Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Not So Good Doctor

            It would seem that a common theme in most media nowadays is to readapt, reimagine, or just straight up remake a previous piece of media. It is most notable in the movie industry, but is starting to appear more often in television. Some examples of this can be seen with the modern day adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular work with the BBC’s Sherlock and with reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s renowned thriller Psycho in the new A&E series Bate’s Motel. While these are very interesting works deserving of analysis, for the purpose of this paper we will be looking at NBC’s Hannibal, an adaptation and expansion of the works of Thomas Harris. Hannibal, for being an adaptive expansion, is an exceptionally smart and creative show that knows its roots and where it’s coming from. Let us take a more in-depth look at this deliciously demented show.

            Before we move on to the main course of the analysis proper first it is important to have a bit of background of the show and its characters.  The story predominately follows the character of Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy, who is an FBI profiler with an incredible ability to see from a killer’s perspective and empathize with their emotions. This quickly leads Will down a very dark rabbit hole, so the man who persuaded him to help, Jack Crawford: head of the FBI (played by Laurence Fishburne), decides to get Will some help of his own in the form of a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist of course is the renowned cook, doctor, professional serial killer, and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lector.  With Dr. Lector supporting him, Will continues to help the FBI catch serial killers but as his relationship with the good doctor grows Will seems to be slipping further from the safety of sanity and further into the darkness that has become his job.  Since the second season of the show is still underway, we will primarily be looking at the first season.

            Moving on to the first course let us look at the main two characters and how they interact. The most dynamic and interesting interactions are obviously between Hannibal and Will. Their relationship grows and changes quite dramatically as the season goes on. They start out a bit tense with Will not liking Hannibal do to him tying to psychoanalysis him but with Hannibal trying to gain has trust. After a series of traumatic events in the first few episodes Will begins to open up to Hannibal, seeing him as someone who can understand him, much to Hannibal’s enjoyment and design. However as the season progresses Will becomes more and more mentally unstable, losing his memory for growing amounts of time, again much to Hannibal’s amusement. At this point he feels that Hannibal is one of the few people who can help him and Hannibal sees Will as a dear friend, one whose mind he has willingly and knowingly allowed to deteriorate and even helped subtlety push into a downward spiral. Ultimately the season ends with Will believing Hannibal is a killer but not being able to convince anybody else do to his before mentioned mental state. Throughout the entire season Hannibal is controlling and manipulating Will, of course without Will knowing it. Hannibal makes him feel as though he is the only one that can understand him and help him and that everyone else is either using him or studying him like an animal. These subtle interactions between Will and Hannibal truly bring out the psychological aspects of a psychopath that are rarely seen in most shows involving serial killers. The interactions between these two amazing characters is positively delicious in the most disturbed way possible. 

            For the main course let us look at one of the biggest triumphs of the show, how it treats its relation to its source material. On its surface, Hannibal could easily look like any murder of the week paint by numbers crime drama, with only a slight twist of including a recognizable name to grab attention. Before the show even aired it likely suffered from this misconception. While Hannibal could have simply done this, instead we get a cleaver show that rations out its namesake smartly and doesn’t overplay its hand in order to get some quick gimmick based views. This can be seen in the first episode in the fact that the character of Dr. Hannibal Lector doesn't even appear in the show until nearly half way through. It can also be seen in the trend of not actually showing Hannibal committing his murders, instead only showing his aftermath. If the teasers for the second season are any indication, this was a deliberate choice in order to save the shock of seeing him change from a strong scholarly type to a typhoon of calculated rage and death for a more meaningful encounter then some season one finale thrills. Many other shows would have likely played this card much earlier in order to catch early viewers; instead Hannibal has confidence in itself and in its ability to write a strong story to hold their audience without cheap thrills. Overall what this show has done is be a show about the past of Dr. Hannibal Lector rather then be a show about serial killers that gained some attention by throwing around the name Hannibal. Early I mentioned Bates Motel and while it is a fantastic show, it feels more like a show about a small town with dark secrets slowly being found out by a disturbed boy and his manipulative mother rather then a reimagining of the origin of the classic killer Norman Bates. Hannibal feels like it is the story of the one and only Dr. Hannibal Lector, not a knock off or a name grab.

            All in all it is clear that NBC’s Hannibal is an amazing show bursting with creativity. Though it is based off of an existing franchise its approach to that story, the writing and characterization of the characters, and the way that they represented and used is brilliantly done. Personally I look forward to seeing how the series unfolds and just how dark they are willing to go.

Works Cited

Peters, Mark. "Better Then Silence." Slate. 26 Feb 2014: n. page. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. <>.

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