‘Hannibal’ Series Premiere Episode Review – A Shocking Surprise

Before last week, I had no interest at all in watching or posting a review of the series premiere of NBC’s new show, Hannibal.

I think Silence of the Lambs is a classic movie horror/crime mash-up, and while I barely remember Red Dragon and Manhunter, I think they were both pretty good too. Years ago, I read all the books, though I do remember being thoroughly disappointed by the ridiculous outcome to the final book in the series (also titled Hannibal, I believe).

Anyway, I’m well familiar with Thomas Harris’s serial killer, both his film and literary incarnations, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fanboy. I figured this show was just going to be another crappy procedural trying to cash in on the memory of a now 22-year-old movie. I started getting a little curious, though, when some critics I respect, like Alan Sepinwall and Andy Greenwald, came out with some surprisingly positive reviews. I’m glad I was encouraged to check in on the series, because Hannibal is the best thing that I’ve seen on NBC, and many cable channels, for a long while.

Yes, the show is gore-soaked and exceedingly graphic for network TV, but I guess NBC has to try and push some buttons given their ratings. I particularly like how stylized the show looks; there are strange camera angles, sharp and sudden focuses on individual objects, a color palette that seems just slightly off and surreal, and plenty of hallucinations as our main character, FBI profiler Will Graham, uses his imagination to vividly reenact crime scenes while putting himself in the perspective of the killer.

The first episode ends, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER, with him gunning down a serial killer who has a knife at a young girl’s neck. Graham is clearly distraught by what he’s seen and what he has to do, as he shakes like a leaf and appears nearly incapable of functioning right after he pulls the trigger. I have a feeling that the psychological consequences of experiencing and imposing violence might actually be explored in this show. If so, it’d be a welcome contrast to the standard police procedural, in which a new body is dumped on a table in the first five minutes, and our heroes wind up capturing or killing the person responsible in the last five minutes, secure in the knowledge that they are righteous champions of justice and goodness. Graham may have done the right thing here, but it seems to me that the consequences of that action won’t be wiped clean off the slate at the start of the second episode.

Mads Mikkelsen plays a great, though different Hannibal. While he comes across as wonderfully sinister and frightening to the audience (particularly in this episode when we see him cooking dinner; the long apron that he wears made my skin crawl, that’s because we know his secret). To the other characters in the show, he’s a plausibly aloof and brilliant doctor, with no reason to suspect he might be a cannibal.

I’ve been hooked immediately. much to my surprise. I have to say again that the hyper stylized nature of the show is something that really draws me in; the colors, the camera angles, the flashbacks, quick cuts, and weird dream-like sequences just fascinate me, and I can’t wait to see more. I hope it succeeds wildly, because as fun as it is to bash NBC for terrible ratings, something as compelling as Hannibal needs to stay on the air, no matter what network it happens to be on.