Hannibal (2015) Capsule Review
So how was your weekend? I spent much of it working on some unspecified secret project than I hope to reveal the details of as we approach Christmas, but I also found the time to feast upon the third and final season of Hannibal. I don’t usually divert into the threshing waters of TV criticism here but given the movie world overlaps I think you can forgive me such transgressions, especially as this series in its third and final contortion is covering the same ground as both Ridley Scott’s 2001 Hannibal and Michael Mann’s procedural masterpiece Manhunter from 1986, not to mention the atrocity of the utterly unnecessary 2002 Red Dragon adaption which the less said about the better. At an intrinsic, molecular level show runner and central creative force Bryan Fuller has orchestrated this show as grand guignol theatre of the gut-eviscerated absurd, you’d think that maybe trophy serial killers, charismatic cannibals and entrail soaked procedurals are all a bit 1990’s by now, and maybe you’d be correct if they show didn’t defiantly carve its own, fresh and deliciously gruesome ground. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment but watching all 13 episodes in one, uninterrupted session made me feel a little funny in the head, all the way through to that spectacular, hilariously constructed and yummy bloody finale.
I’m not easily shocked and I have something of an iron constitution when it comes to the horrific and macabre, yet even I was perturbed at some of the stuff appearing in this show which was unbelievably transmitted on one of the normal, Standards & Practices plagued channels. Quite apart from the violence and gallons of claret splattering the screen I’m deeply impressed at how challenging the show is from a narrative perspective, it fundamentally rejects industry tropes such as adhering to a plausible chronology or fixed delineations in time and space, not to mention fucking with the audiences heads just as central antagonist Dr. Lecter screws with protagonist Will Graham’s mind, with numerous fake-outs, hallucinations and an overall permeable sense of what is real, perceived and imagined. The first three or so episodes of this season felt like Last Year In Marienbad crossed with some Frankenstein’s monster of Suspiria, Don’t Look Now and Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, with very little fidelity to what is solid and substantial and what are the feverish products of the participants dreams and nightmares. In fact every character in the show is a deeply fucked up, psychologically savaged bastard of one sort or another, apart from the cattle whom are led through a procession of sacrificial slaughters, and the only humour is of the gallows sort uttered during some frequent nausea inducing autopsies – clearly, these are members of the Menagerie tribe;
Aesthetically it is stunning, from the lush, velvet laced cinematography and elitist trappings of the salivating sartorial styles, the aromatic set fixtures and fittings, not to mention of course the mouth-watering Michelin murdered five star menus, with a darkly comic sense of humour that would make Jack The Ripper giggle like a tickled toddler. The show has attracted established directors like John Dahl, Vincenzo Natali, James Foley, Guillermo Navarro (who’s probably best known as del Toro’s cinematographer), Tim River’s Edge Hunter and even an episode from Neil Marshall, but Fuller maintains a coherent stylistic infrastructure and is clearly the main creative force, and some of you may be interested to hear that he is moving onto to a lavishly mounted adaption of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as his next project. The performances across the board are uniformly exquisite but I must single out two individuals for particular attention, firstly Gillian Anderson as the wraithlike Bedeilla whose presence in the show slowly evolves to become more troubling and macabre, and of course Mads Mikkelsen as the fiendishly fastidious Dr. Lecter. It can’t be easy stepping into such iconic Testoni brand brouges but right or wrong Hopkin’s pantomime turn made Lecter an icon in the screen panoply of villains, although of course snooty purists such as I prefer Cox’s take on the grotesque gourmand. In his own alternative way Mikkelson totally nails Hannibal as a sauve force of destructive nature, an apex predator of the most lethal sort who barely seems to operate on the same aesthetic, ideological or psychological, universe as us other mere, delicious mortals.
The main point is just how ravenously fresh the show has been in treading very familiar ground, in fact it’s a fun thought exercise to compare this translation of the Thomas Harris nebula to the lofty peaks of Manhunter, as Richard Armitage acquaints himself admirably as an equally threatening and obsessive figurine as Tom Noonan did in the original, in the form of Francis Dolarhyde AKA the Tooth Fairy AKA The Red Dragon, William Blake’s most brutal and bloody fan. The show won’t be for everyone as some have railed against its utterly absurd plot conventions, (the grisly logistics of a corpse totem pole anyone?) and there is something in that criticism that some of the turns and developments butcher plausibility at the altar of some delirious delicatessen. That’s the wrong approach to take however, the show doesn’t even remotely want to operate in the same universe as a real FBI or chain of cause and effect shows such as True Detective or The Wire, as Hannibal clearly has an avowed appetite for operatic grandeur and expressionistic antics, delicately sautéed through the sort of experimentation and utter disregard for mainstream audience palettes that has been rewarded with terrible ratings hence its final demise. But what a glorious three seasons of terrestrial TV which you didn’t think they could make anymore, with Season 2 episode ‘Mizumono’ already enshrined as one of the most jaw-dropping ‘you-have-to-be-fucking-kidding-how on-earth-did-they-get-away-with-that?’ hours of TV entertainment ever filmed, and when the show runner cites Lynch and Kubrick, Cronenberg and Argento as his primary inspirations (and he managed to coax Siouxise Sioux out of retirement to score the final scene) must I really twist the knife more?;