(Please note: the majority of this analysis/post/breakdown was composed prior to the Hannibal S1 finale - though a minor finale scene/spoiler is mentioned, as well as some other minor plot points from the season, I have strived my hardest to focus primarily on the VISUAL aspects of the show while keeping plot points vague so that newbies can be entertained.)
My initial jumping-off point/inspiration for this post was Matt Zoller Seitz's astute analysis/assessment on Vulture of the show as "the most beautiful show on network TV" after the pilot.
Seriously, you guys, this show is the most gorgeous thing on (HD)TV right now. Especially network TV. Forget streaming, forget computer viewing, I'm buying the S1 Blu & watching it on the largest screen possible.
Besides the unaired episode (which is available to buy on iTunes and Amazon Prime, FYI, and is a must-purchase) we're getting the UNEDITED version on those Blus? I...don't possibly know what could be more graphic than what we've already seen but bring it on. I am finally breaking my personal boycott as to buying shows individually by the season on DVD/Blu-Ray to avoid: (1) double-dipping/paying twice-thrice-etc. when complete sets come out and (2) disappointment if the show turns to suck later. Hannibal is one of THE great S1's of contemporary drama - put it besides 'Homeland' and 'Lost' and 'Mad Men' - only, perhaps, moreso, based on the clear design as a miniseries/self-contained narrative.
'This is my design.'
Bryan Fuller recently revealed to Sepinwall that, thanks to foreign pre-sales - which, given the franchise's built-in name recognition as well as the Euro popularity of the leads, must have been high - he always knew a S2 was a given, lending himself the freedom to design S1 as meticulously and fearlessly as he wanted.
The formula behind Hannibal is anything but formulaic: Take the tour-de-force acting showcases and monologues and dialogues that psychiatry brings about ala 'In Treatment,' take the visuals-first approach of 'Se7en' and 'The Cell' that MZS cites and you still don't come close to capturing the beauty of Hannibal.
What has taken this series from very good to great to flat-out-masterpiece is the building and weaving of that unique atmosphere of menace and beauty and dread and dark humor all at once that "Twin Peaks" had, that Lynchian surrealism. No other show on TV shifts its viewers and victims back and forth -between dreams, fugues, reality, flashbacks, visions, hallucinations, rewinds, etc. - as much. No other show "shows" temporal/physical shifts between 'types' of reality as frequently and as effortlessly as Hannibal has this spring/summer. Part of that is making sure there is an outgrowth of Will's "condition" of superhuman empathy - seeing through others' eyes, thinking like they think - mirrored in the narrative, feel and "look" of the show itself. No other devotes itself as thoroughly to communicating narrative/character/theme/mood etc. via framing, production design, costumes, editing, etc. first and with traditional, expositional, dialogue-driven story last.
The other crucial part is slicing and dicing through of the very idea that there IS a "distinction" and narrative "importance" between real/imagined, fantasy/reality, dreaming/waking to suggest - as later Peaks and Lynch's recent works increasingly suggest - that it makes no difference at all. It's all a dream. It's a movie after all. Or a TV show.
Is "Invitation to Love" - which is a soap opera within a show - any more real or important than "Twin Peaks" itself - which isnot merely a town but also a soap/show to begin with? (A show, mind you, devoted to repeating & deconstructing every soap trope that every was.). Is Patricia Arquette's blonde or brunette the real girl or are they both the same? Is Naomi Watts really Betty or Diane? Are the grainy B&W videotapes in Lynch's (maligned-at-the-time but ultimately prophetic as his template) 'Lost Highway' any more reliable at telling us the 'truth' of the narrative when our protagonist says, point blank, that he doesn't keep a camcorder to avoid a preference for documenting things "the way they happened" versus "the way he remembers them"?
Part of us already knows going in that it IS all a dream, all fakery, all part of the same crazy quilt *because* it's a film or TV show. An illusion. "A dream of dark and troubling things," to quote the tagline/synopsis for Lynch's 'Eraserhead.'
On some level, the audience has no choice to accept Arquette regardless of her hair color, accept Betty AND Diane, etc. because we see them all.
Will owns many stray dogs. Will rents the hallucination of Dire Ravenstag time and again. Will *actually* kills a man. Will imagines(?) killing his daughter. Will sees himself killing his victims as he uses his unique gift to enter and fugue into and backwardsly reconstruct the minds and crimes of the show's killers. There may be a chyron on the bottom of the screen of exterior shots to identify exactly where we are but we often "see" these places through Will's dislocation/disassociation from strict temporal certainly with the time-lapse photography shuffling between day/night/light/dark/real/imagined/etc.
The one word that is that is a man's dying hissed whisper to Will, the invitation to madness is: "see?"
Repeated, constantly, through the show, foregrounding the importance on visuals, is the further refrain, "what do you see?"
We see what Will sees.
Unlike, say, Hugh Dancy's wife's brilliant madness in 'Homeland,' the show not merely shows and tells us of the protagonist's mental health and way of "seeing" the world via conventional, third-person-objective storytelling, this show forces us to view it through Will's eyes.
Will sees a stag. We see a stag. There is ultimately no difference or distinction between whether or not the stag is "really" there or not. Because we do see a stag. The stag is up-there on-screen. We have no choice but to "see" them.
We know, going in, that we *have* to accept what we see as an image because the image is there. We had already agreed to see when we went to the movie or turned on am the show. To helplessly watch the illusion unfold before us. To enter the dream.
(It isn't JUST Will - in the finale, the show uses its visual and sonic palette to plunge us into and inside Dr Bloom's rage. We have previously been privy to a girl's hallucinatory trip on mushrooms and, in the image I personally found the most terrifying of the season, the POV of a character with face blindness. However, putting the audience Will's perspective is not only the most frequented by the narrative, but the one explicitly favored by the show's design to begin with from the pilot via plunging us into his pendulum fugue state in the 1st act...)
Lynch once said: "I want to dream when I go to a film."
We know a film or show is ultimately all a dream, an illusion to start. We go in anyway. Watching the movie/show to begin with means we have to surrender to the dream.
Hannibal is the first show in a long time to suggest that same possibility, that same rapture, that same willing and helpless audience surrender to subconscious and conscious and shifting and changing states that Lynch makes possible by declaring the film state as dream state and the film state as a dream state is as possible on TV at it is there.
Hannibal demonstrates unparalleled strength in this 1st season by not merely merely taking on a new way of telling a familiar story told in roughly a baker's dozen of movies & Harris's novels , but also by taking on of THE oldest tropes in the book - "to catch a killer, he must think like one" - in a novel way. By making sure WE think like one. By seeing what Will sees. What the killers saw. To give us no choice but to enter into that mind, that dream, that warped perspective ourselves.
The only way to escape in Hannibal, perhaps, is death. We know people are going to die. We know the monster Hannibal is going to become.
It's predestined by the fact that this is a prequel to, oh, roughly, a bakers dozen of books and films that continue This Story.
But the stellar direction, writing and - Mads, oh my god, you guys, Mads's conception of Doctor Lecter in this is one of *the* most brilliant character reinventions by an actor I've seen ever - render us helpless.
We know. We give anyway. We surrender to the dream. We know he is going to break Will/our hearts. That's Hannibal. We were told from the start from the title of the show, the name of the story we thought we had seen countless times before.
But no, not merely break. Devour them. Us.
Fannibals don't care.
We whisper to This Show: "Eat me."
How else could we expect this to end?
We knew from the start he was Cannibal.