not in our stars, but in ourselves
You jerks have been holding out on me.
Why didn’t any of you – ANY of you – strap me to a chair and force me to watch Hannibal on the day it premiered? I have only just started watching (I am but five episodes in, so keep your spoilers to yourself), and I am already enthralled. It’s certainly a strong case for the argument that TV is currently far more compelling, overall, than movies. The fact that a show so complex, intelligent, dark and fundamentally cruel – without ever apologizing for any of those traits that would send most other television series running for the hills – is on NBC, for crying out loud, is surely a sign that the media world is changing in big ways.
The show roughly corresponds with the events of the Red Dragon novel in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter series. We are introduced to the brilliant, highly empathetic Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). He was refuted entry into the FBI, but the FBI wants him all the same. The head of the Behavioral Sciences division, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), insists: they will keep Will safe, and Will can use his extraordinary perception to solve crimes and save lives. Nevertheless, Will is a bit of a special case, and Crawford recommends that he start seeing the brilliant psychoanalyst, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen).
At times, the show works like a police procedural: we are shown almost unimaginable crimes in each episode, and the crack team of Will, Lecter and Crawford all join forces to solve the case. But it’s more than that. We’re not dealing with just any old shrink, nor with just any old criminal. We’re dealing with Hannibal Lecter: the king of antagonists. No one could outdo Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs (I have nothing to say about any of the other film entries in the series), but Mikkelsen is ideally cast all the same. Hopkins is a slightly dumpy little thing, and that suits a Lecter who’s been imprisoned for however many years, many of those years spent in restraints and unable to move. But Mikkelsen, a former ballet dancer, possesses the predatory grace of a panther. Sleek, intelligent, sly, sensual – this is the stuff the phrase “worthy adversary” is made of. As he lovingly prepares his meals of human meat, he is beautiful to behold.
Often, I find actors playing the tortured genius schtick to be tiresome; but Dancy has held my interest and sympathy all this time. Maybe it’s because his Will Graham is a rather pathetic figure – the kind of man who takes in stray dogs all the time because they’ll never disappoint him the way humans do – or maybe it’s because we never get any Sherlock- or House-style arrogance. He tends not to believe in his gift; at least, he tends not to believe that it’s a gift, since it brings him such suffering; and that may make all the difference.
All the actors are, in fact, top-notch. There are even small roles from some varied and, in some cases, quite exalted stars: Gillian Anderson and Eddie Izzard are both coming up; Molly Shannon plays a sort of nurturing female Charles Manson; and, in a casting decision that impresses perhaps only me, Scott Thompson of The Kids in the Hall has a recurring role as an FBI lab tech.
I realize that this is supposed to be a movie blog, so I will try to avoid getting carried away with television – but seriously. SERIOUSLY. You are all losers for not making me watch this from day one. I haven’t been so instantly enthralled by a TV show since The Wire. And no, this isn’t as good as The Wire – but it’s the best TV I’ve watched in a very, very long time.