On Hannibal

psychoanalysed So I’ve been watching season one of Hannibal in little bits and pieces. I’m glad to watch it without commercials, but I can’t help but note what years of not watching television has done to my perceptions. I look at the women and think, “Christ, Mikkelson, make them a burger or something,” and, in a few memorable instances, “A FUCKING FORENSIC TECH DOESN’T LET HER HAIR HANG IN THE EVIDENCE, DAMMIT,” and I look at the men and think “Those are not Real People Teeth.” Also, I am very conscious of stage directions, and people hitting their mark.

But generally, I am able to buy into the fiction pretty well. The bits of emotional trouble I’ve had come while watching the depictions of Will Graham’s complete empathy. One would think I would identify with Abby, but I don’t–for one thing, her parents loved her, even if that love took a particularly twisted form in her father. She never had to doubt it. Watching Hugh Dancy play Will Graham is like watching someone shy get naked–it works because of his willingness to be vulnerable. (Except later in the season he seems to forget Graham has trouble with eye contact.)

I often find myself thinking Will Graham isn’t so different from a writer. That profound empathy is necessary when you’re slipping into a character’s skin, no matter how briefly. Feeling what another person is feeling, thinking like they do, isn’t necessarily comfortable, depending on who you’re empathizing with.

Hannibal himself I find mesmerizing, because Mikkelsen plays him so well–so precise and contained, so subtle in his manipulations. Sometimes the wardrobe department puts him in a suit such a aesthete wouldn’t be caught dead in, but that’s incidental. However, the character that makes me furious is Jack Crawford.

Hannibal knows he’s evil, he knows he needs protective coloration in order to continue his preferred existence. Crawford is “fighting the good fight” and knows he’s right–perhaps the most dangerously seductive trap for anyone with a talent for manipulation, which he possesses in a different way than Hannibal’s. The point at which Will says “I don’t know if I can keep doing this” and Crawford’s response is “If you want to quit, quit,” after intimating that there are future murders Will could stop…frankly, I found that incredibly maddening. Crawford, at bottom, cares about Will–but not enough to let him go, because he’s such a great tool and serves Crawford’s purposes so neatly and thoroughly. Laurence Fishburne brings Crawford to life as a not-very-necessarily-nice person, who is on the “right side” but won’t hesitate to break someone if he has to. Fascinating to watch, but when one identifies with Will it’s painful.

The other thought I have is about the show’s structure. I have fun thinking of it as an extended allegory about a personality’s different parts all jostling to create a sense of “self”, even though any sense of “self” is fragile and ever-changing. Hannibal is the cold survivalist part, Graham the fragile compromise, Crawford the superego, Alana Bloom as the Jungian mother-archetype (odds are Hannibal will eventually kill her) and Abby as the child-self…it really, as I watch, fits together a shade too neatly for comfort.

All in all, I like it–but I hope it doesn’t drag on season after season and become a caricature of itself.