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Hannibal, Ep.1.08: “Fromage” inches the series closer to becoming a small-screen masterpiece

Hannibal, Ep.1.08: “Fromage” inches the series closer to becoming a small-screen masterpiece


Hannibal, Season 1, Episode 8: “Fromage”
Directed by Tim Hunter
Written by Jennifer Schuur and Bryan Fuller
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC

Breaking Bad; Boardwalk Empire; Mad Men, Justified; Sons Of Anarchy; Louie; Girls; Shameless, The Americans; Game of Thrones; The number of new quality TV series keeps growing, and we can now add Hannibal to that list.

Over the past 30 years, television has undergone vast improvement. The wave of high-quality niche series may have started as early as the 1980s with Miami Vice, and later with the success of Twin Peaks in the 90’s, but it was only recently that several of these intelligent niche productions have been leading the pack with the highest ratings. Back in the days, a network’s goal was to equally please as many viewers as possible. Now the aim is to please relatively fewer viewers but keep them coming back each and every week. So why is it that almost nobody seems to be watching Hannibal, which is arguably the best series currently airing on network television?

NBC doesn’t do well when compared to other networks, but Hannibal did have a decent start, even finding a large increase in viewers with its second episode. Then, it fell apart. Ratings dropped dramaticaly by the third episode, and after the fourth episode aired, Hannibal was down by 40 percent.

Could it be that there are simply too many genre shows to watch at the moment? Or is it a lack of publicity? Certainly the graphic images aren’t helping Hannibal, and so those with weak stomachs, or the deeply religious, may be turned off – but the violence in Hannibal is nowhere near as grotesque as The Walking Dead, AMC’s hit series which pulls in an average of 12 million viewers a week. So is Hannibal deeply misunderstood; or ahead of its time;  or maybe far too patient for the average American? Perhaps it doesn’t have enough gore? Whatever the case, its chances are probably about 50-50 now, and its fate may ultimately depend on what new shows NBC could possibly replace it with. Let’s keep our fingers crossed because this show only gets better each and every week, and with plans to bring David Bowie onboard for season two, Hannibal is turning out to be a small-screen masterpiece.

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Last week’s “Sorbet” (arguably the best installment in the season yet), was written by Bryan Fuller. Its usually a good sign when you notice the show-runner is credited as co-writer on an episode, as they usually deliver the best results. In episode 8, titled “Fromage,” (continuing the season long theme of French cuisine), Fuller once again holds that credit, and while “Fromage” isn’t quite as good as “Sorbet,” the episode’s take on violence is once again operatic. We’ve seen plenty of creative and artful ways to murder someone in only eight episodes, but “Fromage” might just offer the most elegant murder yet; in which the killer exposes the victim’s vocal cords to literally play them like a cello. Thomas Harris’ books walk a fine line between crime thriller and horror, so in order to be true to that genre, audiences should expect a certain amount of graphic content to honour the source material; But this might be the first time gut strings are ever used as a murder weapon on television.

In order to prepare catgut, the intestines are cleaned, freed from fat, and steeped in water. There is a moment in the episode in which a pupil of Tobias (Demore Barnes) asks if the strings on the instruments are always made of catgut. Tobias replies, “not always”, leading one to assume his are made of human parts. Like Lecter, Tobias is a psychopath, and has been killing for his own personal satisfaction; and like Lecter, Tobias also enjoys the finer things in life: He’s a music aficionado, and he uses murder to amplify his craft. Instead of cuisine, Tobias likes to use human organs to make strings for woodwind instruments. Lecter takes his victim’s organs because he feels they don’t deserve them. Tobias contemplates killing a musician because he believes he does not possess the talent to succeed, thus not worthy of the instrument at hand. And so he kills a member of the symphony in a most callous and artistic fashion. Psychopaths and sociopaths are the arguably same. They both lack emotional empathy, and are chronic liars and manipulators. Tobias and Hannibal may differ, but only in the extent of their carelessness.

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It doesn’t take too long for the two killers to put aside their coquetry and get down to the nitty-gritty. “It Seems we are both comfortable playing between conventional notes,” says Hannibal and later Tobias confesses he’s been following Lecter around, and knows his secret. He’s even witnessed the killing of the medical examiner at the hands of Lecter, and hopes Hannibal will become his confidant. “I could use a friend, someone who can understand me,” Tobias says. But Lecter views him as someone who is not worthy of his friendship, a decision he made long before he invited the performer over for dinner. And while his soirée is interrupted by an unexpected guest, the doctor does find value in his encounter with Tobias. While Franklin and Tobias desperately reach out for a friendship with Hannibal, Lecter himself as been doing the same with his psychiatrist Dr. du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). Lecter tells her that he doesn’t want to get close to someone similar to him, but rather someone who can understand his worldview. Friendship, Dr. Du Maurier explains, takes a certain degree of trust, and Hannibal can not trust Tobias. She further points out, Lecter has built so many walls, he’s made it difficult for anyone to become his friend. And for the first time in his life, he realizes (or at least accepts), that it is Will whom he wants. Their sessions also provide some interesting backstory: du Maurier was once was attacked by an obsessive patient who ended up dead. The attack clearly shattered her trust and comfort as a psychologist, explaining her early retirement. The Gillian Anderson-Mikkelsen scenes are a treat to watch and leave many speculating. Why would she choose to only see Lecter as a patient? Is du Maurier also a sociopath, and if not, does she know that Hannibal is?

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Will is having some important revelations this week. Garrett Jacob Hobbs continues to haunt Will while appearing in his profiling visions. This week Will imagines himself playing a violin, just as the killer of the symphony’s trombonist had done.When the walls of reality begin to disintegrate, Hobbs is found seated in the middle row applauding his performance. Speaking of which, the reenactment of the crime this week was stellar. The diabolic sound design constructed in Wills imagination was superbly crafted; as was the use, or lack of, sound in Will’s gunshot encounter with Tobias. The climax of the episode dealing with the violence was masterfully executed and eliminating the audio when the action reached it’s peak was a nice touch. Tobias being killed by Hannibal not only helped elevate the suspense but served as an important reminder of how physically threatening Hannibal can be. While it was a bit of a stretch to watch Tobias twirl his catgut chords like nunchucks, the sequence was at least well choreographed.


There was no buck featured in Will’s dreams this week, but the majority of the episode’s running time, sees Will dealing with his mental health in other ways. Will imagines the cries of distressed animals and although he convinces Jack he’s dealing with it (by taking medication), Will’s audible hallucinations keep escalating, and even interfering in his work. In a twist of fate, hearing the cries of a dog out in the street may have saved his life, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the two officers on duty.

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Fortunately, Will’s gradual breakdown is providing him with some alone time with Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas). Ignoring her own psychiatric advice, Bloom finds herself locked in a long kiss with Graham who earlier refers to himself as “too broken to date”. Nevertheless, the obvious tension between the two heats up and although their budding romance remains on hold, their attraction seems so strong that we can only hope to see more of it in the near future.

– Ricky D

Extended thoughts:

A colleague pointed out that the show has started to include the Silence Of The Lambs font and style during the opening credits.

Tobias: “You compose?”

Hannibal: “I discover.”

Hannibal: “I wouldn’t poison you, Tobias.  I wouldn’t do that to the food.”

Usually when watching Hannibal, I lose my appetite. “Fromage” did just the opposite. Did anyone else find themselves craving dessert?

I always have a glass of wine with each episode.