05th Apr2013

Hannibal 1×01 – “Aperitif” Season Premiere Review

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne | Created by Bryan Fuller

One thing is very clear from the first few minutes of Bryan Fuller’s new series, Hannibal, it’s his own take on the characters invented in the world of literature by Thomas Harris and then essayed onscreen in film as The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising, and Manhunter/Red Dragon. He’s not cribbing from source materials to create a pastiche of overly clichéd characters to make a by-the books procedural. No, this is his world and he’s simultaneously managed to create a world that feels like Harris’ and those aforementioned films and yet still makes this his own. It doesn’t feel like his previous works, even the sadly truncated “Mockingbird Lane” felt like a new Fuller take on an old classic.

The opening scene sets everything up for how our lead, Will Graham thinks and it’s such a cracking dissection of how someone who profiles killers gets inside the head of the monsters that commit those deeds. His repetition of “this is my design” feels like someone in a Harris book would talk, or rather how the killer would think and it’s all the more better for it. It creates a mantra for the character. And that’s where the show started to become it’s own, in just the first few minutes. We see how he removes elements and even the little visual touches like the little wipes across the screen to see beyond what’s right in front of him.  Even the case in the premiere has a very cinematic feel to it, Graham gets brought in to find a person who’s been kidnapping a very specific type of girl, and the authorities can’t seem to find the bodies.  Laurence Fishburne is very tough and essays the role of Jack Crawford, as a man who doesn’t trust how unbalanced the profiler he brings in is, but does so because he sees that Graham is fully capable of finding the abductor because he understand these people.

The main case of the pilot, the person, Garret Jacob Hobbes kidnapping and as we later discover is killing these girls is the catalyst of the pilot, but the main through line of the episode is how the characters handle it. Fuller’s aptly named killer, “The Minnesota Shrike” is rather creepy (he’s eating the girls as well) but we only discover who he is in the last moments of the episode before he kills his wife, and nearly the daughter he can’t bring himself to let go of, before Will kills him. It’s a little rushed at the climax, but is still done rather well, even throwing in a grim tableau of a naked woman impaled on a rack of antlers, which Will immediately dismisses as a copycat.  The more important part of the revelation is the scene where Lector gives a call over to the killer before the end and says in the most blood-freezing manner, “they know”. Those words can give you nightmares and creates a shade of darkness to Lector when he shows up with Will at the bloodbath and saves the daughter. It’s a great moment for both characters because we see Will shattered by the murder of this killer, this normal man and Lector calmly saving the girls life and sitting by her bedside in the hospital. It’s about shifting dynamics and how brilliantly Will’s colleague,  Alana Bloom is as equally broken by how Will was put into this situation and we feel the sadness too.

Throughout the pilot, David Slade’s direction is haunting and gothic, and creates exactly the mood required for the series. It’s Dario Argento by way of television procedural. There are scene reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s cracking direction all through and through. The direction during Will’s analysis of the murders or even the dreams he has during the investigation during the pilot feels like an actual dream and creates some definitive chills. It’s not as violent as the other serial killer drama on the air nor as mean spirited and brutal either. The violence services the story instead of vice versa.

The other smart thing Fuller does is he waits to bring the eponymous character into the mix, it’s almost halfway through the pilot before we even see Doctor Lector, and Fuller wisely skirts expectations of how he is. Sure, we know who Hannibal Lector is because we’ve read the books and seen the films but Fuller plays the character straight up and doesn’t throw in cheeky or cheesy homages to the past, again this is Fuller’s design. This is his Hannibal. He gets brought in to not psychoanalyze the abductor but rather Will, and that’s how it’s done sneakily. As such, Lector isn’t the most compelling of the characters in the pilot because he’s still played as an enigma, a shadow. This isn’t damning at all, but rather the build-up. The interplay between Dancy and Mikkelsen is chatty, playful and yet handled as two men playing a dangerous game of chess. Thankfully, both pilot director Slade and Fuller allow Mads Mikkelsen to flesh out the character as his own, rather than how Hopkins played it. Here, Lector is a man using caution to hide himself and doesn’t allow for himself to show through whatever façade he has. It’s such beautiful restraint.

The performance of Hugh Dancy as Will Graham is a damn fine breakout. There have been two actors before him playing the role of Will Graham (William Peterson and Edward Norton) but here Dancy makes it his own. It’s an amalgamation of Fuller’s script and Slade’s direction coupled with an intense performance that shows that he wants to make this role his own and he does. He gives the character a wounded persona, a damaged psyche. And it fits because anyone who discusses the technique of serial killers all day would be a dark person and he plays the role well. He’s reminiscent of the great Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black on the late, beloved Millennium. And there is the great way that Graham is portrayed as a man with some clinical detachment, or very similar to an autism-Asperger’s slant. It’s an interesting tack for a lead character on a show that delves very murkily into crime show procedural. There is so much endearment for the character that gives us an in to how he thinks, and it’s little things like how he obsessively collects stray dogs and gives them a home. It’s fostering a warmth for a man who spends sleepless nights dreaming about the victims of the killer he’s analyzing. You feel the heartache and his fear and it’s damn palpable. Giving him this past, and having a colleague like Alana allows for an entryway into this world and allows us to try and understand how broken Will really is.

Hannibal is one of the strongest pilots this year, and has the ability to be the breakout hit that Bryan Fuller damn well deserves. It’s so very compelling and offers a new slant on a story everyone knows, and yet breathes some new life into it, and a genre of television as old as time.

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