The character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter has appeared in numerous guises since his debut in the book Red Dragon (1981) by Thomas Harris. Although his most famous incarnation was by Anthony Hopkins, beginning with The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the first actor to portray him in film was Brian Cox in the film Manhunter (1986). When it was first announced that the cannibalistic doctor would be coming to network television, I really had my doubts. As anyone who has seen Silence of the Lambs (or any of the other films) can attest, Lecter was not exactly made for TV.
The first season of Hannibal has just been released on Blu-ray, and the set contains all 13 episodes of the season plus numerous bonus features. Much like in Silence of the Lambs, the main focus of the series is the relationship between an FBI special agent and Doctor Lecter. The difference is that Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) is still a practicing psychologist. The FBI agent in question here is Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who has a frightening ability to “see” the vicious, ritualistic murders.
The tone of the series is set in the first episode, “Aperitif,” in which the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), brings Graham into the investigation of a particularly gruesome murder. Just as an aside, Fishburne is excellent in the role of Crawford, which was played by Scott Glenn in Silence of the Lambs. Crawford also enlists the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, on the advice of Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas).
One of the things that impressed me about this series was that viewers need no previous knowledge of Lecter to follow the story. Hannibal is so well-written that we “get“ the title character, immediately. The interactions between him and Graham are truly creepy. Graham’s ability to envision the crime in his mind’s eye is something that clearly appeals to Lecter. Each episode is filled with unexpected events, and the discovery of a second dead college girl during “Aperitif” is a perfect example.
The scene of the crime is grisly indeed, as the victim is found “posed” on a deer’s head, with her lungs removed. As I mentioned, you need not have any previous familiarity with the Lecter character, as we next see him preparing a supper of human lungs. Lector’s modus operandi is complex, as is shown when he warns Garrett Jacob Hobbs (Vladimir Jon Curdt), the man Graham has profiled for the murder, that the FBI is coming for him.
When Lecter and Graham arrive at the Hobbs home, Hobbs murders his own wife, and tries to kill his daughter. As the episode ends, we see a dangerous bond forming between Lecter and Graham as they sit with the girl in her hospital room. The relationship between Graham and Lecter is the crux of this series, and this Hobbs situation is key. After going through it together, Graham begins opening up to Lecter, which is the worst thing he could possibly do. Of course we know this would be the case, but Graham does not.
As the series progresses, young Abigail Hobbs becomes more and more crucial to the relationship between Lecter and Graham. Abigail comes out of her coma, and Graham begins to suspect that she was more than a mere bystander to the murders her father committed. That is only one element of the remaining episodes however. For one thing, there are a great deal more murders to come. And the psychological games never end.
Hannibal is about control. The ultimate physical control is murder, but psychological control seems to be just as important to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is a master of both.
Will Graham is slowly losing touch with reality, as we discover as the series progresses. My first inclination was to try and figure out how Lecter concocted the situations, because Graham is rapidly deteriorating. But Lecter is just as curious, and refers Graham to a former colleague for an MRI. I turns out that the agent is suffering from an advanced case of Encephalitis. True to form, Lecter convinces the doctor to lie to Graham and tell him that nothing was found.
“Savoureux” is the season finale, and it is as strong as anything I could have hoped for. Graham has just returned from a trip to Minnesota, where he took Abigail. While they were there, he figured out that Abigail had indeed helped her father commit the murders. The realization comes in a fever dream, but is accurate nontheless. The episode begins with Graham being arrested by Crawford for the murder of Abigail.
The evidence is pretty strong against him. The FBI finds her severed ear in his kitchen, and he has her blood under his fingernails. Graham escapes though, and goes to (of all people) his pal Dr. Lecter. But while he is with Lecter, Graham finally realizes that it was Lecter who made the call to Garrett Jacob Hobbs to warn him.
Just as Graham is about to kill Lecter, Crawford shows up and stops him. When Graham is hospitalized, his Encephalitis is finally discovered. As we see at the end, Graham is then taken to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Dr. Lecter is paying him a vistit.
I love the little things you notice when watching a series all the way through on Blu-ray, and one of these is the nod to Chris Carter. Carter created two of the finest shows of the ’90s, and they are saluted with a couple of guest appearances. The visions that Will Graham gets about the murders are nearly identical to those of Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) in Millenium. Henriksen guest stars in episode nine “Trou Normand” as Lawrence Wells. Carter also created The X-Files, and Gillian Anderson (Scully) appears in Hannibal as Lecter’s psychoanalyst.
The extras are fairly substantial. One of the most interesting is “Hannibal Reborn,” which details the development of the series, and includes an interview with executive producer Martha De Laurentis (15 minutes). I also found “A Taste for Killing” to be notable for its somewhat black-humored look at the whole idea of cannibalism (15 minutes).
The production values of Hannibal are very high, which is one of the things you first notice. A couple of the bonus features on disc three address this aspect. “A Symphony for the Slaughter” is a very informative piece about Brian Reitzell, the program’s composer (12 minutes). “The FX of Murder” is a little broader, and focuses on the many people who are involved in getting the “look” of the show to be as perfect as possible (14 minutes). Rounding out the generous supplemental features are commentaries, a gag reel, a deleted scene, and some examples of the storyboards from the pilot episode.
The Blu-ray edition of Hannibal: Season One looks marvelous in 1080p with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The audio is awesome as well, and is presented in 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio. This very reasonably priced Blu-ray set contains three discs, as well as the download code for your very own Ultra Violet copy. The UV code is good until September 24, 2014.
I most definitely had my doubts about bringing the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter to television. I really did not think it could be done given the limitations of the medium. But I happily stand corrected. It is an excellent series, and this set is highly recommended.