Hannibal the Series is a perfect illustration of the Nietzschean philosophy that when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks also into you, and as you seek to study monsters, be careful that you do not become one.
As I’ve stated before, I’ve become totally obsessed with this show. I wish I’d paid better attention to it. When it was airing, I gave it only the most cursory attention, and felt like I simply wasn’t keeping up with the show or that it was over my head. It wasn’t over my head. Its just the kind of show you have to pay very close attention or you will be lost.
I guess, this makes me a somewhat late-blooming Fannibal. Everyone who is into the show is already in this head-space, and I probably won’t bring anything new to an analysis of it, but if nothing else, these reviews and essays can straighten out my thinking about the show and characters, and prompt others to become Fannibals.
This series of essays and reviews are my re-watch of seasons one-three and the thoughts that occurred to me during. Since all three seasons are available on DVD, and I’ve watched all of them, it will contain massive spoilers for season two and three as well. If you have never watched a single episode and don’t mind lots spoilers, then please, continue.
Season one of Hannibal is like most season one shows. It introduces the characters and main themes. Bryan Fuller himself, has stated that Hannibal is basically a non-sexual love story between two heterosexual men, Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. It chronicles their first meeting, what types of men they are, the supporting players and the foundation for the second season. Most of the first season is “killer of the week” episodes that have a particular resonance to a specific character or theme.
This first season, Hannibal Lecter spends in quiet fascination of Will Graham, who is touted as a being of pure empathy, due to some type of neurological disorder, something which fascinates Hannibal and several other characters. When we first meet Will, he is teaching at Quantico and approached by Jack Crawford, the head of a serial killer task force called The Evil Minds Research Facility, a title that Will objects to as tasteless. Later,in their first interview, Hannibal lightly jokes about Will’s tastes, one of the many little cannibal puns Lecter likes to indulge.
Jack Crawford asks Will where he is on the Autism spectrum, as one of the hallmark traits of Autism and Asperger syndrome, is the inability to make eye contact with others. Will can make eye contact but prefers not to do so, wearing his eyeglasses in such a way that they prevent him from looking directly at people, a tactic that Jack is smart enough to notice. In the episode Buffet Froid (1×10), Will attempts to save, and bonds with, a young woman named Georgia Madchen, who can look at people’s faces, but because of a similar neurological disorder, can’t see them. This drives her to psychosis, mirroring the instability Will has been trying to avoid because of his disorder and the influence of Lecter. Later in season two, Will bonds with Peter Bernadone (Su-Zakana: 2×8), a man with a similar disorder, due to a head injury, that won’t allow him to both touch and look at something at the same time, so this inability to SEE is a constant theme.
The first case we see Will talking about isn’t the Garret Jacob Hobbes case but a case involving a family called The Marlowes. Theirs is not one of the cases mentioned in the books but the Hobbes case is. The Hobbes case is the one that caused Will’s mental breakdown, briefly mentioned in the books, which prompted him to retire from criminal profiling. The first and the second seasons of the series is al Ike a prequel to The Red Dragon book, chronicling that breakdown, aided and abetted by Hannibal Lecter.
Jack Crawford seeks Will’s advice on the Hobbes case, which parallels one of the classic serial killer case studies in America, that of Ted Bundy. Hobbes victims are all outdoorsy young women, with dark hair. Ted Bundy was a charismatic serial killer from the 70s, who died in the electric chair in Fla. in 1989. The number of Bundy’s victims is unknown, but most were young ,attractive, college aged females, similar in appearance to the victims in the Garret Hobbes case in the show. (If you Google the photos for the Ted Bundy case, you’ll see the resemblance.)
Garrett’s motivations however, are the complete opposite of Ted Bundy’s , which were sexual in nature. Hobbes motivation is more like Jeffrey Dahmer’s in that he sought to keep his victims close to him by eating them,(except without the sexual component, which I will get to in a moment). The victims symbolically represent Hobbes’ daughter Abigail, a young woman on the verge of leaving home and leaving her father’s life for the first time. This is Hobbes attempt to hold onto his daughter, trying to arrest her development by killing and eating representatives of her, over and over again, because he cherishes her, by cherishing his victims.
This symbolic type of killing is not unusual in serial killer cases, where the killers take victims that resemble a particular woman, who they feel has wronged them, or that they covet, (as in the case of Edmund Kemper III, dubbed The Co-Ed Killer from the 1970s.) In some cases the killers are building up to killing their coveted victim, but in others, they may be reliving the death of their original victim, over and over again.
There is a deliberate choice on the part of Bryan Fuller, as he says, to make the motivations of the serial killers on the show, non-sexual in nature. Almost all of the killings on the show are done for benign reasons, the killers often believe they are helping their victims in some way, or echoing Hannibal’s therapeutic philosophy, they believe they are helping their victims to transcend and be their best selves. The only other killers we meet, who kill for selfsihly negative reasons, is Hannibal Lecter and Tobias Budge in Fromage (1×8).
In fact, because of Fuller’s attempts to avoid cliches, it’s much easier to think of Hannibal as a “fantasy” show, with killing. Most of the types of killers, on the show are not like actual real life killers, as most of them are not masterminds like Lecter. In an attempt to avoid one cliche, however, Bryan Fuller has fulfilled the cliche of the violent mentally ill person. Most mentally ill are liable to be the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators:
The motivations of real life serial killers are most often sexual in nature. Notice that there are never rape motivations on the show, and although the victims are often mutilated after death, there is never any sexual component to that, whereas in the real world there is almost always a sexual component, right down to the choice of victims, who are often transient women, often prostitutes, who will not be missed when they are preyed upon. Serial killers don’t like to chase and don’t often prey on those who will be easily missed. Like lazy fishermen, they prey on people who be easily lured into their orbit by their habits, or professions. The serial killers on Hannibal often choose very different types of victims, from all walks of life. (In season two, the fisherman motif will be brought up in conversation between Jack and Will.)
On the show, the killers often mutilate the bodies of their victims too, but never for sexual reasons. Most often those reasons are unique to the individual situations of the killers, (like the Angel Killer in Coquilles: 1×5), to send a message to a third party, (as Hannibal does in Apertif and Tobias Budge in Sorbet: 1×7), or a belief they are aiding the victims (as in Takiawase: 2×4)), and the bodies are often arranged in artistic tableau meant to convey meaning to others (Randall Tier in Shizakana: 2×9) . Its more helpful for us to think of Will’s job as reading the tableau, to determine what the killer is trying to say, something not entirely unlike how real profilers work, but that’s where the resemblance to actual criminal profiling ends.
When we first see Will, we are introduced to the specific technique he utilizes throughout the rest of the series, to read a crime scene, the pendulum effect. This is important because it is how well Will’s mind works that determines how the other characters behave towards him. Later, Will’s ability to access this mind-space is affected by his deteriorating mental state, and his reactions to Hannibal’s crime scenes are changed as a result of Hannibal’s influence. Hannibal’s manipulations affect Will’s ability to see. It is Hannibal’s fascination with Will’s ability to think like any kind of person that begins their romance.
Jack Crawford first approaches Alana Bloom, to do a psychological evaluation of Will Graham and to be his anchor in case Will gets in too deep. It is Alana who recommends Lecter to Jack.
We first see Hannibal eating alone in his house and although we see him savoring the food, his life looks routine, possibly boring. He’s content, and seemingly happy, but there’s no real excitement. Life doesn’t become exciting until he is approached by Jack Crawford, who hires him to give a psychological profile of Will Graham, to assess whether or not Will is in a capable mental state to consult on cases.
The first meeting between Will and Lecter does not go well. Will denies Lecter for the first time here. It’s something he keeps doing throughout the series while drawing ever closer to him. We get a glimpse of Will’s dark-side, when he tells Hannibal that he won’t like him when he’s psychoanalyzed, referencing another mild mannered man who transforms into a raging beast when provoked. And he’s not wrong. There is a beast in Will, that authentic self that Hannibal senses and wishes Will to release. (Like Tony Stark from The Avengers, when he first meets Bruce Banner, Lecter is curious. He pokes and prods Will to see what will happen.)
Having been introduced to Will and the case they’re working, Hannibal copycats the Hobbes’ case out of curiosity, to see if Will can tell the difference between the original and him. Oddly, the comparison to the copy is what spurs Will to fully understand the Hobbes case. It is also what first puts Will onto the scent of Hannibal Lecter. The body impaled on the antlers of a deer, and the crows eating the body will become the familiar motif seen throughout the rest of the series, known as the Dire RavenStag, which is Will’s subconscious representation of Hannibal.When Lecter questions Will the next day, he asks how Will knows that the Hobbes case, and the one he created, are not the same person.
This is also the first time we see Lecter feeding Will, which I find fascinating as there are several scenes of him feeding Will throughout the first season.The second instance is in Releves, (1×12), when he brings Will Silkie Chicken Soup, as a health restorative. The giving of food is a mating ritual among certain predatory animals, called Courtship Feeding, and is one of a number of power plays that Lecter engages in with Will, although Will doesn’t know it.
It’s not explicitly stated, but it is implied, that he is feeding Will meat from the “field kabuki” that Will consulted on the previous day. Will’s rejection of Hannibal’s friendship during their first meal is an instance of Will denying him, while accepting Lecter’s offer of courtship. The series is full of such push and pull moments of Will both rejecting and accepting Lecter’s advances. By ingesting the body of the victim, one could argue that Will is possessed by Hannibal, and that’s when the subconscious imagery of The Dire RavenStag, associated only with Lecter’s killings, begins to haunt him. The Stag is also a sculpture that is one of the props found in Lecter’s office.
Later, when Will discovers Hobbes address, Hannibal calls and warns Hobbes of his imminent arrest. This is another test, just like the “field kabuki”, which is born entirely out of Hannibal’s curiosity of how Will is going to react. He watches Will kill for the first time when Will shoots Garrett Hobbes, and is curious about how such pure empathy can be reconciled with taking a human life. All of their discussions afterwards are Hannibal probing what this must have felt like to Will.
Hannibal’s version of psychiatry involves the full self- actualization of his patients, which is a legitimate psychiatric technique, but is twisted in Hannibal’s case, as he doesn’t seem to care if his patients are violent psychopaths, or wish to become monsters. He encourages them regardless of their personal demons. He wants them to realize their authentic self and live up to their full potential, no matter how dark, and after some amount of probing and poking, perverse creature that he is, decides Will needs to self-actualize. Later, he does this because Will becoming his true self will meet Lecter’s emotional needs.
What ensues through the first half of season one is a tug of war between Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter over Will Graham’s soul, with Jack as the good Angel, on one shoulder and Hannibal as Lucifer, on the other. Bryan Fuller has stated that Hannibal is representative of Satan (i.e. The ManStag or Horned God, that Will wrestles with in season two). Both Jack and Lecter seek to manipulate Will for their own agendas. Jack’s primary motive is using Will to catch The Chesapeake Ripper (who is actually Hannibal). Jack is walking a thin line of attempting to moderate Will’s instability, while Hannibal’s motivation seems to be encouraging it to full flower. After all, in order to build up, he must break down and that’s essentially what he’s doing to Will, breaking down all of Will’s barriers, his forts, to reach his authentic self.
Garrett Jacob Hobbes, in desperation, tries to kill Abigail, but she is saved by Will and Hannibal, who afterwards feel responsibilities to her. The episode ends with the two of them book ending Abby’s unconscious body in the hospital. Although I suspect, the reason Hannibal is there is because he was waiting to see if Will would appear. Understanding Will’s attachment to Abigail, Lecter uses her to manipulate Will’s mental instability, and eventually frame Will for her murder.
When we first see Lecter he is sitting down to dinner, in a dark, three piece suit and he is almost never seen wearing anything else. Note, in his first meeting with Will, he is seen wearing a bland, beige outfit with a sweater vest and no tie. I suspect Lecter thinks this is how regular people do casual, and he is trying to mimic and blend in.
Most of Lecter’s suits are subtle plaids with solid shirts, with subtly patterned ties. Contrast those with Jack Crawford’s FBI power suits, in dark, solid jewel tones, often paired with colored shirts for that “cool black guy” effect. Will Graham often wears rumpled jackets, plaid shirts and khakis or chinos, with no tie, alluding to his working class background. Almost no one wears denim except Abigail Hobbes, who often wears dark flowery colors with a very youthful, feminine cut.
This episode features Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Alana Bloom is not a character from the books or movies. However, Alan Bloom is briefly mentioned in both the book and movie Red Dragon. Alana is an original character to the series, and what a fearsome Mama Bear she is.
Alana Bloom is The Protector. A large part of her purpose in the series is to protect everyone. First Will Graham, who she tries to protect from Jack Crawford and Hannibal. Later, she takes Abigail Hobbes under her wing and is fearless in this regard. She regularly dresses down Jack for his behavior towards Will, brings charges of negligence against him in season two on Will’s behalf, and is one of the few people who can get away with dressing down Hannibal, in her zeal to protect Abigail, something that Lecter meekly accepts from her..
Later, in season two, when Will has set his sights on taking down Hannibal as the Chesapeake Ripper, she tries to protect Hannibal as well. She is a mediator, the barrier between all the various male agendas and their attempts to destroy each other and themselves. And she is also a bridge, conveying messages to all of them, about each other, and is the one who facilitates Will’s and Hannibal’s first meeting.
Having been deceived and betrayed by Hannibal, she turns her attention, in season three, to Margot Verger, helping Margot to overthrow the tyranny of her brother Mason.
She is a fearless mother figure within the narrative , who becomes a real mother by the end of the series. If Alana chooses your side in a dispute, you would be well protected from all comers.