Thinking like a monster

‘Hannibal’ a game of psychological chess between brilliant, disturbed minds

Dave Bartlett
Published on June 18, 2014
(From left) Hugh Dancy (Will Graham), Laurence Fishburne (Jack Crawford) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter) star in the NBC series “Hannibal.”
— Submitted photo

I’m sure there are a few readers out there who have never watched “Silence of the Lambs,” but I’m sure many of those folks have at least a vague idea of what the 1991 film staring Anthony Hopkins is about.

The phrase “It rubs the lotion on its skin” is one that sends shivers down my spine to this day.

I’m not a big horror movie guy, but this psychological thriller is certainly a cornerstone of pop culture. But my first-hand knowledge of the psychiatrist serial killer stops not far from there. I haven’t watched any of the other feature films, nor read any of the books associated with this mythos, even though I am aware of them.

But many of my TV watching friends have been raving about “Hannibal,” and once I learned Bryan Fuller was involved, I started looking for ways to find the show. And then it appeared on Netflix — both seasons, out of the blue, a couple weeks back.

It’s creepy. More so because of the beautifully shot cooking and eating scenes. It’s also, therefore, disturbing. And it’s a pretty gory too — probably even more so than the movie. So be warned.

The story has been reset in the modern day, but Lecter (played here by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who is both cold and charismatic) is no more than 40. He actually doesn’t appear on screen to well into Episode 1.

The show centres on FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who lectures at the Bureau’s academy at Quantico, Va. He doesn’t like being social, or making eye contact. He couldn’t be an agent because he is considered mentally unstable. But this instability is a bit of a gift. He can empathize with the most horrific killers — get inside their minds, and imagine them committing the act.   

As Graham wraps up the opening scenes crime scene/flashback/lecture-in-progress, veteran actor Laurence Fishburne strolls in. Fishburne plays Jack Crawford, the FBI head of behavioural science.

After a brief introduction, Crawford asks Graham where he fits on “the spectrum” and he replies that he’s closer to Asperger’s or autism than narcissists and sociopaths.

But when asked if he can think like the latter, Graham replies, “I can empathize with anybody. It has less to do with a personality disorder than of an active imagination.”

Fishburne replies, “I’d like to borrow your imagination.”

Rounding out the cast is another psychiatrist who consults for the FBI, Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas). She worries about Graham, but refuses to profile him for the FBI and recommends her friend Lecter.

She pops in here and there to check on his well-being, though it’s usually through Crawford or Lecter. They rarely spend time together.

One thing Graham does love is dogs. He has a house full of strays. I’m sure this will play a part later on, but I haven’t got that far.

By the end of the first episode you will also meet two other characters integral to the plot — Garrett Jacob Hobbs and his daughter Abigail. I will say no more for now.

One final note on cast: I barley recognized former Kid in The Hall Scott Thompson as forensics dude Dr. Jimmy Price. The comedian blends into the white lab coat, and the gig, as well as he donned a tiara to become the Queen, or a tux to become Buddy Cole. Just an extra reason to watch.

Four episodes in — the point at which I typically do an initial review of a show — I’m hooked, that I want to complete both seasons before the third when it premieres, likely next spring.

Surprisingly, Fuller’s thumbprints are all over this, despite the gore and more serious tone. Dialogue, lighting, pacing and nice pauses, just when they are needed are here in “Hannibal” a s in his earlier work (“Dead Like Me,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Wonderfalls,” which I barely had a chance to get into before it was cancelled. Hey Netflix, see if you can license that.)

There are also some beautiful — and horrific — visuals. There’s nothing as brightly coloured as The Pie Hole or The Waffle House, but as mentioned, food gets a special treatment and red tomatoes and meat really contrasts with a dark dinning room. Brrrrrr, getting the willies just thinking about it.

It goes without saying; don’t watch this show while eating.

The last thing I’ll say is that network TV is really pushing the boundaries of gore and violence. I guess it’s to compete with cable shows like “Game of Thrones.” I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that in recent weeks.

I’m a firm believer in the philosophy if-you-don’t-like-it-don’t-watch-it.  But as much as I like shows like “Hannibal,” parts of me feel really horrible for finding it so engaging. Maybe that’s a necessary human reaction. We cannot turn away.

Dave Bartlett muses about watching habits, TV shows — new and old —and anything related to whatever shows he may be watching at the moment. You can get in touch with him at