Who is the first person you think of when you hear the name “Hannibal?” If it’s Hannibal Lecter, then Hannibal is a show for you. It’s a sort-of origin story about Lecter’s kind-of beginnings as a cannibalistic murder, and it’s damn good. And, really, even if you’re not a fan of the Hannibal movies (or haven’t even seen them), it’s still a killer watch.
It’s not one of those “here’s where they were born and how they grew up” sort of origin stories. Nay, it starts with Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) as a renowned psychiatrist, working with the FBI to solve murders—some of which he commits himself. It’s clever, cunning, and brilliant.
But Lecter’s main involvement with the FBI isn’t necessarily to help solve these murders; instead, it’s to help WIll Graham (Hugh Dancy), a hyper-empathetic profiler who can all but see into the minds of killers after examining the murder scene. Dr. Lecter serves as Graham’s would-be friend and almost-psychiatrist (it’s a weird relationship), helping Will work through the troubles that plague his empathetic and active mind.
The brilliance of the show is strongly rooted in the relationship between Graham and Dr. Lecter. On one hand, Lecter seems to genuinely understand Will’s issues and tries to help him—but only to an extent. Dr. Lecter uses his cunning to keep Will on a string, play with his mind, and ultimately manipulate him for Lecter’s own motives. It’s exactly the kind of thing a genuinely evil, narcissistic, and brilliant character like Hannibal Lecter would do.
Hugh Dancy’s acting as Will Graham is remarkable, as I imagine trying to play the role of a highly empathetic mind that suffers from everything he feels is highly challenging. But he makes it believable in a very realistic way. The dynamic between Dancy’s Graham and Mikkelsen’s brilliant performance as Hannibal Lecter is captivating in all aspects. When the two are on screen together you can literally feel the tension.
The relationships between Will and other characters on the show only increase the dynamics of his character as he wrestles between who he is, who he’s afraid of becoming, and who Dr. Lecter is subconsciously pushing him to become. FBI Behavioral Science Director Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne) pushes Will to the very limits of his capabilities as a profiler (hence the need for Dr. Lecter’s involvement in the first place), while Will’s friend-but-also-more-than-a-friend psychiatrist Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) tries to keep the relationship between Crawford and Graham balanced.
There are a lot of moving parts to the relationships in Hannibal, all of which effectively focus on Will Graham as the main character. That’s part of what makes Hannibal such a great watch in the first place—instead of making Lecter the main character, watching him work in the background as an off-center focus of the show is a brilliant psychological twist. You know, the kind of twist that Hannibal himself could appreciate.
But the psychological aspect isn’t the only thing that makes Hannibal great. There’s also the thriller/horror aspect of the show. If you like gruesome and violent stories, then you’ll love the murders throughout. If you’re more squeamish, then I’d suggest staying away from it—it’s pretty raw. Despite this, it’s beautifully shot and has won a handful of awards for Best Network Television Series, Best Action-Thriller Series, Best Actor (both Dancy and Mikkelsen), and Best Supporting Actor (Fishburne).
The worst part about Hannibal is that there are only three seasons, after which NBC canceled the show. The good news is that all three seasons are available on Netflix for your binging pleasure, and there’s a possibility of a fourth season at some point. The creator and actors involved with the original series very much want to make more Hannibal, but apparently there are legal hoops to jump through to make that happen.
Still, the three seasons that are available are definitely worth watching, especially if you like psychological horror. You could even pair the show with some fava beans and a nice chianti to complete the mood.