Review: HANNIBAL, “Amuse-Bouche.”

hannibal-episode-2-pictureIt is hard to remember that they aren’t actually looking for Hannibal Lecter yet. Or rather, that the majority of the killings we’re directly privy to are not Lecter’s handiwork, particularly when they have some kind of vaguely culinary bent to them.

There’s a lot that I can talk about in relation to the second episode of Hannibal. It is a weirdly bifurcated episode, with the opening still lingering on the loose ends of of last week’s serial killer (the room of antlers where he conducted his murders), but that works to its advantage as Our Hero Will Graham suffers from the hangover of that case, of shooting someone, and while at first it can feel a little sloppy, it changes the dynamic of the show before it can become the Typical Police Procedural, where even the serial-killer-of-the-week structure starts to fall apart. He and Lecter bond over their concern over Abigail Hobbs, last week’s killer’s daughter, currently in a coma.

So: Graham’s recovering from last week’s episode, he has to undergo a psych evaluation (one that Lecter hand-waves away, presumably because he’s interested in seeing Graham break down the road, or interested in seeing Graham turn into him) and then we get the new mystery–a trio of fresh-faced kids wandering through the brightly-lit woods. We’re well-trained by the genre, though, we know that this won’t end well. Is that a marijuana plant they spy and comment on in one of the less smooth moments, dialogue-wise. It isn’t. It’s a human hand with an IV, poking out of the ground. A mushroom farm where the fungi are coaxed from within the bodies of people buried alive.

Sometimes I want to write stories about those characters who find grotesque bodies and what happens afterwards, when the Police Procedural is happening.

Along with watching Hannibal, as I mentioned in the previous review, I’ve been watching Dead Like Me, one of Bryan Fuller’s earlier projects. Increasingly the two series feel like doppelgangers, and it’s so easy to read DML‘s loose-knit gaggle of conflicted reapers into the FBI forensics squad that accompany Will Graham. In both cases, we have a disconnected protagonist who is seriously traumatized by their job, surrounded by people who have more or else compartmentalized successfully (at least on the surface). It’s difficult not to read Rebecca Gayheart’s Betty–who seemed to see no conflict in reaping the souls of those about to die–in Hettienne Park’s Beverly Katz, casually asking, as she walks between the exhumed bodies bursting with fungi, if they’ve found any shiitakes. They cope with their part in death like the reapers did. Meanwhile, Will Graham, like Georgia Lass, is a mess.

Another important component introduced with the second episode is the first actual appearance of Freddie Lounds, a true crime blogger who dogs Graham’s movements and writes scathing commentary on him. In the source material, Freddie is male but Fuller has chosen to swap him into a woman. People online have been having trouble with this because–of course, this is a prequel–we already know what happens to Freddie. Freddie dies, killed casually by one of the future serial killers for the sake of sending Will Graham a message, and people are perceiving this as a potential “Women in Refrigerators” moment. I find this interesting because of a couple things:

  1. Freddie’s death takes place in Red Dragon, the first actual book in the source material, which Fuller has said will take place in Season Four. That means potentially three seasons of character development for Freddie before she’s killed off. Her death being significant to that season suggests that it would be in everyone’s interests to develop her character really well.
  2. She serves as a secondary antagonist for Graham. Obviously Lecter is our primary villain, our monster, but Freddie seems to be a fairly significant character in the source material, and this is an opportunity to expand on what was previously backstory. The series will probably be very much a battle of wills between Graham and Lecter (even before Graham understands what Lecter is), and having a secondary battle between Graham and a woman in a non-romantic situation is bound to be interesting, particularly as her motivations seem fairly complex.
  3. Because of the genre, because of the deviations from source material that already seem to have happened, a lot of characters can die. Death is Hannibal‘s bread and butter (if you’ll forgive the pun).

Basically, I don’t consider it a foregone conclusion that a character who won’t die for four seasons is a fridging, because they have so much room to give her character depth in the mean time. For me, it is a question of whether Fuller and his writing staff can develop Freddie to be an interesting, complex character whose inevitable death is knotted and difficult, rather succumbing to some desire to make her a shrewish antagonist who the audience feels “deserves it”–think about characters of Game of Thrones. I see more potential for Freddie to be treated well, even knowing what happens to her, than I do for, say, Abigail Hobbs, who literally lies there and inspires an emotional reaction from Graham.

I haven’t actually talked about the man himself yet. Lecter ghosts through the second episode with only a couple notable scenes. He has Graham’s boss Jack (Lawrence Fishburne) over for dinner and of course there is ironic dialogue about the meat being served. It’s a tight scene but I worry that it is going to become a trope that the show overuses–how often can they make Hannibal Lecter having a meal or sharing one with someone into a tense situation? How often are they going to take a break from the moment at hand to show him expelling a breath after tasting something?

The issue with the series being a prequel is that not only do we know, but on some level we want the characters to know what is going to happen. Every interaction seems laced with their subconscious awareness, the interaction between Lecter and Jack too pointed–what kind of loin is this?–and when that is stretched out over a series, things start to shift uncomfortably. The teasing becomes less enjoyable, breaching through into some new aggravating region.

This kind of prequel is predicated on a question: “Why didn’t they see this coming?” The potential problem that I’m starting to see, the problem that I’m hoping Fuller and his staff can subvert elegantly, is that the whole production that they’ve constructed–the music, the lighting, the way the actors deliver their lines–all of it is screaming, “Why don’t you see this coming?”  The mise-en-scene wants to shake Will Graham by the lapels and warn him. “Get out of that dining room,” it wants to scream at Jack. I worry that after a while the screaming will get too loud (like lambs being slaughtered in the background) and we’ll be too busy asking ourselves why these characters aren’t running.

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