If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw my feed littered with the hashtag #SerialKillerBoyfriends a few weeks ago. This is a reference to the ending of Hannibal Season 3 where it was confirmed, no room for questioning from what I heard, our two murderous heroes were totes in love. The fly fisherman and the hunter, who would have thought?
Hannibal seasons 1 and 2 can be streamed for free to Amazon Prime members, which I mooch off my brother. Season 3 is still behind a paywall, unfortunately, which is why this post is only about seasons 1 and 2. I tried to take enough notes for a coherent essay on the show, but the most I can do is give you a splatter of thoughts. (Get it, like a blood splatter?)
Major spoilers ahead. Do not read if you intend to watch Hannibal.
Synopsis: Hannibal has three main characters. Will Graham, a professor at the FBI Academy is called into the field because his Empathy Disorder which allows him to profile the goriest serial killers but at the risk of his own mental health. His boss, Agent Jack Crawford, is the one who called Will into the field and continually pushes him against his breaking point, even against the professional opinion of psychologist Dr. Alana Bloom. Dr. Bloom recommends Will see her colleague Dr. Hannibal Lector, the namesake of the show, who takes an interest in Will Graham, not only as a tool for his own twisted game, but also as a friend.
Visual Influences: The episodes of the first season are titled after French cuisine while the second season are titled after Japanese cuisine. These influences go beyond the food, however. The French influences of the first season focus on hobbies of the upper class–opera and fine cuisine and never seeing Hannibal wear anything but a freshly pressed suit. All the characters are finely dressed except for Will Graham, who prefers plaid shirts and casual trousers over the suit-and-ties of his colleagues. The background music is chamber music, the sort of thing you would expect to hear at piano recitals and the opera. Even some of the shots have a French influence. I think of the shot of the two corpses praying at the corners of a bed, their lungs ripped from their backs and hung above them like angel wings. Even the gore is used for artful effect. It is hard to tell whether the gore compliments the high-classiness or vice versa.
Similarly, the second season is influenced by Japanese aesthetics, complete with simple but effective shot compositions and heaving drumming in the music. Shot compositions include close ups of inanimate objects, such as an overhead shot of tea being poured into a teacup. The music waltzes away from chamber music to favor the rhythmic drive of drums very similar to taiko. There is still the note of upper classiness, but the influences otherwise shift with the atmosphere of the second season, which focuses more on Will and how he plays with the mind of a psychopathic serial killer.
I wondered about the deeper meaning behind these aesthetic influences but came up short. Perhaps the French influence of the first season was meant to represent Hannibal’s facade while the Japanese influence of the second represents the discipline Will requires to pull off his psychological fly fishing.
I thought about connecting Will Graham’s transformation in the second season to the magical girl transformation sequences in anime, but that sounded like too much work. Especially since the second season lacked any anime influence that I noticed.
The Stag and The Stag Monster: Starting in episode 1, Will starts to imagine a stag following him to the different crime scenes. This stag does not appear until after he meets Hannibal, so I believe the stag represents Hannibal’s influence over Will. Because the stag appears often, I believe Will is aware of the stag’s meaning, but he is unaware of the real force behind the stag for most of the first season. Will’s first case involved a hunter who ate his victims and whose death had a huge impact on Will’s psyche. So the viewer, as well as Will Graham, believes the stag to represent the lingering trauma of that first perpetrator. However, later in the season, Will sees a sculpture of a stag resembling the one he sees in Hannibal’s office. This is about the time he starts to lose all control.
The stag’s meaning changes in the second season. Where Will was wary of the stag in the first season, he recognizes it in the second and uses that to his advantage. In the beginning episodes of the second season, Will envisions himself fly fishing, because what else is he supposed to do, talk to walls? His conversations about Hannibal compare fly fishing to hunting, the comparison of which grows into a bigger narrative theme. Will says he is good at fly fishing, and one of his tricks is having a good lure. So when Will sees the stag, he observes it not with the trepidation he had in the first season, but with the thoughtful look of a fly fisherman, gauging which lure would be best to catch the stag.
The second season also introduces a man with antlers in Willl’s visions. I don’t know who or what this vision represents. Perhaps it is Will’s attempt to get back at the stag–backed up with various shots of Will sprouting antlers of his own. Or maybe it is another representation of Hannibal. Now that Will has proven himself, Hannibal’s tactics change and Will recognizes those tactics and uses the stag to counter them. The more human nature of this visual representation of influence symbolizes the more human nature of Hannibal’s intentions with Will. But really, it could go either way.
One Last Thing: A couple years ago when Attack on Titan first started airing, the fandom across Tumblr let loose as a result of the dark and gory contents of the show. (My personal favorite is a rotoscoped video of the characters dancing to K-Pop, but that is neither here nor there). While I have calmed down about Attack on Titan (for now), I am happy to note Tumblr continues its habit of finding humor in shows heavy in gore and drama. A habit demonstrated with this picture:
Get it? And then there’s this.
I carried this humor into my tweets with such nicknames for the characters like Hannibal the Cannibal and Somebody Help Will Graham and Baby Cannibal. Even the hashtag #SerialKillerBoyfriends is meant to bring humor into a show that is otherwise void of it (not including the subtle references to cannibalism, of course).
And this The-Fandom-is-Crazy-but-the-Show-is-Super-Dark spirit is what attracted me to the show. Well, that and the song Love Crime by Siouxie Sioux, which I will use to finish this post.
Do you have thoughts on Hannibal? Let me know in the comments.