Monday, 2 October 2017

October Nightmares III #2: Hannibal (2013 - 2015) - Bitten Off More Than it Can Chew?

There are three things in life guaranteed to make weird people froth with the obsessive madness of King Canute trying to hold back the tides. Cats, food porn, and serial killers. No doubt you get people 'totally obsessed' with other interests, but I usually find it's these three things which attract the biggest (and loudest) weirdos. Hannibal, a psychological-thriller horror series, has two of those three things (I'll let you guess which). And yes, this cult TV series attracts a weirdly rabid fanbase.

Hannibal is Bryan Fuller's adaptation of the two lesser Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels, Red Dragon and Hannibal. Doctor Hannibal Lecter being Harris' famous gentleman cannibal killer. It is likely that the iconic The Silence of the Lambs would have been eventually included, but what you should note about Bryan Fuller is that he makes TV shows that people like so much they don't actually watch them.

I suppose that only serves to aid Fuller's auteur cred. And Fuller definitely went full auteur by the end of this show's three season run. Each frame becoming an interplay of beautiful sophistication and bewildering, challenging imagery. The show is visually stunning, but Fuller goes so far up his own arse with this that he's his own dentist.

The show takes place in the nebulous period before Red Dragon, with Lecter (played here by Mads Mikkelsen) still a part of society - throwing lavish dinner parties, serving as a therapist, and doing a spot of murdering when he can be arsed. Lecter also works with the FBI - particularly Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Laurence Fishburn - in their hunt for serial killers. Essentially, the first season and half of the second are pure police/forensic investigation procedural.

The first season especially is very 'Killer-of-the-week' heavy; Hannibal's Minnesota apparently has a murderer-to-civilian ratio topped only by Loaded for the PSOne. Season two reigns in the story more, focusing on Lecter himself. And the third sees Lecter tour Europe and mostly discuss art and literature with Gillian Anderson and friends. But he does make a rope out of a guy's intestines, so there's that.

Going into Hannibal there's bound to be certain expectations at play; no one is forgetting the immortal Anthony 'I ate his liver' Hopkins' turn as Lecter in a hurry. But while Hopkins perfected the cold, clinical killer in prison aspect, Mikkelsen revels in the role as a sophisticated killer enjoying in life's finest pleasures. A guy who probably enjoys fucking as long as there's an audiobook of Danté's Inferno, as read by Julian Barnes, playing in the background.

Hannibal does feel like its own thing, however, and less like a prequel. Fuller's universe is about artful food and murder. It isn't one where people tuck their knobs in between their legs and talk about lotion. Not that I expected too much overlap. It wasn't as though Mikkelsen was suddenly going to quantum leap into Hopkins at the end in time for Silence of the Lambs.

But the show's no slouch when in comes to horror. Not even counting the surreal imagery which props up every episode like David Lynch at a LSD party, there's some pretty macabre stuff going on in Hannibal. Serial killers who make large sculptures out of corpses, killers who grow mushrooms on rotting corpses, slashed throats, flayed skin, torn-off faces, the show has an art for the gruesome. You can imagine any given grisly image from Hannibal hanging as an oil painting in Leatherface's dinning room.

Beneath the grotesque and visceral - just how many times can this show interplay glorious looking food with gore? It's like a Violent Veg calendar - there's a deep rumination on the human condition. Which I suppose is what happens when a show's lead characters are a psychopath who makes friends based on how delicious they look, and a FBI agent who can't help but 'feel' all the damn time. That's part of his condition as an empath, an ability which lets him envision himself in a perpetrator's shoes. It's a bit like a lesser power from X-Men. Will reminds me of my Creative Writing teacher at Uni, always with the 'emotions' and 'feeling the moment'.

Fuller had something pretty special with Hannibal. A show which placed phantom Mads Mikkelsen-wendigoes and evil dragon paintings alongside gritty serial killers without batting an eye. A show which used images of souffle, sashimi, and steak charcuterie set to expensive Italian red wines, to tackle life's big philosophical questions. Chiefly: what the fuck was actually going on in the third season?

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