Horror is certainly not my usual review fare here. I don’t like scary things, or gory things, or creepy things. When NBC’s Hannibal started airing last year, I watched the fandom grow and thought, “no, Saika. We will not start another show about two white guys who are no-homo best buds. Especially not when one of them is a freaking cannibal serial killer, Jesus.”
I held out for a couple weeks at best, staunchly ignoring the beautiful cinematography and brilliant use of social media, and then I heard a rumor that David Tennant might be in an episode as one of the weekly bad guys. That turned out to be a total rumor, but hearing it totally broke my resolve to avoid it, and I found myself drawn in by Bryan Fuller’s re-imagining of the Hannibal universe.
The first season of Hannibal follows FBI profiler Will Graham as he struggles with his ability to empathize with the serial killers he helps catch. This leads him to begin sessions with psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, and the two become fast friends over the course of the season, bonding over Will’s issues and the care of an orphaned teenage girl they rescued from a murderous parent.
It’s a real shame, then, that Hannibal is actually a sociopathic cannibalistic serial killer who’s emotionally manipulating Will and everyone else around him to avoid being caught.
The show is truly an experience to watch. Clearly we, the audience, already know who and what Hannibal is, which gives an unsettling edge to every single one of his interactions with the other characters. Hannibal’s dinner parties are especially unsettling because that might well be an actual pork chop but it could also be people.
I had very little familiarity with the Hannibal canon before watching the show. I’d seen Silence of the Lambs once several years ago, and that was it. It wasn’t till I caught a rerun of the Red Dragon movie on TV a few weeks ago that I realized just how impressive the NBC show was as far as reinterpretations of canon go.
Red Dragon was a movie about and for white dudes. Hannibal has taken the cast of characters from that movie and genderbent or racebent at least half of the characters. Real life married couple Laurence Fishburne and Gina Torres play Will’s boss Jack Crawford and his wife, and the journalist Freddy Lounds is now Freddie Lounds, just for starters. The cast also features several other women and people of color as talented and proficient members of their respective fields, which is great. And while Ed Norton’s Will Graham wasn’t the most socially apt guy, Hugh Dancy’s character takes his discomfort with human interaction to a new level of social anxiety and coping issues.
The show also has no interest in contributing to the male gaze. (For a great discussion of this, see this post on Tumblr.) Rather, the most intense focus is on the relationship between Will and Hannibal, which is framed as nearly a love story. Given that most victims of serial killings are women, the show is realistic in that many of its murder victims are female. However, showrunner Bryan Fuller has promised to avoid sexual violence against its female characters, despite the original books being rife with rape. It’s a particularly strong stance to take given that the show is already very dark: it says that even though they will show gruesome murders and encourage the audience to sympathize with a cannibal, using rape as a plot device is a line they are not willing to cross.
My absolute favorite thing about the show, though, is the relationship it has with its fandom, lovingly dubbed ‘fannibals’. The fannibals are a shockingly bright and happy fanbase given the subject matter of their show, and everyone involved with the production of the show is thrilled by fans’ enthusiasm.
I was surprised at the demographic that the show was reaching. A significant portion was young, smart, well-read women; they really responded to this show and I typically relate to young, bright ladies [laughs]. It was nice to see how enthusiastic and passionate they were. And, also, happy in the face of the dark material. They found joy and hope in something that is arguably quite bleak. I found that really rewarding and as somebody who is a fan of many things myself, I appreciate and relate to being enthusiastic about a show you love. I think it’s wonderful.
This quote blew me away when I first encountered it, because it’s so respectful. This is a guy who discovered that the majority of his fanbase was female and was delighted by it. It’s rare and very welcomed that women’s fannishness is considered a positive thing—and my god, he referred to us as women rather than girls! The nbchannibal Tumblr is also a joy to follow: they seem to truly have a solid grasp on interacting with fans, and they are always in awe of the skill of fan creators.
All that said, this show is not for everyone. It comes with a laundry list of trigger warnings, from extreme gore to psychological manipulation to jump scares to, well, cannibalism, and much more. Like I said, it’s not usually my type of show either, so there’s no shame in deciding it’s not for you. I definitely enjoyed watching it, though, so if you do check it out, know that I’ll be here waiting for you to join me in hoping that someone will finally help Will Graham. Hannibal returns for a second season at the end of February, so now is the perfect time to get caught up!