NBC’s Hannibal pt. 1

Regardless of what I ultimately decide about Hannibal – because the verdict is really and truly still out – the show does represent a remarkable step forward in network television. If a year or two from now you stumbled upon this show on Netflix you might think it was made by AMC, FX, or Sundance. There is the often visceral and gruesome nature of the show, but also just the cinematic quality of production. The show is beautiful, if nothing else. The other disclaimer I have to add here is that I have not seen the pilot.  I have seen every other episode available through NBC, so I don’t think I have missed much.
As beautiful as the show is, and as much as I have always wanted to know more about Will Graham, I think the writers have made some serious mistakes along the way. The first and foremost is the title of the show, Hannibal.  The show is, and should remain, ultimately about Will Graham, and while I appreciate they wanted to ensure an audience for the show, insinuating that Hannibal Lecter is the center piece of the show is only reinforces the audiences expectations for the show to adhere to the established universe of the books and movies.  And, about that universe …

In Red Dragon Hannibal Lecter has already been apprehended and tried. He is a bit character to whom Will Graham turns for help as he searches for this new killer. During their interactions the reader/audience learns that Lecter had served as a consultant for the FBI and that Graham was instrumental in catching him. The television show functions essentially as back story for Red Dragon by showing the audience Graham and Lecter’s relationship while Lecter was killing. As such, by choosing to make Hannibal Lecter the titular character and focus the show on his relationship with the FBI the writer’s have built in a finite timeline for their show. Eventually, within a season or two, Lecter has to be caught and the show either risks having to re-tell/revise Red Dragon, or trying to re-tell an already established book and movie. While Will Graham is certainly an essential element of this show, had the writer’s chosen to begin with him, to make his character or Jack Crawford, the central element of the show, they could have bought themselves a longer time line.

The other thing the writer’s have done is contemporized the story. Characters have cell phones and iPads, and that has led to other important changes that are problematic, and make the show a prime example of embedded feminism. Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs were products of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and while it might not seem that long ago, the period is important to their stories.  Red Dragon is a boys club of a novel.  Jack Crawford entices Will Graham back to the FBI to solve one more case. Graham visits Lecter, consults with psychologist Dr. Alan Bloom, and works with a reporter Freddie Lounts to help entice the Red Dragon to attack in order to catch him. The only major female characters in Red Dragon are Francis Dolarhyde’s dead domineering Grandmother and his co-worker Reba McLane. This boys club is important for two reasons – one it is an accurate representation of the time, and two it lends importance to Clarice Starling’s appearance on the scene in Silence of the Lambs.

Starling’s struggle to break into this boys club is one of the most essential elements of Silence of the Lambs. For me, the two most striking scenes in the film the opening shot of Jodie Foster making her way to Jack Crawford’s office and entering the elevator with a crowd of men towering over her, and when she explains to Crawford that how he treats her in front of local law enforcement officials matters.  His treatment of her is important because it demonstrates to the other men how to treat a woman in a male dominated field.

NBC’s show is populated by a nearly equal number of men and women.  Dr. Alan Bloom has become Dr. Alana Bloom, Hannibal’s own psychiatrist is a woman, Freddie Lounts is also now a woman, of the supporting cast of technicians a woman has also been added, and in the FBI classes Will Graham teaches also represent a gender parity. This parity in representation functions as embedded feminism, making it appear that women have at the very least achieved significant representation in the work place.  This is problematic for me because the universe this show is establishing does not pave the way for Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Starling’s gender set her apart from the rest of the investigators, and it is what gave her the insight and ability to find Buffalo Bill.  In the world this show is creating, those elements would not be essential in the same way.

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