Don Draper may have his own Banana Republic line, but he's not the only well-dressed antihero on TV today. Hannibal Lecter has made the transition to the small scene on NBC's Hannibal, and he's got more style than the MLA Handbook. Not to mention he's a culinary connoisseur who has perfected the art of preparing delicious, savory… human meat. What does Don make? Cocktails?
Ok, enough Draper comparisons.
When watching a thriller with a backdrop of cannibalism, one might think it would be a whole lot messier. But this is not the case in Hannibal. Sure, there's a muted and gritty ambience like in most crime thrillers, but Hannibal brings a new flavor to the table (literally): a main character who isn't the worn, tired crime-stopper who's had one too many cases. Instead, he's a well-groomed, flawlessly-dressed, calculating genius who just so happens to have a peculiar appetite.
Are Hannibal's sophisticated fashion sense and gourmet food tastes a reflection of the dynamics of his character? Or are they just a convenient plot piece that breaks the mold of the traditional crime thriller? Let's take a look.
Hannibal Lecter's Attire
When Hannibal enters a room, it takes only a moment for him to assume power. His authoritative presence is felt immediately, but not because he explicitly demands it. It just happens. Much of that has to do with what he wears.
Hannibal accompanies three-piece suits with wide, Windsor-knotted ties. It's the power suit, but not the clumsy, cumbersome power suit that moguls like Trump wear. Instead, it's a hybridization of the modern fit with bygone patterns and hues, peaked lapels that harken back to more sophisticated, refined days—when power was earned less by yelling and more by speaking eloquently, and when men didn't take shortcuts by exposing their sockless ankles.
And just as every word Hannibal utters has some significance towards a greater purpose, so does every individual accent act to complete his entire look. A pocket square with just the right balance of contrast and complement. Paisley-patterned ties that should conflict with the Prince of Wales check, but in actuality, blend magnificently.
What Dr. Hannibal Lecter wears is a physical representation of not only who he is, but what he is. For how complete and formulated his entire style is, there's also something just slightly off. Maybe because pieces are from another era. Maybe because it only somewhat represents what we are accustomed to seeing men wear today. Whether deliberate or not, Hannibal shows us with his clothing that there is something off about him. Despite all the refinement, care, and precision, he has a major quirk that makes him different from the rest of us. He eats people.
While this act would most certainly turn people away, the other characters on the show are not privileged to this information. And for this reason, his clothing serves even more purpose. First, it is disarming. How could he possibly be so dangerous when he takes care of himself so well? Second, it intrigues. His curious demeanor actually draws people in. The mystery is a lure, and curiosity kills the cat.
Hannibal Lecter's Passion for Food
Complementing Hannibal's particular fashion tastes is his passion for the culinary arts—and his dishes are just as elaborate as his wardrobe. (See this Buzzfeed article with the show's artist and food stylist Janice Poon.) Every plate item is purposely selected and surgically prepared for a symphony of a dish.
But how did this come to be? Was he a culinary arts student who, as a result of being unfulfilled by the art of food preparation, sought something more? Or was he always a cannibal who sought to perfect the art of cooking human flesh?
The audience is left in the dark as to which came first, but at this point, it doesn't matter. It is now a part of who he is. Any previous moral issues and inner struggle or turmoil have been discarded, if they ever existed in the first place. For Hannibal, it is now just about the art of presentation and palette harmonization.
Interestingly, what adds even more mystery to the character is his fondness for feeding guests the forbidden meat. Is it simply to make the audience squirm?
Perhaps Hannibal serves guests simply because he enjoys preparing delicacies for them—and would even if he wasn't a cannibal (the meat he uses is merely what he has stocked in the freezer). It's the same reason people enjoy giving gifts. There's self-gratification in seeing others pleased.
It could also extend deeper, adding a different level of maniacal hedonism to the character. He could find pleasure in seeing others participate in his secret, against their will, and actually enjoying it. What's more, his secret is quite literally right in there face, and they have no idea, destroying evidence with every swallow. It's a cat-and-mouse game, where he is both cat and mouse. And Hannibal is the type who would find this idea playfully entertaining.
The complexities of cannibalism and the ritualistic acts that tend to accompany the deed alone make for an interesting character. But that's not what makes Hannibal more than a mere plot piece. The fact that he isn't a savage killer and holds an appetite for the upper echelon of societal materialism—clothing and food—lends itself to even more density.
The result is a truly dynamic thriller character, who, like any well-conceived character, exemplifies their best traits in their idiosyncrasies.
London McGuire is a free-roaming writer and blogger at WeLoveTVMore (now ShowRatings.tv). In addition to horror and thriller genres, she enjoys writing about great food and anything related to television or movies. Follow her on Twitter @londonmcguire.