Here at last, my friends, we come to the end.
At least for now. NBC’s best show, Hannibal, has come to a close, cementing itself as one of the best television shows of the last decade with a unforgettable finale that was pretty much everything you could have wanted it to be and more. I have already written at length about the stylistic, theatrical, and narrative strengths of Hannibal in my posts on Seasons One and Two, but it bears reiteration that there is not a single element of this show that is not excellent. From the costuming, to the set design, to the cinematography and direction, Hannibal is a cut above 90% of television (insert arbitrary percentage comment here).
Season Three picks up exactly where one doesn’t expect. After the bloody perfection of Season Two’s devastating finale, “Mizumono.” Hannibal heads to Italy, where the season’s first episode explores the titular character’s new life in hiding, alongside his fake-murder wife and a host of new unsavory academics. The fates of four of the show’s principle characters, left in dire circumstances at Season Two’s close, are not expounded upon, nor mentioned until fully four episodes into the new season. That’s some bold storytelling and exemplary of something for which I have always respected Hannibal: its willingness to eschew narrative norms and the desires of the general audience.
There is no exposition detailing the fallout of Season Two. Only subtle hints and allusions to what happened, doled out piece meal, often as brief asides in conversations concerning other events. This is emblematic of Hannibal as a whole. It never holds the audiences’ hand and for that I applaud it, even if this artistic contrarianism is partially what led to its cancellation. Put simply, a majority of the casual television audience (and any media audience for that matter, from books, to film, to music) want simplicity. They want to know who is the hero and who is the villain, then see the former triumph over the latter in a suitably dramatic, yet predictable manner.
Hannibal’s archly-worded, psychological conversations are often balanced by sequences of symbolic, psychedelic beauty, placing a heavy emphasis on critical thinking from its audience to discern the underlying meaning of the bizarre and often disturbing images on screen. Being Hannibal, the show even dips into the realm of meta a few times (and brilliantly so), with one character in season three even stating, “You, with your fancy allusions, your fussy aesthetics. You’ll always have niche appeal.” Simply awesome.
From a kaleidoscopic sex scene to a conversation between two hazy, vaporous characters in the blank, white space of the mind, Hannibal is an utterly unique and compelling show, whose class we are not likely to see again for some time (unless show runner Bryan Fuller’s Neil Gaiman adaptation, American Gods evokes a similar aesthetic).
Despite being contrarian to the rote narrative desires of the general audience, Hannibal’s odd structure in no way lessens the potency of the content on display. Instead, it strengthens it, exploring these characters in new ways that show how they have changed since the show’s beginning. Hannibal, having always been in a position of control, is now, metaphorically, on the run. Pursuing him, as ever, is the dogged FBI Special Investigator/Part-time Murder Husband, Will Graham, whose continued obsession with Hannibal has now reached new heights. The motivation for his pursuit of Hannibal is the constant question that hangs over this season; Will doesn’t understand his own feelings toward the cannibalistic serial-killer who also had been his best friend, and seems just as likely to kill Hannibal as he is to join him.
And herein lies the true accomplishment of this show: it is one of the best, most affecting love stories ever told in television, film, or otherwise. What we have in Hannibal is not a relationship based upon physical attraction, but rather a magnetic yearning between two minds. Will Graham, a man with an empathic disorder that allows him to enter the mind-space of some of the darkest characters in fiction, has found someone who not only accepts him, but has a prolonged and active interest in his well-being and development as a person. Hannibal has no desire to see Will as a normal person. He wants Will to become what he believes he was always meant to be. What complicates this issue is, of course, that Hannibal is a serial killer who believes himself superior to nearly everyone, an apex predator stalking the realm of man. In Will he has found a possible equal in what is otherwise a life of intellectual loneliness. The salve of Will’s presence, likewise, allows Hannibal to feel normal, or at the very least, understood as he has never been understood before. Even in its description, the twisted dynamics of this relationship between these two men is compelling, and on screen, it is electric. Mads Mikkelsen is an actor of the highest caliber, evoking sympathy for the devil as it were, making Hannibal not some one-dimensional boogeyman, but a nuanced and even understandable character no matter the heinous nature of his actions. Plus, he’s smooth as a fresh jar of Skippy. Hugh Dancy is a worthy counterpoint to Mikkelsen’s understated, yet brilliant, version of Hannibal; his Will Graham is a trembling, discomforted contradiction of a man, forever upon the precipice of indulgent violence and release. The relationship between these two characters and actors is symbiotic; if one were weak, the other would flounder. In this show, they never do.
All of these elements reach a head in the final episode of the series (for now), “The Wrath of the Lamb;” a perfect hour of television if there ever was one. It is an episode that builds upon established themes, deftly ties up narrative threads, and provides a fitting send off for what may be the most unique show in recent memory.
Despite Hannibal’s cancellation, in the age of Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, there is always hope for its resurrection, even if it is a few years from now given Bryan Fuller’s commitment to Starz’s American Gods. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are committed to the show and said that they would return if ever given the opportunity. Who knows? Given that Hannibal was cancelled, Mikkelsen was able to sign on to be in a little film called Star Wars: Rogue One, and is rumored to be up for a villain role in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Perhaps the cancellation will lead to more people recognizing the incredible acting talents of both Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy. Maybe because of Star Wars and Doctor Strange, more people will be turned on to the macabre, transcendent beauty of Hannibal, and allow us to see those promised Bryan Fuller guest spots for people like David Tennant, Lee Pace, and David Bowie (WAT?!). Perhaps…
Yet for now, let us be thankful that we got what we did: three incredible seasons that were intellectually challenging, visually arresting, and sonically unforgettable. Remember Hannibal for its amazing character work, for making you feel sympathy for the devil, for making you question why you thought a human leg looked delicious when presented as a charming aperitif. Remember and take heart that the show may go on, even if it is some years from now, not only because we want it, but because the universe demands it; because where else are we going to get our weekly dose of brilliantly written, blood-soaked, psychological homoeroticism?
The answer is nowhere. Hannibal is dead! Long live Hannibal!