So. Hannibal 1×01: “Apéritif”

If you haven’t tried ‘Hannibal’ yet, this does contain spoilers for some parts of the episode.

Having digested this episode, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it; particularly the reinterpretations of the two main characters, something I was honestly worried about.

We first meet Will Graham as he visits the aftermath of a double homicide, performing a mental backtrack to place himself in the mind of the murderer and relive the killings. He describes this horrendous act in cold, clinical terms, understanding the deliberation behind each shot. Graham is introduced to us in violence, blood and slaughter, intensely experienced on his part and yet calmly presented to an avid audience in a lecture theatre, as if we’ve somehow gotten a crossover between CSI and that first season episode of House, ‘Three Stories’. On the surface Graham is detached; beneath his skin he’s fighting desperately not to be sucked into crimes he recreates.

We also learn that he takes in stray dogs, and has quite a number at the moment. He quite literally Pets the Dog. When it comes to humans, though, he’s often rude and abrasive, freely admitting to having difficulties interacting with others due to autistic traits and that cursed empathy, as well as the tendency to get distracted by other people’s eyeballs.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

(By the by; I’ll admit that I know absolutely nothing about guns whatsoever, but I do believe it is pretty damn hard to shoot someone in the neck with ‘surgical precision’. The very nature of bullets – pieces of metal hitting your flesh at colossal speeds – does not in any way suggest ‘surgical precision’ to my mind.

Also, these were moving targets, and the killer had a handgun. Not a rifle with a scope. A handgun.)

As for the title character, who doesn’t even show up until the episode is nearly half way through? His introduction could not be more different. Right after Graham realises that the killer they’re hunting is eating his victims, we cut to a table arrayed with fruit (a slice of pomegranate is artistically placed in the foreground) and a plate piled with meat. Hands convey some of that meat to another plate, and finally we move slowly up the diner to reveal Mads Mikkelsen’s striking, and frankly cadaverous, face as he chews and stares at the fourth wall. At us. And all half in shadow with classical music in the background.

Mikkelsen creates a Lecter that is both a dandy – seriously, plaid suits? What the heck? – and a frankly terrifying observer. When he’s confronted with a woman bleeding out on her front porch, and shortly after a teenage girl suffering the same wound, to my eyes his face doesn’t exhibit fascination or enjoyment at the sight of someone dying in front of him. There is nothing but disinterest; if Will hadn’t been so intent on saving the girl, I do believe Lecter would have stood there and watched her die, that blank expression never wavering.

And then, right near the end of the episode, we find him asleep by her bedside in hospital, having stayed with her throughout the night.

Our villain, ladies and gentlemen.

Back when I was anticipating this series, I predicted that some of the best parts of the season would be the interactions between Lecter and Graham. I wasn’t disappointed; their first meeting when Graham violently rejects Lecter’s attempts at psychoanalysis , and their later bonding (of sorts) over breakfast hints at the beginning of a beautifully fascinating relationship. Lecter is intrigued and probing, Graham is initially hostile and gradually, oh so gradually, receptive to Lecter’s attention. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are actors completely owning two characters that you can’t bear to look away from.

And as for the promo for the upcoming season: ‘Did you just smell me?’ Oh my.

Still, I think I almost liked the scenes where they were apart and yet dominating each other’s thoughts even more. When Graham beholds the work of the copycat ‘Shrike’ he’s exasperated and, what’s more, offended, by the killer, describing him as brutal, efficient and completely uncaring. Where he felt sympathy for the original ‘Shrike’ here he feels no empathy at all. This killer’s modus operandi disgusts and repels him, even as he’s able to dissect and evaluate it.

Totally unaware that, at that moment – at least in the running of the episode – Lecter is tucking into a hearty meal of lungs, the very organs that this latest victim is missing. Coincidence? With ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’ involved? He’s savouring each mouthful, honestly smiling for perhaps the first time since he’s come on screen. He knows the way Will’s mind works. The young lady he left out in the field pierced on a thorn bush of antlers is a little jolt to get the empathic juices flowing again; a lesson, taunt and strange gift all in one.

I do wonder: just how many satisfied dinners is Hannibal going to enjoy this season?

The other characters haven’t had much to do as of yet, save Jack Crawford who is, frankly, hilarious at some points – ‘USE THE LADIES’ ROOM!!!’ – but is also utterly determined both to get cases solved and not to lose Graham in the process. The rest of the team is interesting and far from irritating; after two seasons of scepticism and hostility from the police force in Sherlock, it was refreshing to see this team work alongside Will with no snarky comments regarding his powers of empathy. Or at least not yet; if this changes in later episodes, I shall be disappointed. Dr Bloom had little screen time, but hopefully that shall be remedied in time to come.

The dialogue was excellent. All of it, to my relatively inexperienced ear, sounded natural and likely to be used in the situations shown. Nothing too obvious was stated, nothing was too overacted, everything flowed fairly well from beginning to end.

What to say about how it was shot, other than it was beautiful? Graham’s visions of the latest murder victim, as she floats above her bed or hangs suspended on antlers, Hannibal’s dining table and, again, the luckless girl pierced on the antlers – these scenes are all horrific and gorgeous, as is Lecter’s preparation of those delightfully pink lungs, so freshly butchered.

I wondered if we were going to get loving close ups of the cooking methods of a gourmet cannibal. Indeed we did. Now I’m keen to know what’s going to be next on the menu.

I think Hannibal’s patient should watch out for himself, considering what happened to Benjamin Raspail. I’m just saying.

My only problem is that this premiere felt too short – at forty three minutes per episode in running time, this is quite possibly the shortest crime series I’ve ever seen. I’m used to plots that take one and a half to two hours to unfold – with adverts – and consequently it was a tad rushed to my mind. Since they’ve established the two main characters and at least some of the supporting cast, the following episodes might be a tad more sedate, at least in terms of plot flow if not content.

There’s no need to worry about the season being boring, at any rate. The promo photos, displaying artistic deaths such as ‘The Bloody Eagle’, inspired by Norse sacrifices (and Hannibal the book and The Silence of the Lambs, no doubt) and a bizarre parody of a puppet show, suggest we’re in for one hell of a gory visual feast.

Cheered by this marvelously stimulating  first taste, I look forward to the ‘Amuse-Boche’, i.e. the next episode, and refuse to stop making food puns.

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