Hannibal is a new show about the earlier life of everyone’s favourite man-eating serial killer. It’s eight episodes into its first season.
The first thing that hits you about this show is probably not the gruesome murder scenes, but the production design in general. Everything seems to be in the dark, presumably to match the subject matter, or perhaps influenced by the current fad for Scandinavian cops shows, whose palette is muted by design rather than choice. Everything is set in low-contrast tones of beige, brown, tan, grey, all the colours of the woods at dusk.
There are lots of slow-zoomout shots of two people sitting on some neutral Ikea chairs in massive rooms, facing each other, or facing the room, or enjoying one of Hannibal’s gourmet creations. The narrative has given almost everyone an opportunity to visit Hannibal in his house and eat his food, which it is heavily indicated comprises human meat.
It’s very visual and artistic, perhaps what Terrence Malick would have done with an episode of Millennium.
The feel of the show is very similar to the feel of Millennium, a nod to which is implied with the appearance of Lance Henriksen in episode 7. Fans of Silence of the Lambs will be rewarded not just by the colour scheme, but by whole lines of dialogue and scenes conscientiously lifted from that movie, most notably any scene with the psychotic serial killer played by Eddie Izzard (whose performance is somewhat marred by his unconvincing accent).
Grotesque corpse dioramas, always dramatic beyond verisimilitude, are displayed in detail, very much in the fashion of a certain German travelling exhibition, whereas often the actual killing is either underplayed, shown only in flashback or not shown at all.
Everything is quiet and muted. There are no shouted arguments, no car chases and no explosions, which mean that those few times when a character raises his voice, people listen. This is good.
There’s a very odd sense of time. The narrative jumps from scene to scene with no indication of anything happening in-between - we’re never sure if it’s day or night. It’s very much its own world, and doesn’t seem to engage with the real world at any point.
The discordant music helps contribute to the mood of an alien alternate dimension, which is designed to make us feel as unsettled as the characters feel, in particular Will Graham who suffers from frequent, lengthy time lapses.
This music is sometimes grating; weird strings and percussion amid eerie brass-section wails, as if they were recruiting themselves for a Nine Inch Nails special effects sound bank. You’ll either like that, or you won’t.
There is no humour at all in this show, no comic relief character (except perhaps Scott Thompson's forensics guy, not because he's funny, but because I cannot unremember him from Kids In The Hall).
The Human Element
The show is designed as an opposition, or comparison, of Hannibal Lecter, unconventional but expert psychologist, and Will Graham, unconventional but expert FBI profiler.
Will Graham is the central character. He wanders around this dark world reconstructing horrible crimes in his head for the FBI. Will’s process is to be alone in the murder scene, then a gold blade swishes around a bit, then he reverses time, and then he relives the crime, always explaining things out loud with the phrase, “This is my design.” He is very weird, possibly unhinged and everyone knows it.
Hannibal Lecter is very muted, quiet, and irredeemably weird. Certainly as weird as Will Graham, but the characters all react to Dr. Lecter as though he were normal and to Will as though he were borderline psychotic. This is the only real problem I have with the show - the lack of verisimilitude inherent in the idea that Mads Mikkelsen could ever pass as anything but weird.
However, he also comes across as sometimes aware of the feelings of others, and sensitive to their needs; not what you’d expect in a psychopath, but there you are. Despite being essentially manipulative of everyone, he still comes across, far too often, as kind of, well, nice. Maybe it’s important for us to be able to identify with him in some way, or the drama would suffer.
TL;DR It may destroy your mind, but Hannibal is well worth a look.