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Sympathy for the Devil: "Hannibal" Season 1 Recap

Megan Miller ’17/ Emertainment Monthly Writer

Despite particularly low ratings all season, Hannibal was renewed by NBC for a second season, accompanied with high praise from the network.  Raved by critics and accumulating a small but loyal fan following that have adopted the catchphrase “Eat the rude,” the show about the world’s most loved cannibal has continued to impress every week since its premiere.

Featuring gruesome, horrifying murders week after week (including one the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller, chose to pull following the Boston bombing in April), the show is not for the faint of heart.  For one thing, the eponymous character (Mads Mikkelsen) continually eats human flesh throughout the show, usually showing him filleting their organs as his colleagues in the FBI, Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and his consultant Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) investigate the body from which Dr. Lecter removed them.  Without realizing it, they are being led on a cat-and-mouse chase by their own psychiatrist.

The murders only serve to add to the horrific nature of the show, secondary to the initial chase of the Chesapeake Ripper, the name given to Hannibal Lecter prior to his capture.  These investigations, in a murder-of-the-week format, include bodies, buried alive, used as fertilizer for mushrooms; victims with their backs cut open and strung up like angel wings, their hands in a prayerful position; and necks slit open so the vocal cords could be played like a cello.

Probably the most fascinating part of the show, however, is the characters and their interactions with one another.  Each has a different arc over the season’s thirteen episodes.  Though Hannibal is the show’s subject, Will Graham is perhaps the true main character.  In the first episode Jack finds him at the FBI Academy, teaching a class rather than working out in the field because of “strict screening procedures,” as he describes it to Special Agent Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park).  A CSI also in the employment of the FBI, she realizes that this means that he is too unstable to work as a field agent; this instability causes his former psychiatrist, Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) to advise Jack against putting him out into the field (and his instability also later prevents her from entering into a romantic relationship with him).  Against her advice, Jack convinces Will to work for him as a consultant, wishing to utilize his overactive imagination and ability to empathize with anyone, which happens to include killers and sociopaths through the evidence they leave behind.  He does so for the course of the series, but this line of work begins to break him down, something that everyone around him can see.  He begins to experience severe time lapses and from the pilot episode often takes aspirin to deal with headaches.  Though Jack offers to let him quit, he refuses, claiming that the lives he saves are more important than himself.

He goes to Hannibal Lecter in order to deal with the problems he encounters.  Hannibal acts as Will’s friend and psychiatrist, though in the end he does much more to harm than help.  After realizing through an exercise in which Will’s drawing of a clock face turns out horribly disfigured that there may be something wrong with his brain, Hannibal brings him to a doctor who gives him an MRI.  Both Hannibal and the doctor correctly deduce that Will’s symptoms reveal severe inflammation of the brain, but when the test results confirm this, Hannibal convinces the doctor to conceal this information from Will, then murders the doctor.  Will’s symptoms grow worse until evidence turns up that he may have gone too deep into the heads of murderers and come out with part of them inside of him.  At the end of the season evidence pointing to Will turns up for many of the unsolved murders that occurred over the thirteen episodes, attributed to the “Copycat Killer.”  He cannot explain it because of his time lapses, which make his denial unreliable, and is arrested as a serial killer, framed by his own psychiatrist.

Will does realize what Hannibal is, but far too late.  By the time he can see clearly, he has become entirely unstable, and Jack pays no attention to his mad-sounding ravings.  At the end of the finale, Will is in a prison for the criminally insane after he has been treated for his encephalitis.  The final scene finds Hannibal visiting him, ending with a staring contest between two characters who are both on the wrong side of the bars.

For some reason, though Hannibal manipulates Will throughout the entire series up until the very end, the audience has no choice but to sympathize with him.  He is an utterly unsympathetic and heartless character, but we continue to hope that he will reform or perhaps show some sort of remorse for his actions aside from questionable tears while talking to his own psychiatrist (Gillian Anderson).  Even though anyone familiar with the character knows that he will never apologize for his actions, no one really wants him to lose in the end.  Perhaps it is that he is a “polite” serial killer, killing either because he considers the victim rude, or because he needs to in order to keep his actions a secret.  Even faced with a decision between Will and Hannibal, the viewer tries very hard to reconcile a desire to help Will yet keep Hannibal safe as well.

Fortunately for the many who may have screamed at their television screens as they went black, there will be another season.  Unfortunately, it won’t arrive with the rest of the returning shows come September.  Only given the approximation of “next year,” Hannibal may not return until anywhere from January’s mid-season releases to next summer.  There is plenty to keep a fan occupied until then; if any fans of the show have not watched the Academy Award-winning film Silence of the Lambs it would be a good idea to rent it, and if you’re looking for some summer reading, Dr. Hannibal Lecter originally debuted in a series of novels written by Thomas Harris, beginning with Red Dragon, on which the characters of the show are based.

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