Hannibal, Season 1, Episode 1: “ Apéritif”
Directed by David Slade
Written by Bryan Fuller
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC
How many TV shows about serial killers can networks create before audiences grow tired of the genre? Earlier this year, we welcomed FOX’s The Following and A&E’s Bates Motel to the already crowded TV lineup that already includes Dexter and Luther, to name a few. Doctor Hannibal Lecter was first introduced in the 1981 novel Red Dragon followed by The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Red Dragon has been adapted twice to the big screen, the first was Manhunter, which features Brian Cox as “Lecktor,” and later in 1991, Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the character in The Silence of the Lambs. He would reprise the role in Hannibal in 2001 and in a second adaptation of Red Dragon made in 2002. With two of the greatest movie villains now transported to the television lansscape (the first being Norman Bates), one has to wonder if there is anything new to say about such beloved movie monsters we already know all too well? A couple of decades after the release of Silence of the Lambs, but only a few years after Hannibal Rising, series creator Bryan Fuller takes a stab at telling his own story about the renowned psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. Is it a bold new experiment in television or a just another quick cash grab? NBC’s Hannibal introduces the series with a rather promising episode titled “Apéritif,” and quite possibly the best pilot NBC has premiered in a very, very long time. Truth be told, Hannibal is downright terrific and in the recent wave of serial killer dramas, it promises to be the very best.
Hannibal is actually better described as a procedural; wisely moving away from the “new villain of the week” trap, it instead begins where most procedurals end, and explores the psychological underbelly of the monster at hand. Fuller wisely keeps his focus on the two characters at the centre of the series as we follow the early relationship between the Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and a young FBI criminal profiler named Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who is haunted by his capacity to empathize with the emotions of the serial killers he hunts down. Hannibal focuses on the forensic work carried out by the FBI to track down the killer and shows the long-term effects that cases like this have on Graham, highlighting the similarities between him and his chase. So on the most basic level, Hannibal is a crime procedural – but unlike anything you’ve seen on television – blending the horror and detective genres to emotionally shocking effect. Whereas The Following is plagued with a facile, nihilistic plot, Hannibal digs deep within the minds of both Hector and Graham, attempting to understand what makes them both click. The show’s principle attraction stems not from the thrill of the hunt, but from the mesmerizing skull sessions between the two disciples of psychology. The best scenes, of which there are many, involve nothing more than two men psychoanalyzing one another. This new venture into this character’s psyche is sharp and daunting, and the relationship presented between the two is more than reason to keep watching. Through well-thought out writing, clever storytelling devices, and a solid cast, Hannibal is jammed with moments of dread and high velocity acting.
Despite the title, Hannibal Lecter is actually a supporting player. In fact, Hannibal himself doesn’t appear until the half-way mark. Unlike Bates Motel, Hannibal is really about Will Graham and showrunner Byran Fuller slightly makes changes to his protagonist from that of the original source material. Here Graham keeps company with stray dogs he rescues form the streets and lives alone. He’s a social outcast and it’s clear that he is haunted by traumatic events from his past, not to mention his uncanny gift to reconstruct the killings he’s trying to solve. Feeding on emotions such as fear, anger and frustration, Graham is an emotional sponge, hyper-attuned to others, especially those suffering with similar pain – his empathy seems drawn in by hot-button issues that are unresolved within himself.
Right from the opening frames, we’re transported into the visceral viewpoint of Dancy’s Will Graham as he pieces together a crime scene in a gripping manner. Taking on the role of the killer himself, we watch Graham brutally commit the acts of violence. The perverse and straitjacket structure of the sequences does not hold back as the crimes occur and reoccur in his point-of-mind with operatic refinement and bloody savagery. Dancy is something of a revelation as this version of Graham ultimately defies classification. The show spends so much time in Will’s point-of-view the the actor is required to express his emotions, mostly without words, and his enthralling portrayal of Detective Graham is always riveting. Meanwhile Mikkelsen’s performance as Lecter is is far less interesting and charismatic than Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox. His Lecter is arrogant and smug and lacking the genuine creepiness of the previous two. However it is still a little too early to judge, and I assume that with time, he will grow to become the show’s bravura showpiece.
The pilot which is directed by David Slade (30 Days of Night), and shot by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), is a visual treat that impresses as a skillfully assembled and highly polished adaptation. Slade creates a brooding atmosphere while avoiding flashy cuts and builds most of the tension settling on silence and tightly constructed sound design over a soundtrack and score. Hannibal is a beautifully executed television show anchored by several great performances, a tight script and a few callbacks to classic horror films of the past. Notice the episode’s highlight; a confrontation between Graham and Crawford which takes place in a red bathroom, is clearly a nod to The Shining.
– Ricky D