Warning: If you haven’t read Hannibal by Thomas Harris, you might want to skip the parts in bold, as they discuss at length some of the messed up stuff that occurs within the book.
So, there was Thomas Harris, fresh off the moderate success of Black Sunday – wherein terrorists plot to blow up a Super Bowl – and with a college career of covering the police beat for the Waco Tribune-Herald behind him, when he made the fateful decision to write a tale of two serial killers and the poor sucker that has to try and stop their shenanigans. Who could have guessed that one of those characters would go on to become a pop cultural icon for the ages?
It’s not that the other two aren’t memorable, but there’s just something about Hannibal Lecter that captures the imagination. Plus the gurney straightjacket mask combo is just so easy to parody.
And now NBC is on the edge of releasing a new series based on the relationship between Lecter and the man who put him away, Will Graham, in what will hopefully not be too reminiscent of Dexter.
“A team up between Graham and Lecter?” I cried, when first I saw the trailer. “One’s a troubled empathic special agent, the other’s a forensic psychiatrist who eats bits of people, they fight crime? No, they quite literally fight crime, or at least try to solve it, while one of them is definitely committing it. Who the hell wrote this?”
(Upon looking back at Red Dragon, it turns out that Thomas Harris wrote it. For a given value of wrote, in that Graham did go to Lecter maybe about twice for help with some serial murders that, oh irony, Lecter was committing, and on the second visit Graham realised that and Lecter tried to disembowel him.
Well, that definitely showed me.*)
Then I had to ask myself: ‘Is a prequel about the relationship between Graham and Lecter, where they fight/solve/commit crime, going to be as silly as all get out?’
To which my practical side smacked me solidly round the face and said, ‘You mean sillier than the books already were?’
Touché, practical side. Touché. Also, ouch?
Let’s face facts; Hannibal himself has become something of a parody. Throughout the novels he evolves from being a cannibalistic serial killer with somewhat refined tastes to being a absolute genius who can – apparently – solve crimes while locked in a prison cell, and talk people into swallowing their tongues without even being able to see them. He’s sort of like a consulting psycopath, decades before Moffat got around to adapting Sherlock.
And then he progresses to someone who seems to be an expert at practically anything under the sun, from medieval Tuscan to shooting a crossbow. Oh, and throughout all of this he can no longer be defined as human, and I quote:
‘….’there is no consensus in the psychiatric community that Dr. Lecter should be termed a man. He has long been regarded by his professional peers in psychiatry, many of whom fear his acid pen in the professional journals, as something entirely Other. For convenience they term him a ‘monster.’ ”
And then Hannibal (the book) took Hannibal’s (the guy) lack of a Freudian Excuse – that had been firmly established in the previous two books – curb stomped it and left it sobbing brokenly in a gutter. Hannibal the Cannibal now has a little sister who was eaten…by NAZIS.
You’re trying too hard.
This isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. There’s also the billionaire paralyzed paedophile who Lecter convinced into cutting his own face off, and who in return wants to film Lecter being eaten by specially bred pigs. He’s killed by having a massive eel shoved down his throat. Then there are the gypsies warding off the evil eye, as well as the re-enactment of historical disembowelment, and the infamous plane journey where a whiny American kid steals Lecter’s sandwiches. On top of all that, there’s what happens at the end of the book. Sheesh.
The camel had probably given up the struggle by this point and was doing an impression of Giles Corey, calling for ‘More weight!’ so that it could be put out of its misery.
This is not to say that Hannibal itself is bad. It’s actually my favourite out of the four books because it’s so completely, wonderfully, ridiculously over the top. I don’t know what on earth was in Harris’s mind when he was writing it, but I like to think he was having an absolute ball ramping up the gore, melodrama and suspension of the reader’s disbelief.
However, this addition to Hannibal’s motives in turn leads to the plot of Hannibal Rising, which I have neither read nor watched, since the fact that Harris effectively had to be forced to write it – as in, ‘If you don’t do it we’ll get someone else’ – is very unnerving.
Getting back to the point of this post; can a ‘they fight/solve/commit crime’ plot actually work?
First of all, Graham and Lecter teaming up? Those who’ve read or watched Red Dragon can justifiably point out that there’s no love lost between those two in there, since Lecter tried to gut Graham like a pig and plotted against him in prison while seemingly providing advice.
‘Aha’, the producers and writers of this show cry, ‘but it will show the similarities between the two, the vital connection that they share, the ways in which they are undeniably the same!’
‘We were thinking something a bit more elegant sounding, but yes, bromance might cover it.’
Mmmhmm. Could work.
Really, this could legitimately be an thrilling dynamic and relationship. It might very well be precisely that. Graham is clearly disturbed by the way he can see into the minds of killers; Lecter would be fascinated by that, and equally fascinated by a man who’s just as capable of being a monster as Lecter himself is – and yet fights desperately not to be. He’d not exactly leap at the chance to work with Graham but still eagerly accept it, despite the risk involved. It screams of captivation and corruption.
The plot could a problem, but the limited number of episodes – thirteen in all – means that they have a lot of things to get through in a relatively short pace of time, which means: less padding. And less padding is always a wonderful thing.
There have already been complaints that, if they had to make this at all, they should have set it in the 1980s along with the book, since forensic science and investigative technology has made leaps and bounds since Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. In these high tech days, would Graham even need to contact Lecter in order to get some psychiatric insight?
The series seems to have answered this by making Lecter Graham’s new psychiatrist, in order to help him cope with getting into the mind frames of the killers that he’s hunting. This is admittedly a clever idea – but could Lecter work in close contact with Graham for an extended period of time, not simply the two or three visits that Harris describes, without getting caught?
Well, obviously he can, otherwise we’d have a short story, but still.
And, since Graham can hardly catch Lecter by the end of the first season – they’ve got at least two seasons planned out, after all, with more to follow – there might be a lot of interestingly themed killers to catch in the interim. (Assuming Lecter isn’t committing all of them, which, judging by the ‘artistic’ presentation of the corpses, he could be.) This makes me wonder if this is either going to be a) a Supernatural-esque road trip as they’re called out to murders all over the country, or b) something reminiscent of Midsomer Murders, with so many people being killed off in one particular area you’re surprised there’s anyone left alive by a certain point.
I predict numerous intimate conversations between an empathetic man and his trusted psychiatrist, framed very much like seductions. (Bryan Fuller, an executive producer, flat out calls it a ‘love story’.** The possibilities are endless. Think of Youtube, think of Tumblr…) Authorities that do not believe in the might of Graham, until lo, they witness his powers…of comprehending the strange twisted minds of psychopaths. Graham will have nightmares and stand on roofs in his underpants. Lecter will host dinners and feed people to other people, presumably for shits and giggles. A growing bond will blossom, slow but steady, between the two, that will hurt all the more when it’s broken.
There’ll be a good deal of red herrings, dead ends and fabulous gourmet meals. Judging by all the marketing and, heck, Hannibal the Cannibal, they’re going to play up the food angle as much as is humanly possible. For visual reference, I direct your attention to the posters below.
The few episode titles they’ve given us so far are, in order , “Apéritif”, “Potage” and “Entrée”, which makes me both realise that they seem to be running with the Harper’s Island theme of naming – I wonder if Lecter or some other character will serve the title dish or course in each respective episode – and ponder about what will happen if, in later seasons, they run out of culinary terms? Maybe they’ll move onto kitchen utensils, or hunting equipment?
And there’ll be plenty of the preparation and ingredients that went into the dishes, shown in lovingly gory detail. They’ve actually brought a top chef on as a ‘cannibal consultant’ to advise how best to prepare human flesh for consumption, you know they’re going to show us at least some of that.
We’re just about the luckiest audience in the world.
Plus they’ll be giving us some culture along with the delicious meals and exquisite wines. We’ll be able to tune in for horrific murders and singers with the voices of angels, everybody wins! I seriously love how, in one trailer,*** they’ve not only overlaid the action with Vide Cor Meum – a song written specifically for the Hannibal film – but shown that someone will actually be singing it in the series, as Hannibal is overcome with…something. I don’t blame them for including it one bit, I can forgive Hannibal (the film) everything that it did for giving us that song…
…but I’d still think they’d want to distance themselves from the, ahem, interesting result that the film turned out to be.
And the characters look as if they’ll actually be well rounded, with good dynamics. Aside from Graham and Lecter – the latter being played by Madds Mikkelsen, an actor I have a lot of time for right now – and a Jack Crawford played by Laurence Fishburne, they’ve updated at least one character from Red Dragon, Freddie Lounds, and made her into a tabloid blogger. Yes, if you’ve read the book and did a bit of a double take at one word in that last, sentence, ‘her’. They’ve also changed the character of Dr Alan Bloom, a minor character in Red Dragon, into Dr Alana Bloom, a psychology professor who profiles for the FBI, and who just so happens to be Lecter’s protege. And Lecter, of all people, gets a psychologist who just so happens to be played by Gillian. Anderson.
Due to all these reasons and more, I personally think that there’s a chance for this to be a truly beautiful, harrowing series. A lot of the images that I’ve seen in the trailers are stark and shocking, particularly what’s left behind when the killers have had their fun – and yet I think the plots that’ll emerge, the tensions and conflicts that they’ll create, have great potential; if only they’re handled right. If nothing else, I’m comforted by the fact that Lecter and Graham’s scenes are certain to be great, and they can’t possibly reach the heights of Hannibal’s (book and film) silliness.
I only wish that Clarice Starling could have been in this as well, although it’s really too early for her, chronologically speaking. Maybe she’ll show up in a future season…though, with the Lifetime series based on her rumoured to be starting production soon, I’m rather dubious about that.
So, if you can, at least sample the first episode when it arrives in April. Have a taste, see if it’s palatable. At least you can enjoy the delicious treat of knowing Lecter’s dirty little secret, and savouring what’s to follow.
*Alternatively, the writers could be taking their cue from the film version of Red Dragon, where Graham and Lecter seemed to know each other quite well and Graham had consulted Lecter on his cases several times before realising his true nature.