A wide expanse of field somewhere on the outskirts of Minnesota. A single, lonely tree stands belligerently against the breeze, its pale leaves shinning bright in the crisp morning sun. It’s only upon closer inspection that this striking image reveals its true, dark nature. Woven into the thin trunk is a man, crucified between the spindly branches. His vital organs have been removed and replaced with a colourful array of poisonous exotic plants.
This is just one of the morbidly beautiful ‘works of art’ in a second season of Hannibal (Tuesday, 10pm, Sky Living) that has seen a blind man with a headful of bees, a mosaic of the human eye composed of corpses and a woman sewn into the uterus of a horse. Not your average police procedural, then, but then a show that boasts a culinary cannibal consultant among its crew was never going to be ordinary.
Based on the characters and elements appearing in Red Dragon, NBC’s psychological thriller-horror follows Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a gifted criminal profiler who uses his remarkable empathy to solve a series of grotesque murders by visualizing the crimes from the killers’ perspective. It’s a neat party trick, though the gaudy strobe lighting could be given a miss, but to make sure imagining bodies being hacked to bits everyday doesn’t way heavily on Will’s psyche he is assigned a psychiatrists named Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) who promptly sets about turning him insane. As a result, Will spends most of season two on trial as the Chesapeake Ripper and questioning his own sanity, while Hannibal the Cannibal swoops in to pinch his job and his girlfriend. Some friend, eh?
What’s most impressive about Hannibal is that writer Bryan Fuller has somehow managed to create a take on the iconic character that is wholly his own, one capable of rivalling, and, in the case of Hannibal Rising, bettering, its cinematic brothers. Utilizing Hitchcock’s principal of suspense, Fuller works the fact that his lead is well-known to his advantage. We know Hannibal is a monster and that he will one day explode, and this information has the audience on tenterhooks from the very start, creating an appropriately disconcerting mood that permeates the action.
The only dull moments come when Jack Crawford’s FBI team crowd into a sterile lab to regurgitate exposition over that week’s symbolic corpse. Yet, it always rises above becoming a rote forensic procedural largely because we already know who the culprit is and we share Will’s frustration in trying to convince others of Hannibal’s guilt before another victim can become a scene in his live theatre of beautiful murder.
And yet, no one is watching. Hannibal may be something of a critics’ pet considering the high praise and award recognition its has received, and it can boast as aggressive an online following as any cult show around, but the show still teeters on the brink of cancellation each year.
Quite why the show hasn’t captured the viewers’ attention is frankly a mystery. Is its portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is too depraved and remorseless to be a sympathetic villain? Is the dialogue too quick-fire and full of psychological mumbo-jumbo to serve as a satisfying dose of late-night escapism? Or are audiences simply bored of a character they’ve seen and read umpteen times before?
Whatever the reason, Fuller must find a way to pull in the viewers if NBC are to allow him to see out his six season plan for the series. Season three was only recently confirmed after much dithering, suggesting the powers that be are already losing faith in the shows potential.
It would be a tragic waste if the show was not to continue. Yes, it can be hard to follow and it is unflinchingly dark throughout, but it is also finely acted, deliciously subversive and it demands your attention with its surprisingly deep story about the human mind and the nature of friendship. Not to mention it made Eddie Izzard’s thigh look absolutely delicious. Yum.
Click here to watch the trailer for Hannibal – Season Two