Posted by: markfender | June 24, 2014

Hannibal

Let’s watch some serial killin’.

hannibal_season_2_poster_1_0Hannibal is Bryan Fuller’s latest television show in a long running series of television shows about death. In most instances, he goes for a quirky macabre sensibility but in this particular case, the source material has a definite feel already established. So, it’s far less quirky than previous works. Which is probably a good thing, since I think the quirkiness is what turned people away from previous projects like Pushing Daisies.

Anyway, we’re dealing with that oh-so-famous serial killer Hannibal Lecter, doctor, psychologist, and cannibal. In the television show, he’s portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, who does an excellent job bringing some old world sensibility to the character. Unfortunately, I sometimes have a hard time understanding him. His Dutch accent at times just overcomes me and I find myself rewinding to catch what he’s saying. Which is too bad, because, in every other respect he’s an excellent choice to broaden the character into something other than the Hopkin’s scene chewer.

Based on characters from the Thomas Harris novel, Red Dragon, Hannibal follows the adventures of Will Graham, FBI profiler, and his psychologist buddy, Hannibal Lecter. They fight crime! Will has the particular ability to empathize with serial killers, which mostly translates into flashbacks where the actor portraying Will performs the acts as he “recreates” the crime scene. These are the first artsy things the show likes to do, but certainly not the last. Will always proclaims that he doesn’t see anything that isn’t already there in evidence, but never explains the connections. So, it’s not like they’re really solving mysteries here. There’s no clue trail that they follow; just inference and wild speculation (which the show does occasionally lampshade). So, don’t expect actual mysteries to solve.

Instead, get ready for some psychology! Every character is an expert psychologist and likes to make bold pronouncements all the time about the psychological state of everyone else. As a television show, it’s not going to get super deep into the terminology, but from my layman’s perspective, they use all the words correctly. I’m sure it’s surface level stuff, but it feels authentic. And, seriously, it happens all the time. Don’t bother watching if you don’t want to hear all that stuff because that’s pretty much all the show is.

And symbols! Man, this show loves symbology. I don’t think there’s an episode without a dream sequence. All of these tie into the themes that each episode is playing with. I got a bit tired of all the fishing metaphors used in the second season, as there’s only so many dream sequences you can do involve rivers, water, drowning, etc. But it all checks out with the Jungians and the show does love to indulge it’s artistic side. It’s not enough to have a character relate how she feels like she’s drowning. Nope, we’ve got to have an elaborate sequence where she sinks slowly into black water. And don’t even get me started on the incredibly gauzy sex scenes.

The cast is quite good. Hugh Dancy does an excellent job of portraying Will’s slide into madness. Laurence Fishburn is in it, saying Laurence Fishburn-like things. Some of the casting is a bit odd. The first season especially, seemed to have this goal of casting comedic actors into very serious roles. Every other new character introduced seemed to be a comedic actor putting on their serious hat. Which worked, I guess. But it did seem like an odd choice.

This show is also gory as hell. Some sequences have been far worse than anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s the closest show I’ve seen to recreating the squicky images from Seven, basically (and since both are about serial killers, I guess that works).

The first season felt like an odd choice for an initial story. There were a lot of kills of the week early in the season, but then it settled down into watching Will go crazy. It felt like a strange storyline to start your show with since the audience doesn’t really have any expectations of the character. Is he going crazy or is he always that weird? Why are all these people friends with that guy? Can’t they see that he’s crazy? Well, yes, they can see that (they’re all psychologists, remember?), but they also knew the ‘old’ version. The audience, however, doesn’t so reactions and friendships felt faintly unrealistic. Once Will stops being crazy in the second season, you can sort of see the person he was/is and how all the characters would have interacted with him and the first season works better in retrospect. The first season ended really well, however, so I can forgive a bit of fumbling with character depictions. The second season remained strong as well, striking a particular balance with the various situations the characters found themselves in that would have been difficult for a less confident show to pull off.

It’s arty. It’s talky. It’s got lots of glamour photography of food. It’s pretentious in all the best ways. It’s got disturbing images and grisly murder. It’s on NBC (?)

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