DVD Review: Hannibal– Season Three—still chilling…still riveting…
Four years ago, if people had told me that the best American drama on network television would have centered on a cannibalistic serial killer, I would have thought them either mad or tasteless. Indeed, the idea of a new television series based on the Hannibal Lecter novels of Thomas Harris initially would seem to be—pardon my choice of words—in the worst possible taste.
However, like the series Bates Motel and Fargo, high risk equates with high reward. In lesser hands, Hannibal would have been nothing more than a tacky gore-fest, but in the hands of Bryan Fuller, creator of the magnificent, much-missed Pushing Daisies, Hannibal is both high horror and genuine art.
The first two seasons took little bits and pieces from the Lecter novels and created a procedural unlike any other. (Except for The Silence of the Lambs, the show runners had permission to draw from the other three Lecter books.) Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the criminal profiler who has the ability to put himself into the head of any murderer, is summoned by FBI investigator Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to track down some particularly nasty—but oddly artistic—killers. To stay grounded, Graham is introduced to the psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), and the two become close friends.
As the first season proceeds, the two investigate several baffling cases, while Will’s mental health becomes increasingly shaky due to his prolonged exposure to human evil, and Will gradually starts to suspect that his best buddy is more dangerous than all the other human monsters they’ve hunted combined. Season Two expands upon the first season’s themes of madness, injustice, power, and food, while the third abandons the “freak-of-the-week” format of earlier seasons to create a spellbinding two-act drama that manages to surpass all of the series’ previous heights.
The first seven episodes are a more refined, sharper, and cleaner adaptation of the novel Hannibal than the feature film, while the last six episodes present Red Dragon as a miniseries, improving upon both the underrated movie Red Dragon and the justly acclaimed film Manhunter, the two previous adaptations. Many fans asked if we really needed a third adaptation of Red Dragon. By the season finale—and now, alas, very likely the end of the series—the answer is a resounding “yes.”
These are not direct adaptations of the source material; they are really more “inspired by” than anything else, but they manage to be true to the spirit of the books while telling a brand-new story in often familiar clothes. Visually, the show is a marvel. If Fuller’s Pushing Daisies was a gorgeous Technicolor fairy tale, Hannibal is a subdued painting by an old master, in which the grisliest of slayings is portrayed as a grand guignol nightmare. Special acclaim must go to the food consultant Janice Poon, who creates amazing visual feasts.
Naturally, a show like this would be dead as mutton without terrific actors in it, and in a just world, most of the cast would be nominated for Emmys for the final season, which allows for one unforgettable set piece after another. Mikkelsen’s take on Lecter is quite different from the great performances of Hopkins and Cox. While earlier portrayals showed a man quite content to present himself as a monster, Mikkelsen, for most of the series, must live amongst humanity, passing as a man of refinement and taste and hiding his true nature, and there is never a moment when he is not fantastic. Dancy has the less showy role, yet Will Graham is always compelling as a man who can find his way into a killer’s mind easily but finds it increasingly difficult to get out alive and well. Unlike the earlier adaptations, it’s made clear that Graham’s empathetic abilities are more curse than blessing. The show is really all about the twisted relationship between Lecter and Graham, two very different men: one disposed toward virtue, the other irretrievably lost to darkness. Graham and Lecter truly understand each other’s minds, a feat that no other person can duplicate.
Fishburne’s Crawford is a far darker and more driven character than Scott Glenn’s portrayal as a gentle mentor in The Silence of the Lambs. Crawford constantly has to remind himself that those who hunt monsters must make damn sure not to become monsters themselves. Gillian Anderson is perhaps the most enigmatic character as Lecter’s own psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. Viewers can never be quite sure if she is a victim, a silken villainess, or Lecter’s soul mate, thanks to Anderson’s unparalleled and complex performance.
Richard Armitage is an astoundingly tortured villain as Francis Dolarhyde; Rutina Wesley is a rare ray of sunlight as Reba McClane; and Joe Anderson is a dementedly twisted monster as the deformed Mason Verger. Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams are great fun as a delightful pair of forensics, and no review would be complete without mentioning Raúl Esparza, who takes the once widely loathed character of Dr. Frederick Chilton and makes him endearing, slimy, shamelessly self-promoting, and sympathetic.
Of course, new viewers should start with Season One and proceed chronologically. One cannot describe the mental and spiritual state of each character at the start of Season Three without major spoilers, so their conditions will be ignored entirely. And the show is not for everyone—the violence, intensity, and often dreamlike tone may put off many viewers, but if your stomach is strong and you are seeking out a viewing experience unlike any other, Hannibal is definitely worth the investment of your time.
Hannibal– Season Three