At CrimeHQ, we got an early chance to see the premiere of the new crime series Hannibal, premiering Thursday, April 4. The series is positioned as a prequel, set much earlier than when we joined retired FBI profiler Will Graham and the already-imprisoned Dr. Lecter in the movie Manhunter, which was based on Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon. To be clear, this is a prequel only in the characters’ lives, but it’s not placed back in time. The forensics and tech are all modern. Dr. Lecter’s mile-wide neckties are merely throwback fashion.
In Hannibal, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is a young, gifted criminologist and lecturer who FBI boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) coaxes out of the classroom and into a disturbing, high-profile case with his team, something made much more difficult because of Will’s social anxiety and his being somewhere along the Asperger spectrum. Because Will’s emotionally informed insights are essential, but his ability to cope in the field is untested, Crawford also gets a psych recommendation from Will’s colleague, who rejects the monitoring job herself. Thus does one Dr. Hannibal Lecter end up as Will Graham’s babysitting shrink, more or less tagging along as the FBI hunts a serial killer of young brunette women.
This partnering of the two leads together in the wild world is inherently dangerous, unstable, and awfully interesting. Will doesn’t like being invaded, analyzed, or little-brothered, but Hannibal seems to exhibit a certain fondness for him, perhaps as he might do toward any particularly rare specimen. Though we get to see the doctor lovingly prepare his own gourmet delights, it will be interesting to know whether Hannibal is exposed as a killer and cannibal before we get to meet his therapist, who will be played in the series by X-Files’ Gillian Anderson. Anyway, after seeing the premiere, titled “Apertif,” here are some of our SPOILER-FREE thoughts on these versions of the characters and whether we need another serial killer series in our lives.
On Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Christopher Morgan (CM): I’ve always understood the character of Hannibal as confident, intelligent, unforgiving of rudeness (he once ate a man for playing out of key), and most of all seductive. Now Mads Mikkelsen has those first few things down. He’s playing Hannibal as an impossibly brilliant man, confident in his intellect and exacting in his expectations. But, where he loses me is he just isn’t seductive enough, there’s no playing with words or hints at knowing more about me than I do.
Jennifer Proffitt (JP): Mads Mikkelsen is arrogant, judgmental, and slick—just as he should be. However, I think he’s just too creepy at this point. I don’t know if he’s creepy because I know what Hannibal will become or because of the way Mikkelson plays him. I expected to be a little more seduced by him in these early stages.
Laura K. Curtis (LKC): have to say, he disappointed me. There was really one moment that I felt he achieved true “Hannibalness,” one statement where he rose to the kind of mystery, the double-speak and depth that I feel Hannibal is known for. He’s too slick, too much on the surface, and not calculating enough. Also, and this is intensely personal, his voice is all wrong. It’s not deep
enough, IMHO. He just sounds kind of smarmy and not threatening.
Clare Toohey (CT): I liked the portrayal, though it's currently weighted toward control and elegance and doesn’t bring in the character's also-present and dangerous earthiness. It’s tough with such an iconic character whose secrets many viewers already know. If he acts like the volatile killer we know he can be right from the start, I’m not sure we'll ever get back to seeing the precise and cultured man he also is. This Hannibal is, so far, finicky and particular, but when we see him roll up his sleeves and sink, gleefully, elbow-deep into human muck (as I hope we will, awful creature that I am), I think it’ll make him more seductive, too.
On Hugh Dancy as the FBI’s Will Graham
JP: Hugh Dancy was incredibly neurotic as Will Graham. We open on a crime scene where he is taking in the scene of a murder from the perspective of the murderer, and this seems like something that will be a constant setup for the show. It added an interesting element and really brought home how in tune Graham is with his killers.
CT: I was drawn to the character, but I was confused between his heightened sensitivity and empathy and what might be typically considered an Asperger-like difficulty with reading other people’s emotions and social cues. I kind of wish they hadn’t needed to put a contemporary diagnosis around it, because it’s not quite a fit, and he’s obviously got anxiety disorders working as strongly in his character. As Will struggles to pigeonhole for Crawford exactly the kind of crazy exhibited by the serial killer they’re seeking, I’d be just as happy to have Will be a symphony of uneasy, difficult to categorize contradictions, too.
LKC: Love the autism aspect of Graham here. There’s no pity in the treatment,
it’s just a fact of who he is. I think it’s especially interesting in
light of recent discussions about Sherlock’s possible autistic aspects,
etc. It’s been a long time since I read the books, but I don’t remember
getting that from Will Graham.
CM: I honestly think this is one of the better depictions of Graham I’ve encountered. I would like it if they dialed back his crazy a little bit, but on the whole, I think this about sums up someone with Will’s abilities.
On Laurence Fishburne as the FBI’s Jack Crawford
CM: Eh, he was in there. No complaints or compliments. Just keep doing what he does. They hinted at him being a little Machiavellian in how he handles his agents/Lecter, but not enough to be significantly meaty.
CT: I haven’t really figured him out yet. Hiring a profiler for your profiler is pretty out there. I am looking forward to seeing him with his wife, who’ll be played by Gina Torres (hollah, browncoats!)
JP: I’m indifferent to him in the show. I know he’s necessary and his acting is OK but I don’t really find him memorable.
LKC: actually really liked him, but I am not sure about what his relationship
with Graham is. We get tiny hints of their differences, but I’m not sure
what’s driving him, why he does the work, what his full history is.
LKC: I loved the beginning, the strange perspective and soundtrack, the
subtracting of people from the scene bit by bit as time reversed. I also
loved the notable change between the music of the crime scenes and Will
Graham and the classical music of the first eating scene. I almost wish
that could have continued. But I really disliked the end. Without being
too spoilery, I felt it did a disservice to both Will’s character and
abilities and to Hannibal’s ability to role-play, which is central to his
success over the years.
JP: I think this would be a good show for someone who is looking for a serial killer show with lots of intrigue (and craziness, both on the side of Hannibal and Graham) but without the gore (for the most part…) of shows like The Following.
CT: I really thought the look and sound was great. I loved the spare, echoing quality, with plaintive music and plenty of reminders of Will’s nervously thudding heart. I enjoyed seeing that when he was profiling, the scene became more vivid and colorful, hypersaturated as if his recreation’s more alive to him than life. The scene where Hannibal and Will face each other over a table, each one’s profile traced in light, was yummy to behold. The results of violence in this episode were graphic, but not overly gory, at least to me. The instances were strange enough to make a visual impact, but more grotesque than gross. Someone else I know thought this pilot was more gory than The Following, so it may be about style as much as how many gallons of colored-Karo syrup they spill.
CM: The plot lost me at times. They left a few events unexplained for the sake of finishing the episode, which I get. There is only so much you can do in 45 minutes. I only hope that they manage to walk the line between episodic “Murder of the week” episodes, and the overarching story of Lecter and Graham after more practice.
What Do You Anticipate Most Going Forward?
JP: I like the method in which Graham sees the crime as if he were the perpetrator. I look forward to seeing how this will play out as the season progresses and Graham becomes more unstable. I also really hope we see more of the seductive side of Hannibal as well.
CT: I’m looking forward to watching Hannibal unpack and become vulnerable to Will in some ways, like he did with Starling. In this association, if he actually feels understood, because Will can’t help himself but understand, that’s a powerful inducement to keep Will close and even to keep him safe. My Bodyguard with Hannibal as a secret monster who knows that Will must, inevitably, catch him, and that it will end something precious to him. I’m also looking forward to Will as the cowardly mongoose learning to kick ass, though the recoil from that might be almost as devastating to him as being victimized in some ways. Also, more of the dog menagerie!
LKC: found Will the most interesting part of the show, and the people around
him. I’m most curious to watch his development and his involvement with
Hannibal rather than Hannibal himself.
CM: This show could be good. It seems like it has the potential to be a very twisted buddy-cop procedural. I just hope it doesn’t go full procedural, because I REALLY like the character of Hannibal Lecter (one of my all-time favorite book villains) and would very much like to see him get to really cut loose.
Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, N.Y., with her husband and two madcap Irish Terriers who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains a website at laurakcurtis.com. She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance and watching crime shows, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt.
Despite Clare Toohey’s checkered past in art and music, she gives store-bought greeting cards and plays the ukulele poorly. As a writer, she aspires to genre hack-dom, and as a fan, appreciates both the trashy and inventive. She’s Tweeting @clare2e and blogging more foolishness at WomenofMystery.net