Hannibal is an interesting show in the way it walks the line between serial structure and episodic structure. For the past three weeks or so, I’ve been expecting the show to really knuckle down and start the whole “chase for the Chesapeake killer” where every episode will build on the events of the last one, tension rising as Will and the FBI get a little bit closer to discovering Hannibal at the center of this intricate web of murders. But after tonight’s episode “Fromage”, where a completely new killer is introduced and Will spends most of his time chasing phantom raccoons in his chimney, I realized that Hannibal isn’t going to be content doing what audiences expect (perhaps to the detriment of its ratings) and is more concerned with walking the unbeaten path of the serial killer genre. It’s obvious that plot is taking a back seat in the series. The investigations and what is traditionally thought of as “the action” takes place off screen. Instead, the connective tissue that binds one episode to another becomes the psychology of the characters and their relationships with each other, especially the relationship developing between Hannibal and Will.
“Fromage” builds upon the giant leap forward in Hannibal’s characterization that took place last week in “Sorbet” by shifting the focus towards a killer a lot like Dr. Lecter himself. Like Hannibal, Tobias turns his murders into “art,” creation through destruction. Only instead of food in Hannibal’s case, Tobias murders for music, transforming the intestines and vocal chords of his victims into cello strings. Tobias, who knows Hannibal’s secret, wants to strike up a friendship with him, seemingly out of what he hopes would be mutual appreciation, the kind which two artists might share with each other. What’s puzzling is the fact that Hannibal, who we saw last week is actually in need of a friend to appreciate his talents, rejects Tobias’s olive branch out right (claiming you are planning on killing someone to their face is about as non-amicable as it gets). This rejection along with the deflection of the psychopath groupie Franklin last week makes two cases where Hannibal has rejected friendship and admiration. So what kind of friendship is Hannibal looking for? What draws him to someone like Will Graham?
As Dr. Maurier puts it, Hannibal seems to be searching for someone who can tear down the walls he spends all his time putting up. He’s not looking for another killer or someone who is attracted to killers. He’s searching for someone smart enough to match wits against him, like a chess master who has spent too long on top, who is in need of a challenger. We’ve already seen that Hannibal likes to taunt those chasing him (midnight calls to Jack Crawford from a dead girls phone), but it’s a different kind of interaction when Will is the one chasing him. You can tell by the half smile Hannibal has anytime Will is describing the man behind the Chesapeake Ripper’s murders that Will is describing Hannibal perfectly. In Hannibal’s mind, he is listening to someone who finally “gets him.” What we’re seeing is the start of TV’s creepiest bromance.
And meanwhile, Will is falling apart. He’s always been someone straddling the real world and the darker world of imagination, the world in which he is one of the serial killers whose work he is constantly forced to see. For a man who is forced to imagine himself as a monster, it must be terrifying when imagination starts to bleed into the real world in the form of hallucinations, waking dreams, and (new this week) phantom sounds of animals in pain. The fact that Will is constantly on the edge of breakdown is directly contrasted with the calm, methodical manner of Hannibal who even after a fight for his life still seems to know exactly what he’s going to do next.
Since anyone even remotely familiar with the source material will know how the story between Will and Hannibal is going to end, the disparity in mental stability being set up here between Hannibal and Will seems to provide most of the suspense for me in terms of how Will will eventually overcome Hannibal’s manipulations. In the end, it’s good that Bryan Fuller elected to focus on emotional development rather than serialized plot lines because Hannibal is, after all, a prequel. The end is no mystery. Character interaction is king here, and maybe for some, this won’t be engaging enough to keep them coming back every week. Despite the expectations placed on it, Hannibal is more fascinated with portraying its characters in a specific period of time, a specific incarnation. It’s a slow pace, but to me it’s really paying off with the depth and range Fuller is getting out of the these characters.
- As of when I’m writing this, it is still unclear whether Hannibal will be renewed. Apparently, there are rumors of a move to cable in the event of cancellation which would actually seem like a better fit for this type of show.
- I’m not really buying Alana Bloom’s attraction to Will. I’ve never really seen him do anything but whine while around her. Then again she’s so underdeveloped, for all I know, that might be her thing.
- It’s funny to me that Will is really into fishing lures and boat motors seeing as there hasn’t been one visible body of water the entire show.
- What was that thing Tobias was swinging around in Hannibal’s office? I guess a knife or a gun wouldn’t be cool enough?
- I might be wrong here (Miriam Lass was just incapacitated I believe), but this episode marks the first occasion where Hannibal has actually killed onscreen.