WORDS Rich Wilson
Of all the material available for a franchise, the saga of Hannibal Lecter seems the least likely to work within the format of television. Common thought is Thomas Harris’ much-beloved cannibal creation is best with a straitjacket and mask, dispensing pearls of wisdom from behind toughened glass to the FBI. And of course, Anthony Hopkins’ celebrated portrayal is seen as definitive, the classic fava-beans-and-chianti line heard a thousand times and ridiculed from comedians to game show hosts alike. Difficult then, to take the concept and slot it into a story-of-the-week format. However, not only will NBC’s surprise hit show make you forget everything you thought you knew about Lecter, it could easily be the best interpretation yet. Writer Bryan Fuller has sensibly avoided clichés and previous incarnations, keeping only the characters and resetting everything else. It’s a bold and successful move that has produced one of the consistently best shows on TV.
Fuller’s masterstroke was in the casting of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter. Outside of his villainous turn in Casino Royale Mikkelsen is virtually unknown in the US, although devotees of European cinema have long realised his greatness; here he makes Lecter his own. Impeccably dressed, intense, psychotic and always charming, Mikkelsen finds his own vibe for the character and completely stays away from Hopkins’ portrayal. The counterbalance comes from the equally good Hugh Dancy as FBI profiler Will Graham, almost as crazy as Lecter, who hallucinates the gruesome murders he investigates as a means of catching the perpetrator. The show rests on these two characters and their interaction and Mikkelsen and Dancy are superb, sparking off each other in tension-filled scenes. Fine support comes from Laurence Fishburne and a selection of continuing guest supports from the likes of Michael Pitt (brilliant as the doomed Mason Verger) and Gillian Anderson as Graham’s very odd therapist.
And of course, Will Graham needs therapy, locked away in an asylum after Lecter framed him for a series of brutal slayings at the climax of the first season. That twist was daring and audacious, and the first half of season two explores its implications, Lecter loose to construct his little schemes while Graham slowly regains his sanity. Season two tends to drop the killer-of-the-week formula in favour of the longer, slow-burning story of these two men—one suspects Fuller planned it this way all along—and the show is all the better for it. As the season runs it becomes difficult to see the line between sane and psycho that Graham and Lecter present. It culminates in a truly outstanding two-part finale that cannot be predicted, and a final twist that very cleverly harks back to the beginning of the season, with the wily Lecter once again pulling all the strings. Fuller has stated he wants the show to run for six seasons, bringing in characters from both the books and movies. That’s an appealing prospect, particularly if this level of quality can be maintained. With a plethora of great television currently on offer—Boardwalk Empire; The Strain; The Walking Dead—Hannibal by far and away has the greatest depth. Beautifully written and performed, it looks stunning, is genuinely unsettling, and for those who seek out visceral pleasures, bloody and gruesome—if you want to see someone sewed inside a horse, this is the show for you.
The quality of the home release does justice to NBC’s faith in the show, with a feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary that covers all aspects of production; interviews; features; plenty of deleted scenes; and commentary from cast and crew on half of the episodes (during which Mikkelsen proves himself to be ridiculously funny). This is a fine package, a good way to catch up or revisit, and a great primer for the next season of television’s most mouth-watering show.
Hannibal: The Complete Season Two is available on DVD and Blu-ray now. To win a copy on DVD, enter details below.