NBC’s Hannibal
Season 1, Episode 1: “Apéritif”
Directed by David Slade (Hard Candy30 Days of NightBreaking Bad)
Written by Bryan Fuller

* For reviews of Season Three starting with its first episode, “Antipasto” – click here
* For a review of the next episode in Season One, “Amuse-Bouche” – click hereIMG_0047One thing I’ve always loved about the Thomas Harris novels themselves, as well as the film Manhunter (explored more in the remake Red Dragon though I prefer Mann’s film), is the duality between the characters of Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. All due respect to Clarice Starling, whom I love in the books and almost even more at times in the movies (and yes I include Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of Hannibal regardless of how it was received), but it’s Will Graham who I find the most interesting of all. Almost even more interesting than Hannibal himself.
Bryan Fuller has done an incredible job adapting Harris’s novels.IMG_0048There’s a special closeness between Jack Crawford and Will Graham right away. At the same time, there’s a power Jack exerts over Will; part of it becomes friendship, the other part is exploitation. An awkward seeming moment in the first scene between the two sees Jack try and bond, quickly, with Will. He casually reaches out to straighten Will’s glasses. He’s trying to truly reach out and touch Will, not just physically but emotionally. He wants to connect with this man right away, to understand Will. It’s not all to Will’s benefit. This is the beginning of a rocky relationship, one that will change over the course of three seasons in different ways.
I love their initial relationship here. Right away they have rapport with one another – Jack and Will batting around the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket metaphor is too perfect. It’s that post-modern referential type of thing that Fuller enjoys batting around himself, but it also shows how these two communicate, how they immediately begin to have this banter. Which is special, and why in turn the relationship with Hannibal becomes a special thing, because Will Graham does not let people in so willingly. He’s clearly got an emotional disconnect with the world, whether it’s mental illness or autism, perhaps merely an attitude is never fully spelled out, though, Jack does outright question him: “Where do you fall on the spectrum?
The relationship Jack and Will engage in is one that might be a bit rough at times, but it’s certainly an important one.IMG_0053The thing which grabbed me the first time I actually saw Hannibal on television was how appropriately Fuller, as well as David Slade the director of the pilot, captured Will Graham’s method of immersing himself in the crime scene, becoming the killer in his own mind. Setting this up visually is something that really extends all the way throughout the series. Not simply in terms of Will, but overall there’s such an incredibly imagery-based look to this show.
The crimes begin to become these tableaux of visual madness, as we watch Will go through them as if he were there, doing it himself. So we get these great images and then this also helps the audience understand more fully the mindset of Graham, how it becomes a problem for him that the power to completely, unforgivingly empathise with others (to the most literal point) is so easily wielded by his mind.
So Will wakes up in the middle of the night, sweating, the dreams of a dead girl gored by antlers in bed beside him tearing him from sleep.IMG_0051I also love the Stanley Kubrick reference in this pilot. It’s already an awesome scene as is – Jack Crawford really tears into Will, they have an intense moment. But to make things even better, we get the bathroom scene between Delbert Grady and Jack Torrance from The Shining jumping right out at us. There are also beautifully composed/framed shots that scream Kubrick; proportionate and symmetrical shots, the dimensions spread out perfectly in front of us. So I don’t know if that was solely Slade’s idea as director, or if it was Fuller, or maybe a general team decision. Either way, we get a few more images throughout the first season that strike me as direct little homages to Kubrick and it adds a neat flair to this show, making it stand out right off the bat.
Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) comes as a bit of a change, like several characters in this new Hannibal universe. In the novel Red Dragon, Bloom is simply Alan – a man. Graham and Bloom have a good relationship, though, it’s not particularly prominent in the novel.
Here, Alana Bloom becomes a much bigger part of the story. Opening introduction to Alana has us understanding that she cares for Will as a friend, and wishes to keep things that way; she tries to avoid developing a professional curiosity about him. This will pan out as the series goes on. One of the changes to the work of Harris I truly enjoy (most of them I honestly love anyways).IMG_0056Our first glimpse of Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) is beautiful. It is dark and elegant, mysterious. But we know, of course, exactly what he’s cutting up on his plate and chewing. Then cue our view into Dr. Lecter’s psychiatric practice. I’ve actually been a fan of Mads since I first saw the Pusher films by Nicolas Winding Refn — he is a great talent with enormous range.
What I like is how Fuller gives us bits of different periods involving Hannibal Lecter out of Harris’ novels. We get pieces of Red Dragon, yet there are also the elements of a full-on prequel. Red Dragon begins after Hannibal has been caught then Will Graham must go back to him for help dealing with a new killer, The Tooth Fairy. However, Fuller starts us off here before that – when Will first works with Hannibal along with the FBI. This gives us such a great insight into the relationship which developed between the two, eventually leading to the painful decision of Will, down the road, having to go back to the relationship he and the doctor developed in order to help stop further vicious violence.
So I come to this series as a big time fan of the novels. And looking back now from Season Three, I have to say: I absolutely love this adaptation on behalf of Fuller and Co., all the writers. It is a good example of doing something fresh that readers and fans of the films will find familiar yet exciting with interesting changes/twists.
One of the big images of the series – the Nightmare Stag – enters Will’s dreams already, within the first episode. This represents Hannibal, or in a way it’s that lingering awful image on the edges of Will’s mind that lurks, just like Hannibal, and it stalks him through the forest of his mind. Always there, always watching – the blackened, shadowy animal in his head. I think it’s a favourite of mine throughout each season. Even now in Season Three, the imagery is still being played with, quite well I might add.IMG_0058

Do you have trouble with taste?
My thoughts are often not tasty

img_0055The first thing that’s really obvious about continuous imagery that will go on through the series is the show’s focus on the cooking. Which I think is awesome! They’ve actually got a sort of culinary crew or an expert, someone, that deals with all of Hannibal’s cookery. It adds a strange, disturbing element to this Hannibal adaptation. Makes people uneasy to see such beautifully prepared and cooked food being eaten in this context – Hannibal Lecter happily lapping up gorgeous bits of sliced meat, jazzed up with aesthetic beauty to make us drool. Me – being a diehard horror fan – I think it is incredible. Others, I can see how it may unsettle their minds, and stomachs, just slightly.
Regardless, there is so much visual imagery – a true feast – that I couldn’t help be captivated with this first episode.IMG_0060Then Hannibal meets Will in a hotel room. He brings Graham some homemade breakfast. As Will chows down, loving the taste, we can’t help but wonder: is Hannibal already feeding him people-meat? The conversation between them is riveting because we’re seeing the already deliberate manipulation on the part of Lecter – he finds Will interesting, he likes that this man can actually totally empathize with other human beings, and it’s a challenge for him to see if Will might be able to figure out who he is: the Chesapeake Ripper.IMG_0063So when Hannibal does what he does – making the fatal call to Garrett Jacob Hobbs – it isn’t hard to imagine why: simply for fun, for interest. Not only is Hannibal a psychiatrist, he is a sick one; insane, though, he does not particularly believe that himself. Therefore, calling Hobbs to give him a heads up that Will and the FBI are descending upon him is more akin to a scientific experiment, an addition of variables, to Dr. Lecter than an effort to create violence. Hannibal is the ultimate sociopathic social scientist. This whole thing is his version of playing in the lab with test subjects. Except his subjects are living, breathing human beings.
Not to mention the fact Will is forced to murder Garrett Jacob Hobbs and this goes on to further construct who Graham  becomes as a character, developing throughout the series. This is what shapes the entirety of Season One, as well as so much more of Graham’s overall development.
The shots of Hannibal holding Abigail’s wound closed, Will next to him with blood all over his face; it was creepy and so intense. Great scene. We get a great bit of horror in this opening episode. Mainly, though, what we get is a superb introduction to the aesthetic world of this Hannibal series, a view of the path which Bryan Fuller’s adaptation is poised to take with its slight changes and interesting tweaks, and there’s also this incredible window into the dynamic that’s being setup between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.IMG_0070What I like most is the focus on Graham. The thing I like is how this differentiates Hannibal from other shows and makes it vastly different at that. So many crime/murder series’ that focus on the methodology of killers, et cetera, never seem to focus enough on the people trying to catch the killers, how it affects them deeply. Graham presents an opportunity to explore that, and perfectly because of the relationship budding with Hannibal. Fuller capitalizes on that opportunity to make something special here.
Even further, there are incredible performances. Everyone in the lead cast is great, as well as the supporting characters of the FBI Forensic Unit played by Aaron Abrams, Scott Thompson (one of my idols), and Hettienne Park. We get a glimpse at everyone, sort of rounding things out for the pilot. The atmosphere, the tone, everything works very well. Fuller does some great writing and begins with a stellar first episode to set the pace and overall tone of the show itself. Solid work on all fronts.
We’re seeing the beginning of Hannibal’s memories concerning his deceased sister Mischa – Abigail Hobbs represents a sort of surrogate to him, that’s why he seems to have feelings for her. Book readers recognize this, however, Fuller eventually brings all that out as we go along. Explains why a sociopathic monster like Hannibal would even bother to save the girl from dying, aside from the fact Will might’ve wondered why he hadn’t helped out. Still, Abigail is an interesting character Fuller uses very well, and it works incredibly over the course of the series.
Watching this over now, a couple years past the first time when this debuted, I can see more great things I missed first time around! Stay tuned for the next episode’s review.

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