when the second episode continued to investigate that crime. Oh, and was the apparent transfer of a pair of lungs supposed to indicate the copy cat was working with the original killer, or was that just a red herring? The more I watch and the more I type, the more confused I get.

The central character is Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, Black Hawk Down, King Arthur) and I’m equally confused about him. In the first episode he says he’s not an agent (implying he wouldn’t pass they psych evaluation, which seems a fair assessment), but then he carries a gun and wonders off by himself to interview a suspect (which ends predictably badly). In the second episode he says he is an agent, and a former police officer, which I really couldn’t see at all. I do like the character, and he’s certainly interesting and well played, but his back-story seems a bit all over the place.

Then we’ve got Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale, A Royal Affair). He pootles about with his odd accent, weird obsessions (even before getting into the secret ones), particular clothes, downright creepy demeaner and apparent ability to hide under the nose of the FBI’s wonder-profiler. Even without being a serial killer he is too extreme a character, like a caricature psychiatrist, continually asking “what do you think it means” rather than ever answering a straight question. He added absolutely nothing to the case he was supposedly consulting on and I fail to see why the FBI keep calling him in. Meanwhile Will Graham is equally wacky, with “extreme empathy” leaving him re-enacting events in his head and being about as stable as warm jelly. While the two of them together make for an interesting mental chess game, I’m at a loss as to why anyone trying to achieve anything practical would put them in the same room together and its unfathomable that anyone would let them out into the world unsupervised.

With those two extreme characters I was actually more interested in the normal FBI agent (Lawrence Fishburne, The Matrix, CSI) and profiler (Caroline Dhavernas, Wonderfalls) who at least seemed based on some kind of realistic idea but seemed in a completely different show to the others, not least because they sadly just didn’t share enough scenes. The second episode also featured a small gaggle of agents and CSI types, but I remain unclear about who is a full time character and who’s just background noise. The Criminal Minds trope of gathering the team for briefings in planes, conference rooms and police stations is a bit trite, but at least it lets you know who the characters are and that they form a team, there’s no such sense on Hannibal.

I found the show deeply unsettling, but for all the wrong reasons (ok the mushroom people in the second episode unsettled me for the right reasons, I’m pretty hardy, but that turned even my stomach). Because the story never settled on answers and never made anything clear, I was left completely at sea, nothing to latch onto and build mysteries from. Yet having gone to great lengths to explain to you why I didn’t particularly like the first two episodes, and why I wouldn’t recommend the series to you, I am still going to keep watching the series. I realise that completely undermines my point and I can give you no good reason for my continued viewing beyond ‘inertia’ and the fact that it’s only 13 episodes long. I guess we’ll see whether things become clearer.


3 thoughts on “Hannibal: Pilot Review

  1. Isn’t Hannibal the copycat, deliberately imitating the Shrike (Hobbs) but equally deliberaetly doing so without copying him exactly? (Mind you, I’m equally confused, so I’m probably wrong.)

    Four episodes in, I’m quite enjoying Hannibal. It plays the psychological horror more effectively than The Following, and I’m finding both the two leads and the supporting case rather engaging. Every scene that involves Hannibal eating with a guest – where as a viewer we know full well the meat isn’t actually rabbit or whatever he claims it to be – makes my skin crawl.

    I guess the test for the show is how long they can string out the story until Hannibal is discovered without making the FBI look incredibly dense (something The Following also suffered from). For the meantime, though, the pacing’s spot on – moving things along slowly, peeling back the onion of Will’s character, but without giving it all up too soon. Like.

  2. Pingback: Hannibal: Season 1 | Narrative Devices

  3. Pingback: Hannibal: Season 1 | Narrative Devices

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