NBC’s new series “Hannibal” made its series premiere last night in the dreaded 10PM timeslot. The series, which stars Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson, is something new for NBC, that’s for sure. The show almost feels like it couldn’t be on basic cable, it’s that intense (in more ways than one). Looking at its ratings, “Hannibal” did much better than many were expecting. It managed to wrangle 4.3 million viewers, and came in third for the timeslot behind ABC’s “Scandal” and CBS’s “Elementary”. All things considered, it did well, but hopefully its numbers will rise in the coming weeks.
The following is my first recap of the show, complete with spoilers, so be warned!
We begin with Will Graham, the Hugh Dany character, essentially re-living a home invasion/murder that he, we can infer, helped to solve. Graham is re-living the incident from the point of view of the killer, in fact. As it turns out he’s actually lecturing at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and we are seeing exactly what’s going on in his head. It’s bloody, it’s gruesome, and it makes for gripping television.
At the end of the lecture, one Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) invites Will to help him on a serial abduction investigation. Right off the bat, their interaction is intriguing. Crawford asks Will where on the spectrum he falls, and of course this is referring to the Autism spectrum. In interviews prior to the airing of the show, its creator Bryan Fuller explained prepared us for this. He said that he interpreted the character of Will Graham as being autistic based on the TV show’s source material (the novels by Thomas Harris), and explained that it featured heavily in the way he chose to have him portrayed. Even without the “spectrum” interchange (which was a bit too on the nose, in my opinion) it is clear to viewers that this character is potentially autistic, given his combined genius and lack of social skills.
The case that Crawford wants help with involves the disappearances of eight young women, all with similar features and of around the same age. Will looks at this case in a completely different way from Crawford – when the latter rhetorically asked what it was about all of these women that attracted the killer, Will says “It’s not about all of these girls, it’s just about one of them.”
They travel to Duluth, Minnesota, to investigate the most recent victim, a girl named Elise. Will’s is able to determine that the girl was taken from her parents’ house, not her apartment, just because of the parents’ cat. Will Graham seems to have a very specific type of genius going for him, and it’s very reminiscent of Dr. House, in many ways – particularly his ability to extrapolate very precise facts from very seemingly-insignificant elements. Although, as previewed earlier, his particular “detective” style includes imagining himself as the murderer. He starts to do this in Elise’s bedroom in her parents’ house – after they find that the murderer has returned her body - when he’s interrupted by a detective. The detective says that she found antler velvet in two of the wounds on the girl’s body, from which Will is once again able to make a seemingly impossible deduction, namely that the girl was put back as a form of apology from the killer.
The story then cuts to Will driving in Wolf Trap, Virginia. He sees a dog on the side of the road and sort of “persuades” it to get in his car. He brings it home, washes it, blowdries it, names it, and introduces it to everybody. “Everybody”, as it turns out, is four or five other dogs (perhaps other ones he’s rescued). In bed that night he has a horrible fever dream about Elise’s body, before waking up sweating and terrified.
As it turns out, Will is distraught because this killer is unlike any he’s studied in the past. He says to Crawford “I don’t know this kind of psychopath. I’ve never read about him. I don’t even know if he is a psychopath. He’s not insensitive. He’s not shallow.” It’s clear that Will is freaking out about it, but Agent Crawford refuses to back down. He wants Will to tell him everything he knows about the guy, because clearly he understands something if he was able to make that leap about the killer being apologetic. As it turns out, he does.
Meanwhile, the forensic detective finds a piece of metal on Elise’s clothing that she died in. The shot then changes to a construction site, where the same pieces of metal are being produced and discarded through drilling. A car rolls up and a girl matching the profile of the victims gets out, waving at one of the workers. Creepy? Yes, very. We’re instantly scared for her, as viewers.
Next we go to Elise’s autopsy. Forensically there is nothing to go on, except the scrap of metal, but Will is watching and has an epiphany. The through and through wounds? The velvet? The girl was mounted on the antlers, like hooks. Thus far the pilot hasn’t seemed to have anything to do with the Hannibal we know, but this is where that changes. Further in the autopsy it is revealed that Elise’s liver was removed and then sewn back in. Why? Will’s already on top of it – “There’s something wrong with the meat,” he says. One of the forensic detectives confirms that, yes, she had liver cancer, but looks confused as to why that matters. Again, Will knows: “He’s, um…he’s eating them.” Yes, now this sounds like the Hannibal Lecter we’re used to, the one who eats people’s livers “with fava beans and a nice chianti.”
Next we pan over to a dark but ornate room, with Bach playing in the background. A man is eating a decoratively cooked dinner, complete with…well, we’re supposed to assume it’s a human liver. This is clearly Hannibal Lecter we’re seeing. He says nothing, does nothing but chew his food, and we have chills. Mads Mikkelson immediately and completely embodies the character of Hannibal Lecter, without saying a word.
The next scene begins with a man reaching forward and sobbing, saying “Please!” For a moment viewer thinks this might be Hannibal’s next victim, but we’re wrong. It’s one of his patients, and he’s asking for a tissue. After all, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a psychologist. The very first thing he says is “If you weren’t neurotic…you would be something much worse.” We can’t help but think about how the man himself, all cool and composed, is absolutely one of those “much worse” possibilities. We can’t quite put our finger on what it is about him that immediately creeps us out, but we feel it. He’s neat, clean-cut, and completely dead behind the eyes. This is not Anthony Hopkins, either. Mikkelson invents a new kind of Dr. Lecter, more closely resembling that of Harris’ books.
Agent Crawford has come to talk to Dr. Lecter. As it turns out one Alana Bloom, of the psychology department at Georgetown University, referred him to Crawford. He needs Dr. Lecter’s help building a profile for the killer at large. An officer of Duluth PD took a picture of Elise’s body and it ended up on the internet. Now dozens of people are coming forth, claiming responsibility for it. This is where Will Graham and Dr. Lecter interact for the first time. Immediately it’s like a switch goes on. Lecter is intrigued by Graham, and Graham feels violated by his immediate deep analysis of his person. Nonetheless, he is also intrigued. Lecter says to Crawford, after Will leaves, that he believes he will be able to help Will “see the face” of this killer.
Another murder victim is found, this time in a field. The way the girl is laid out resembles Elise’s body. The head of a stag was also found, not too far from the body, although the antlers are still embedded in her body. One of the forensic detectives tells Graham that the girl’s lungs had been cut out, probably while she was still alive. He treated her like a “pig”.
Cut to Dr. Lecter in his dark kitchen, placing something on a cutting board. The camera is behind him, but we don’t need to see in order to guess what it is. It’s a pair of lungs. Back to Will: he knows that this is a copycat killer. There’s none of the “love” that was involved in Elise’s murder, and because this one took place in a field it’s clear that the real killer had a place to do it. Will suggest maybe the man has a hunting lodge or some other secondary dwelling with an antler room. He’s somehow further able to extrapolate that the killer has a daughter, his only child, who matches the victim profile. She is about to leave home, maybe for college, and her father can’t stand the thought of losing her.
But what about the copycat? Well, “you know, an intelligent psychopath, particularly a sadist, is very hard to catch. There’s no traceable motives, there’ll be no patterns. He may never kill this way again.” Cut back to Hannibal, enjoying his dinner, with a smugly contented look on his face. Suddenly it’s very clear that, yes, Dr. Lecter was able to help Will see the face of the killer. He just took an extremely, shall we say, alternative route to do it.
The next morning Dr. Lecter shows up at Will’s house to begin the day working together. He brings his own breakfast with him, saying that he’s very particular about what he puts into his body. Over breakfast Will says “I don’t find you that interesting,” to which Hannibal replies “You will.” Yeah, it’s pretty creepy. Lecter goes on to ask Will what it was about the girl in the field that gave away the fact that it was a copycat. The whole conversation is eerie to us as viewers because we know what Hannibal is doing – he’s picking Will’s brain, seeing how it works, figuring out what he can do that won’t send up red flags. He’s intrigued by Will, fascinated by him. Together they go to a construction contractor for the Duluth area to see if they can find anything “peculiar”. They come across one Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Will decides he’s worth looking into, and while he packs some files into his car (which takes a while, as Hannbal accidentally-on-purpose knocked some of them to the ground outside) Dr. Lecter calls Hobbs. He simply tells him “they know”. This spurs Hobbs into action, so that by the time the two get to his house he’s already killed his wife. He is about to kill his daughter when Will barges inside, only nicking her neck. While Will frantically tries to stop the bleeding, Hannibal looks on, emotionless.
In the end he offers his help, but it’s beyond clear that he set this up. He knew that he would set Hobbs off, and he knew that Will would get in the middle of it, and he wanted to see what would happen. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is officially the sociopath we expect him to be. He’s subtle, he’s sneaky, and he scares the living daylights out of us without hardly doing a thing. I look forward to seeing what this series has in store for us. Based on this pilot it could be one of the most gripping new dramas of the last five years.
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