“Hannibal” is one of the rare television shows where it’s difficult to single out specific episodes as one’s favorites. The series — which is based on the Hannibal Lecter novels by Thomas Harris — has one of the strongest runs of any recent television show, despite lasting only three seasons.
“Hannibal” keeps a loyal fanbase to this day — though it was canceled in 2015 — because it never truly slumped in its 39 episode run. The show works as one seamless, deeply twisted, beautiful movie. From the first episode to the last, there is a progression in both style and story that always feels natural.
Taking the heart of Harris’ novels — especially “Red Dragon,” the first Lecter novel — “Hannibal” was a television series with a poetry to its dialogue and a twisted obsession with the more macabre corners of society. Each episode went down like a glass of well-aged wine and the show broke a surprising amount of new ground despite airing on NBC.
It may be difficult to identify the “best” of a series that literally put its heart on a dish to serve up to viewers week after week, but there are a handful of episodes of “Hannibal” that particularly exemplify just why the show continues to be such a delicious obsession.
Season 1, Episode 1 (Apéritif)
With so many Lecter fans loyal to Harris’ novels and the Anthony Hopkins-starring films, there was not a lot of goodwill going into “Hannibal.” Both the book and the movie franchises had fizzled out a bit when NBC brought a new take to the world. “Hannibal Rising” the novel and “Hannibal Rising” the movie both felt like quick cash grabs in 2006. Both the novel and the movie failed to find the sizable audiences that had eaten up the previous adventures, whether they were on the silver screen or the written page.
The announcement of a new television series to be based off of Harris’ finest work, “Red Dragon,” felt like just another excuse to keep squeezing the sponge dry until it cracked. Add to that a synopsis that seemed to suggest Lecter was being turned into a sort of anti-hero cop, and the prospects for the series being anything more than a one-and-done procedural were slim.
Then something crazy happened. “Hannibal” wasn’t just good, it was great. During the first episode of the series, I had to keep checking to make sure I was actually watching the boundary-pushing series on network television. The pilot episode to “Hannibal” doesn’t open with the bloody credits every other episode would end up opening with. It instead begins quietly with the title of the series appearing briefly as we are introduced to Will Graham.
The Anthony Hopkins adaptations of Harris’ book always had their charms, but any Harris fan will tell you the characters never quite matched up to the page, even Hopkins’ Lecter. “Hannibal” was different. Despite making some gender and race changes to supporting players, the hearts of each character remained completely intact and full passages or character traits were clearly pulled straight from “Red Dragon.”
Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen play the best screen versions of Graham and Lecter and their odd connection is clear and intriguing from the beginning.
Bryan Fuller’s leadership on the series was brilliant. He took all of the best parts of the mesmerizing novel, jumbled them around and stitched everything back together to create a Frankenstein monster that was amazing to watch grow each week. What’s impressive about the first episode of “Hannibal” beyond it simply introducing a brilliantly twisted world to chew on is that it accomplishes far more than most pilots. Many pilot episodes are considered some of the weaker chapters in a show’s run because so much time is spent explaining things and introducing characters. Pilots are often held back by the crutch that is the basic need to lay a foundation before you start building the actual house.
But “Hannibal” somehow bucked the trend and gave very little time to exposition. Characters are mostly explained through action, rather than words. “Hannibal” chose ambiguity over being the traditional crime procedural and it paid off big time.
There’s also so much in this pilot that affects what comes the rest of the show. The (spoilers) death of Garrett Jacob Hobbs and the introduction of Abigail remain plot threads until the very end of the series. Unlike lesser crime shows that basically seem to start from scratch each episode, “Hannibal” was a show where characters were deeply affected and changed by everything we see happen to them each week.
Season 1, Episode 6 (Entrée)
Bryan Fuller has said in the past that if “Hannibal” were to continue into a future film or television season, he would be interested in playing with “The Silence of the Lambs,” the Thomas Harris novel that was turned into the 1991 classic film of the same name. Fuller would likely do a great job with the “Silence of the Lambs” material, and in fact he paid homage to both the book and movie in one of the first episodes of “Hannibal.”
“Entrée” introduces Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl”) as Miriam Lass, a young FBI agent clearly modeled after Clarice Starling from “Silence.” Her story of is told in flashback as we walk into the world of the Chesapeake Ripper, a killer never caught but who we know (though none of the characters do) is Hannibal Lecter. With an imprisoned doctor (a perfectly cast Eddie Izzard) trying to take credit for the crimes of the Ripper from behind bars, Lecter is faced with a dilemma that actually surprises him — surprise being a feeling he rarely comes across.
Chlumsky is pitch perfect in a role that many actresses likely couldn’t do well, considering the Jodie Foster shadow they have to perform under. And “Entrée” is an essential episode because it is when it becomes clear how Fuller is adapting Harris’ work. The way he twisted the “Silence” storyline to fit into his almost-fanfiction Thomas Harris world made it clear that there was no predicting where this show was going or how it was going to be pulling its Harris material.
The script showed off new layers to the show, as well as characters like Jack Crawford, an interesting Harris creation who never really got his full due on cinema screens. With more time to develop the character, Laurence Fishburne inhabited the best version of Crawford in “Hannibal.”
Season 1, Episode 8 (Fromage)
This episode might be a guilty pleasure for some, but I think it is one of the most unique and memorable episodes of “Hannibal.” Lecter often hunted (or helped) serial killers, but this episode offered him the chance to face off against one. The story was wonderfully cheesy and yet written with a deadly serious tone. It was serial killer vs. serial killer in the eighth week of the first season of “Hannibal” and it was far more exciting than any recent “vs.” movie we’ve been victim to at cinemas.
The episode acts as the loony payoff to a plotline teased early in the series. Dan Fogler stars as a patient a little too desperate to be Lecter’s friend, and he himself has a friend who Lecter discerns to have the look of a man who may be up to devious things. This man who may or may not be up to bad deeds reaches out to Lecter, somehow knowing the good doctor’s bloodiest secrets. This serial killer wants a friend. The story of the two starts rather innocently for being about two evildoers. It’s one monster hiding away from society looking for friendship from another monster hiding from society. Despite his fondness for connecting with Will Graham, Lecter denies this new friend and the two quickly become enemies.
It all culminates in a wonderfully zany hand-to-hand fight in the very office where Lecter and Graham chat about their problems week after week.
What this episode also accomplished was showing just how deadly Lecter could be. Not only was this a man who could manipulate in ways most cannot even dream, he is also a cunning animal with a strong instinct for survival. He was dangerous before, but seeing him come so close to death’s doorstep and fighting it with everything he had in him made Lecter a far more dangerous character to fans in the series going forward.
Season 2, Episode 8 (Su-zakana)
The second season of “Hannibal” took on the personality of a procedural in some ways, which definitely irked fans looking for more time to be focused on pushing forward the Graham and Lecter relationship. But those week-after-week crimes also provided a great platform for Fuller and the other writers to let their imaginations run free and to tell some unique tales that had never been seen on television before.
“Su-zakana” finds Will Graham out of the hospital and back in the world, cleared of the wrongdoing that had found him accused of being the Ripper. The character’s constant questioning of his moral standing in the episode makes for gripping television, but guest star Jeremy Davis is what really propels this episode to greatness.
If you want evidence that the “Saving Private Ryan” star is criminally underrated and more talented than most actors working today then just flip on this hour of television. The tragic character he creates in Peter Bernadone, a man in love with animals despite being mentally stunted by one thanks to a kick to the head. He’s one of the best characters introduced in “Hannibal” and his interactions with Dancy’s Graham make for some of the show’s best writing and acting.
As unpredictable and dark as every other “Hannibal” episode, “Su-zakana” also has a hopefulness fighting to be noticed through the grime and muck infecting Graham and the world he inhabits. This episode is where moral lines and their importance to characters and places in this world become clearer.
Season 3, Episode 13 (The Wrath of the Lamb)
After surviving a couple close call cancellations, “Hannibal” finally got the boot after its third season. Luckily, the show managed to tell the actual “Red Dragon” story (with a brilliant Richard Armitage taking on the serial killer role of Francis Dolarhyde) and leave us with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to the saga of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
As the two come face to face in the final moments of the show and death can be read in both of their eyes, the two men are finally forced to draw a line in the sand and choose who they are. Even as they fight and rip each other apart, there is a beauty to the connection and closeness these two seemingly polar opposite characters feel towards each other.
It’s difficult to say this as a fan, but even if we never get another chapter in the “Hannibal” storyline, that’s okay. This episode acts as a delightful series finale that is as exciting as anything that came before it.
One of the best parts of the episode is, of course, a vague scene tacked on at the end that sees (spoilers) Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) alive and being served at a dinner table. As the scene goes on, it is suggested that an alive-and-well Lecter is about to serve the woman her own leg. The scene is great in that it suggests a world of possibilities, but none of those possibilities need to be realized for it to be satisfying. It’s a wonderful little wink to the audience and its amusing ambiguity fits with how “Hannibal” chose to tell each and every one of its stories.
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Author : Zachary Leeman
Publish date : 2019-08-02 18:55:41