HANNIBAL Season One Review

Last night brought the conclusion to the first season of NBC's HANNIBAL. Did it go out with a chomp or a nibble?

(Read my pilot review here and my mid-season review here.)

Last night the first season finale of Bryan Fuller's Hannibal aired on NBC, concluding in the most frustrating of cliffhangers what has been one of the strongest seasons of a network drama in years. It's a show deserving of ten times the viewers it appears to bring in every week, and now that a second season has been assured, we can discuss what we'd like to see in future episodes of the show. 

I've spoken plenty about the astonishing style of Hannibal, and it continues to offer some of the most unusual spectacle I've ever seen. But in talking about the gore and the set design and the inerrable direction and Hannibal's authentically unsettling atmosphere, I've neglected to discuss one of the most rewarding aspects of the show: its approach to psychology. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) - all of these characters are, in some way, students of the mind. And yet the dialogue rarely devolves into hackneyed psychobabble as it so easily could. Hannibal takes a deep, explorative approach to issues of mortality, morality, empathy, self-awareness. We don't only listen as these doctors rattle off their insights - we discover alongside their discoveries as they examine themselves and those closest to them.

And those explorations lend to some truly compelling character dynamics. Of course we have Will and Hannibal, whose relationship can never be safely categorized as any one thing. Are they predator and prey? Equally realized photonegatives of one another? Nemeses, friends? But Will and Hannibal's dark tango is only one of several powerful correlations on the show. Caroline Dhavernas is absolutely incredible as Bloom, and her protectiveness and professional interest in Will mingle with an undeniable attraction they share, a dynamic as confusing for us as it is for them. Laurence Fishburne's Jack Crawford needs Will, and he needs to push Will, but he also feels responsible for him. Everyone seems to want to take care of poor, fragile Will - even Lecter, as he exploits and twists and manipulates, is inclined to shelter Will. 

This question of what Lecter feels is an interesting one, given his psychopathic tendencies, and it's a question frequently examined through one of the most interesting relationships on the show: that of Hannibal and his own psychiatrist, Dr. Du Maurier, played with composure at once chilly and gentle by Anderson. Of course we can never really trust the sincerity of this brilliant impostor, but as these often emotional sessions are at Hannibal's request (with a somewhat reluctant, otherwise retired Du Maurier), we're tempted to believe Lecter as he tearfully confesses that he failed Will and Abigail. Sure, he failed Will by framing him and Abigail by killing her, but we believe that he's feeling it.

With such rich exchanges anchored by weighty performances, my only real problem with Hannibal is an issue of plotting - and occasionally logic. In a show this beautiful and thoughtful, I really consider the oft thrown-around "plot hole" complaint to be the least of concerns, but in a show this good, something that could be easily addressed in a second season should be. But much of that might be a matter of patience, considering Fuller's optimistic seven-season plan for the series. For instance, a nagging question I had as this season unfolded was, "Why is Hannibal bothering to frame Will as the copycat? He's too close to it and it's too easily disproved. It places Hannibal under the spotlight when someone discovers that Will has been framed." And last night, that concern was tidily addressed through one anguished line of Will's: "You have no traceable motive, which is why you were so hard to see. You were just curious what I would do. Someone like me. Someone who thinks how I think. Wind him up and watch him go." 

So maybe we should be patient, although that's asking a lot of anyone who has followed Bryan Fuller's career with enthusiasm. Hannibal might not have that much time left, and I want answers now, dammit. But maybe what works best about Bryan Fuller's canon is that he treats each show with the assumption that it will last seven seasons. They never do, but he isn't going to rush a story to an unnatural conclusion - he'd rather leave us with no conclusion at all. That's ballsy and it's exhausting and it's admirable, and it's the reason I don't mind that last night's episode ended on an outrageous cliffhanger. First, if the biggest hooks of the season were resolved in the finale, who's to say anyone will tune in when it finally returns next year? But more importantly, Fuller's never been one to rush a resolution, and I suspect that once he finally gets the chance to offer his viewers some closure, he'll do us justice. 

And even as last night's episode offered us no resolution, there's still something fulfilling about watching Hannibal Lecter walk down the basement corridor of Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, down to the last cell on the left, standing opposite Will Graham on the free side of the bars that will one day hold him. "Hello, Will." "Hello, Dr. Lecter."

It may not be where we wanted this season to end, but it's one hell of an ending. 


What would you like to see out of season two - or if Fuller has his way, season seven? I wouldn't mind if the pace picked up a bit, as there were a couple of episodes that felt drowsy and weightless this year. I'd like to see a tougher, more stable Will now that his encephalitis has been diagnosed, and I want to see a strong resolution to Will's long overdue suspicions about Lecter - something more reasonable than shock treatment making him forget, for instance. I want more Anderson, more Dhavernas, more Torres. Hannibal has employed some extraordinarily talented women, and I want more of all of them. I want to make it to season four so we can finally meet our new Francis Dolarhyde, one of fiction's creepiest serial killers. But mostly, I want more viewers to tune in next season, so we can prove to network suits that good television is its own reward.