It’s a bit like watching Fire Walk With Me. Prequels are a strange breed, but when done well–in particular with thrillers–a prequel can incite a gnawing discomfort, watching events play out with a certain inevitability. You might know the broad strokes but rarely the details. That was my experience watching “Apéritif,” the pilot episode for Bryan Fuller’s new Hannibal series, a prequel delving into Hannibal Lecter’s early working relationship with the FBI prior to his unveiling as a master criminal and cannibal.
How much is he going to get away with before getting caught?
My interest in the series was less about its adaptation of Thomas Harris’s works or any lingering connection with any of Hannibal Lecter’s previous adaptations than it was about my long love for Bryan Fuller’s TV work. Hannibal isn’t shockingly new terrain for him, although typically he approaches morbid fascination with death and inevitability from a more overtly comical angle with shows like Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls or Pushing Daisies. But he has worked the serial killer angle before, both with a couple episodes of Dead Like Me and with his work on the more uneven, awkward Heroes.
The premise is simple: Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) is a profiler working for the FBI who is showing signs of stress and emotional meltdown. They call in another forensic psychologist, Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), to help. Graham continues to work on the case at hand–a series of young women are kidnapped and killed–while struggling with his emotional problems and his jealousy over Lecter’s inclusion, while the audience is introduced to the understanding that Lecter is Lecter, and you can make a pretty good guess what’s going on when someone copycats the original killer, even before we cut away to Lecter preparing a sumptuous meal of human lungs. Graham works out who the original killer is (and one thing I love is that he’s not actually concerned about the copycat at that point–he’s too busy throwing a hissy fit about Lecter’s inclusion in the investigation) and goes after him, but not before the killer is warned by Lecter in a scene that is almost grotesquely touching.
I’m not typically interested in police procedurals (with the exception of Twin Peaks), but the series as a prequel makes it more interesting–while there will be mysteries-of-the-week, the understanding that Hannibal is killing in secret, every scene between him and Will Graham caked with that tension–they eat breakfast together at one point, scrambled eggs in a hotel room, and we’ve already seen Hannibal consume lungs by that point and it’s still so fresh–that potentially elevates the show.
It’s a well-constructed pilot episode as well, the cinematography is solid and the lighting has more depth than most procedurals can be manage, so I can forgive some of the smaller issues–awkward pacing, occasionally clunky acting. One of the reasons that I enjoyed having Caroline Dhavernas briefly on screen as Alan Bloom–another profile, a psych professor trying to be Graham’s friend while holding back as she’s also interested in him as a case study–was that she felt a lot more human than much of the acting had been up to that point, or at least tonally different from most of the characters shown.
They’re already setting up some interesting psychological issues that will get in the way of Graham’s investigations–he works out how the episode’s primary killer is feeling, what his emotional realities are, which are then contrasted with how cold and reptillian (always, perhaps, on the verge of echoing Anthony Hopkins’s rendition) Mikkelsen’s Lecter is, how he can eat human flesh with little more than a quirked eyebrow to indicate how pleased he must be with some subtlety of flavour.
And I do thoroughly enjoy Fuller’s involvement. Even writing it as a serious piece–and it is at times a bit po-faced–the episode still holds a lot of his charm, and I particularly enjoyed his weirdly lateral connections to his old shows, the more surrealist ones that are allowed to connect more directly to each other. Caroline Dhavernas was the main actress on Wonderfalls. The plethora of profilers in loose association recalls the main cast of reapers in Dead Like Me, with Lawrence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford taking on the role of Mandy Patinkin’s Rube.
Graham also has a habit of picking up stray dogs–has amassed a small pack of them–and ends up taking home a golden retriever he encounters on a dark highway one night. It’s hard not to connect “Winston” to Digby, the golden retriever from Pushing Daisies, particularly when paired with how Graham’s ability to unwind and analyze crime scenes is depicted with the usual police procedural melodrama as a kind of magic. Graham reminds me of Digby’s owner, Ned the Piemaker, also caught up in the miserable realities of a death-entangled ability to resurrect, briefly. Maybe Digby runs away from home after something horrible happens to the piemaker.
I’ve heard rumours that Georgia Lass–the protagonist from Dead Like Me, an undead reaper–is supposed to cameo in the series, albeit from some other angle, as in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, which is part of the reason I twigged that it was time to watch the pilot in the first place. That describes my experience watching Hannibal–on the one hand it’s a prequel and re-imagining of the Lecter thrillers and on the other it’s a dark-glass distillation of a lot of Fuller’s usual concerns, with all the usual humour and affectation and surrealism burned away and replaced with a procedural lens.