Skip to main content

You had no traceable motive, which is why you're so hard to see.


Hannibal
Season One

An overview of Episodes 9-13 (SPOILERS)

1.9 Trou Normand

What looks initially as if it could be the silliest murderer plot yet (17 bodies arranged as a totem pole) finishes up as one of the best episodes of the season. The serial-killer-of-the-week is very much a background element, with just one scene devoted to him and his unveiling; there’s almost no detective work involved in finding him, because he wants to be caught. Lance Henrikson makes the most of his cameo; it’s disappointing if this is all we’ll get of him.

The meat of the episode is Will’s escalating fugue state, as he finds himself disassociating with no recollection of where has been and what he has done. These weird-outs lend an added claustrophobia to an already oppressive series (especially memorable is the scene where he’s addressing an empty lecture theatre).

The return of Abigail Hobbs and Freddie Lounds sees the arching story of the season gain necessary momentum; Will’s realisation that Abigail killed Nicholas Boyle is highly effective, where his gift reveals something the audience already knows. And Hannibal’s calm response to being accused of complicity (“Do I need to call my lawyer, Will?”) is only undermined slightly by the unlikelihood of Will being persuaded not to report all this to Jack. Yes, the justification is that he isn’t thinking straight but it still seems like a stretch.

Best of all is Abigail’s admission of involvement in her father’s murders; Jack was right all along, and everyone else was wrong. Except Hannibal, who knew (“I wondered when you would tell me”).

Jack’s a bit too much on the fringes, always poking around but never really doing anything effective. Additionally, it’s increasingly implausible that Will would be oblivious to Hannibal for much longer; I suspect they’ll stretch him being free for another year, but it would be better for credibility to have him apprehended at the end of this season.


 1.10 Buffet Froid

The weirdness factor is only compounded in this episode, with more time-shifts and some strong brainmelt ideas (the clock face Lecter asks Will to draw, and the difference between what he thinks he sees and what he actually renders).

But the whole “Will thinks he may be a murderer” idea is over-familiar, and the killer is very X-Files-lite. Hugh Dancy earnestly conveys a man losing his mind, but Fuller and his co-writers are really pushing it with the encephalitis plotline. Admittedly, it’s a surprise that Will actually has a neurological condition but the unethical agreement between Lecter and Dr. Sutcliffe to tell Will he’s fine so that he can be studied is highly convenient and unbelievable. Lecter on the one hand sees Will as a threat now, but on the other he’s still telling Dr. Gillian Anderson he wants him as a friend in the next episode.

John Benjamin Hickey is strong as Sutcliffe, so it’s a shame he’s only in the one episode. I didn’t see the twist of Hannibal being his murderer coming, and having Georgia unable to make out Lecter’s face is a nice touch (Dead Like Me’s Ellen Muth is unrecognisable as Georgia – much less so in the twelfth).


1.11 Rôti
  
If Hannibal Lecter is really as careless as he appears to be, it’s a wonder he could spend so long at large. Will’s seizures have quickly drifted into the territory of implausible; Jack can see something wrong but won’t do anything, neither will Bloom.

Finally, we get to the point where he brings Abel Gideon round to see Lecter at gunpoint and Lecter is able to convince him there’s no one there. Partly, it’s a dicey move to make your hero incapable for any length of time. More than that, there’s a point where, if everyone always has their heads in the sand about everything Lecter conceals and that concealment has no craft or intricacy, it becomes silly. The series has reached the point where, as entertaining as it continues to be, I’m having difficulty with everyone being so unperceptive.

That said, Eddie Izzard makes a welcome return as Gideon and he’s clearly relishing it. His bafflement over his condition is designed to mirror Will’s (“I may be crazy, but you look ill”), although it never quite works. Gideon is so indebted to Hopkins’ Lecter he never takes on a life of his own; the Colombian necktie is suitable grim but the extraction of Chilton’s organs while he watches is derivative of something else I’ve seen or read (I’m not sure what).

I may not have picked up on some of the finer points of the plotting; how did Lecter know where Gideon would be? And the ellipsis between Lecter telling Gideon where Bloom lives and Will turning up at her house is lurching and awkward.


1.12 Relevés

The gradual stirrings of concern over Lecter’s methods, from Jack in particular, continue to be offset by the general cluelessness at the activities of this arch-manipulator in the FBI’s midst.

For all the flak aimed at recent seasons of Dexter, it gets a free pass in comparison to Hannibal. You can believe that Dexter’s cunning and savvy enables him to outwit the best efforts of the police because most of them just aren’t that good at their jobs. In contrast, here we’re presented with the best-of-the-best yet their continued blinkeredness asks the viewer to accept that, whether on the criminal or behavioural psychology end, they’re borderline inept.

But individual scenes remain very good. Jack’s scene with Du Maurier (“You have to admit, he’s had some pretty strange relationships with some of his patients”) gives Crawford some much-needed credibility, but then he goes off and has another conversation with Lecter. Likewise, Du Maurier and Will have further chats with him, ensuring Lecter is kept fully up-to-date. We’re far beyond the point where there should be delicious irony to this; it’s repetitive and dramatically distancing.

That Abigail realises Lecter’s game further underlines this (and that Freddie Lounds is ahead of the FBI in identifying Abigail as the murderer of Nick). Her final scene is a good one, as he informs her of his motive for warning her father (“I was curious what would happen”), but by this point Fuller has stuffed the plot with far too much unlikely obfuscation to enable Lecter to remain undetected.

Most problematic is the treatment of Will Graham. By this point he’s been turned into a near-zombie, with Jack belligerently disinterested in his theories. Maybe I’m too close to the source material, but I just don’t buy that he’d be seriously considered as a potential serial killer. There’s a sense of the writers labouring the idea, trying to push and shove it to make it fit, with the continuing convenient loses of time and Will’s colleagues’ inability to ensure he receives medical attention. The idea that he gets so close to his subjects that it might permanently scar him is the whole premise of Red Dragon, but I can’t believe Crawford, or Bloom or anyone else, would seriously swallow him going to that place (of which more in the following episode). It’s the stuff of half-baked filler episodes (you know the type, an X-Fileswhere Mulder is accused of murder).

The scene where the forensics guys correct Crawford on the definition of a theory (“more of a hypothesis”) is fun, and there’s a cute reference to Silence of the Lambs’ Multiple Miggs when we’re told a patient swallowed his own tongue while attacking Du Maurier. But, for all the attractiveness of the trappings (cinematography, art direction, score), the series has become borderline risible.


1.13 Savoureux

And so, the finale. It was sadly inevitable that they wouldn’t finish the first run with Hannibal under lock and key, but arresting him is the only thing that could have salvaged the season from charges of desperate attention-grabbing tactics. This is the most barefaced example of Fuller’s choices serving the need to sustain an over-extended premise rather than the integrity of the characters.

If Lecter had maintained a low-key presence, rather than intruding on nearly every major development, it would be a different matter. But we finish the season with Jack shooting Will, who has realised that Lecter is the bad guy (“You had no traceable motive, which is why you were so hard to see”). Finally, he’s got there. But this has none of the eeriness of Will’s discovery as described in Red Dragon; obviously, as Fuller already used that up in Entrée. None of this fits into the mythology of the character (or characters, including Crawford). Worse still, Fuller really seems to think it’s a clever reversal to have the final scene show Will incarcerated and Lecter visiting him. Presumably he awoke from a caffeine stupor and seized on it as a genius twist. But it’s the kind of low-rent inspiration that should have been dismissed out of hand.

There’s a vague hope that Bloom might latch onto Lecter’s behaviour when Will tells her about the clock drawings. But no, Lecter has a fake ready and she buys the lie. Everyone is far too willing to believe that the planted evidence of fly-fishing feathers (made up of trophies from the copycat victims) prove it was Will.

The only really worthy aspect of the finale is the discovery that Du Maurier is more than she seems, as she has obviously worked out what Lecter is up to (“You have to be careful, Hannibal. They’re starting to see your pattern”), and it is not something that he has forseen.

One wonders how they’re going to get round Will knowing Lecter’s identity next season. Well, a bit. Currently, I’m not sure I’m that interested. Any option seems like a bad one. Now he is cured of encephalitis they could give him miraculously convenient amnesia. Or they could have him trying to convince the increasingly moronic Crawford and Bloom of Hannibal’s culpability for half a season.


Season Overall:


Maybe if Fuller was working with half the number of episodes, and on a much slower burning procedural template, the whole season might have been as satisfying as the couple of standout episodes. But it just doesn’t work for me conceptually.

Turning Graham into a hallucinating, gibbering man-wreck undermines him completely. Locking him up makes Will, the FBI and his other professional colleagues look incompetent. The other issue is the sheer amount of repetition. Every other scene has someone visiting Lecter and pouring out all the information he needs. It’s all so contrived that eventually it becomes ridiculous and, no matter how well scripted or acted individual scenes may be, not a little tiresome.

Hugh Dancy gives it his all as Graham, but he spends half the season out of his mind. Mikklesen’s reserved performance is an interesting take on Hannibal, but the character is diminished by over-exposure. The performances and production values are never less than top notch, but they’ll have to do something really clever with the storytelling to tempt me back for the second run. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

On account of you, I nearly heard the opera.

A Night at the Opera (1935)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers head over to MGM, minus one Zeppo, and despite their variably citing A Night at the Opera as their best film, you can see – well, perhaps not instantly, but by about the half-hour mark – that something was undoubtedly lost along the way. It isn’t that there’s an absence of very funny material – there’s a strong contender for their best scene in the mix – but that there’s a lot else too. Added to which, the best of the very funny material can be found during the first half of the picture.

I still think it’s a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.

Room Service (1938)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers step away from MGM for a solitary RKO outing, and a scarcely disguised adaption of a play to boot. Room Service lacks the requisite sense of anarchy and inventiveness of their better (earlier) pictures – even Groucho’s name, Gordon Miller, is disappointingly everyday – but it’s nevertheless an inoffensive time passer.

This better not be some 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea shit, man.

Underwater (2020)
(SPOILERS) There’s no shame in a quality B-movie, or in an Alien rip-off done well. But it’s nevertheless going to need that something extra to make it truly memorable in its own right. Underwater, despite being scuppered at the box office, is an entirely respectable entry in both those arenas from director William Eubank, but like the recent Life (which, in fairness, had an ending that very nearly elevated it to the truly memorable), it can’t quite go that extra mile, or summon that much needed sliver of inspiration to set it apart.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Goodbye, Mr Chimps.

At the Circus (1939)
(SPOILERS) This is where the brothers sink into their stretch of middling MGM movies, now absent the presence of their major supporter Irving Thalberg; it’s probably for the best this wasn’t called A Day at the Circus, as it would instantly have drawn unflattering comparisons with the earlier MGM pair that gave them their biggest hits. Nevertheless, there’s enough decent material to keep At the Circus fairly sprightly (rather than “fairly ponderous”, as Pauline Kael put it).