Fava beans, chianti and murder, that’s what I know of Hannibal Lecter from that one time I saw Silence of the Lambs and was completely terrified.
A little older, I felt more prepared for Hannibal, which across 13 episodes develops the character of Lecter (Mads Mikkelson) into a suave, sophisticated and, dare I say it, almost likeable person, despite his murderous and cannibalistic tendencies.
Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is a brilliant criminal profiler, haunted by his ability to see into the minds of serial killers. Asked by the FBI’s behavioral science unit – headed by Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford – to help them solve the case of a Minnesota Shrike, a serial killer who has been brutally killing college aged girls, Will soon finds himself on an ever disturbing path. As he chases more serial killers, he is unaware that the greatest one of all is sitting across from him, being his psychiatrist, acting his friend.
Hannibal is a carefully crafted procedural, which doesn’t feel at all like a procedural. The case of the Minnesota Shrike unexpectedly pervades the whole series, even though the serial killer is caught in episode one, and other murders shock and disturb, and stay with Will and the team for a long time.
Dancy is an interesting choice to play Will. A pretty boy who’s more often the romantic lead in films, he’s not the first actor I would have picked for the nervous, deeply affected Will, but he makes it really work. Dancy’s Will is likeable, and draws out the most caring instincts in the viewer – I just wanted him to be okay the whole time I was watching, and I spent plenty of time angry at other characters for not taking the cues that Will was not alright.
Among the characters I felt the most anger towards was Jack, who ploughs ahead with using Will to help him solve crimes, thinking that just having Lecter counsel Will is enough to counter the bloody and brutal sights Will is exposed to.
Of course, Lecter is a help, which is what makes him so much more disturbing than any other serial killer encountered in Hannibal. Lecter is a friend to Will, and a father figure to Abigail Hobbs, the daughter of a serial killer. He helps them both, listens to them, and genuinely cares for them (in his own way).
Mikkelson’s rich tone of voice, and his stately presence, make Lecter a calming influence in many scenes, and add to the horror of those in which he kills. Lecter’s enthusiasm for fine dining adds black humour to the programme (and is a nod to the fava beans and chianti), as he serves up gourmet dish after gourmet dish to his friends – all of them unknowingly eating human parts.
Hannibal is not a perfect programme. There are distractions which take away from the core of the show and are completely unnecessary – a couple of episodes are wasted on exploring Jack’s relationship with his wife, only to then not even mention her for the rest of the series, and there’s an aborted romance of sorts in the second half of the season. And reporter Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) is an annoying and largely superfluous character. She’s clearly around to function as a signpost, and therefore is rendered badly enough to be both unknowable and unlikeable.
Overall, though, Hannibal is an intriguing programme. It dispenses with many of the annoying cliffhangers that are so often found in drama series, meaning the surprise is not the who but the why, which is much more interesting. The killings are gruesome and of a kind I’ve not seen before on television (it beats Game of Thrones for horror, if not bloodshed), and the end of series one left me wanting more. Just don’t eat meat while you watch.