Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film version of The Silence of the Lambs did much to cement the position of the professional female investigator and the criminal profiler in the firmament of popular culture. So it’s probably safe to say that The X-Files, which features both character types in its lead types, owes a lot to Thomas Harris’s creations (and X-Files creator has acknowledged that Dana Scully was heavily inspired by Clarice Starling).
The X-Files itself went on to become a popular and highly influential drama. It may or may not have established the “case-of-the-week” format that’s now standard-issue for science-fiction and horror-themed procedurals such as Fringe and Torchwood, but it was certainly one of the first popular examples of that format.
Twenty years later, Hannibal’s showrunner Bryan Fuller has brought things full circle by acknowledging the relationship between the mythologies created by Thomas Harris and Chris Carter. The most obvious expression of that will come a few episodes hence, with back-to-back episodes guest-starring Gillian Anderson and Lance Henriksen (the protagonist of Carter’s Millennium, which owes even more to Harris than The X-Files does). But it’s even clear in Hannibal’s early format, which interspersed “mytharc” episodes with cases-of-the-week, and that’s very clear in the next three episodes of the series.
“Potage” (Episode 3; Apr. 18, 2013)
This week on Hannibal: Garrett Jacob Hobbs’s daughter Abigail emerges from her coma, and returns home–with Jack Crawford’s team–to a not-so-warm welcome. Each member of the team has a different interest in the young woman: Crawford believes she may have been her father’s accomplice, while Will Graham and Alana Bloom are more protective. And then there’s Hannibal Lecter, who has his own agenda…of course.
One of the characters who got short shrift in my previous Hannibal reviews is Alana Bloom, whom Crawford assigned to watch over Will, and who’s also responsible for introducing Dr. Lecter since she refuses to treat Will. Played by Caroline Dhavernas, Bloom (a minor character named Alan Bloom in Red Dragon) hasn’t been all that much of a presence in the first few episodes: she’s a stabilizing factor and possible romantic interest for Will, but that’s about it.
“Potage” is where Bloom starts to come into her own, chiefly through her desire to protect Abigail, although her motivation is very different from Will’s. There’s a very valid criticism about how little role Bloom plays in the first season in general, which Fuller works to correct in the last episodes (and, it seems, the new season as well), but for the most part the character works and doesn’t seem surplus to requirements. Plus, Dhavernas is more than able to hold her own against Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne.
But despite a return engagement with Lara Jean Chorostecki’s Freddie Lounds, “Potage” belongs to another actress who’s been lurking in the background since the pilot: Kacey Rohl as Abigail Hobbs. She’s All-American enough (even though she’s Canadian) to grab the audience’s sympathy, and plays the character’s tragedy enough to keep it, but she’s just dark enough to justify Crawford’s doubt.
The interaction between the five characters at the heart of this week’s case are what sell the episode, which is good because this week’s plot feels more like a means to an end–an artificial device used to push the characters into situations and relationships–than usual. The return of the Minnesota Shrike’s copycat (whom we all know is Lecter anyway) is fun, inasmuch as subject matter like this can ever be enjoyed, but the investigation is secondary to the rift Abigail causes between Will and Alana on one side and Jack on the other, with Lecter manipulating the situation to his own ends. Nicholas Boyle barely makes an impression as a character, as does his subplot, and they’re only there to justify the episode’s shocking final scene.
This weakness in the early episodes will culminate next week, and thankfully after that the cases will begin to feel a bit more thoroughly integrated with the characters.
“Œuf” (Episode 4; not aired during original broadcast run)
This week on Hannibal: The murders of families with runaway children puts the BAU unit on the trail of a woman trying to create her own makeshift family, while Will and Lecter consider their relationship with their own figurative surrogate daughter.
This is the episode that Fuller decided to pull after the Newtown school shooting: apparently the idea of kids shooting other kids hit too much of a raw nerve.
Thankfully, those watching the original broadcast run didn’t miss much. Despite some powerful imagery in the murder scenes, the plot just isn’t all that interesting, and the parallels drawn between the case and the Will/Hannibal/Abigail situation are a bit too on the nose. It’s also way too predictable, feeling too much like a substandard late-era X-File.
However, there are a couple of redeeming aspects. SNL’s Molly Shannon is surprisingly good as the killers’ “den mother,” and the B-plot, which involves Lecter checking Abigail out of the hospital and asking her to eat some magic mushrooms–all in the name of “therapy”–is a lot of fun. Plus, we get the first appearance of Firefly’s Gina Torres as Crawford’s wife, even though she doesn’t do a whole lot.
But overall, a weak episode with not a whole lot to say about it.
“Coquilles” (Episode 5; Apr. 25, 2013)
“Shells” (specifically oyster)
This week on Hannibal: The BAU tracks a killer who strips the flesh from his victims’ backs and arranges them to appear as angels’ wings. Meanwhile, Dr. Lecter finds himself involved in Crawford’s strained marriage when his wife Bella, stricken with terminal illness, comes to him for therapy.
More like it!
First off, Gina Torres rocks as Bella Crawford, and there’s a brilliant chemistry between Torres, Fishburne and Mikkelsen. The dinner sequence is one of the best scenes of the season that doesn’t involved someone’s corpse being staged in some unsettlingly beautiful way.
Meanwhile, the angels are probably the best murder-staging of the season–although the upcoming “Fromage” and “Trou Normand” offer strong competitors to the title. This is pretty strong stuff that Fuller really must have had a dickens of a time getting past NBC’s S&P department. The plot’s pretty wicked as well, with some excellent characterization on the part of the killers’ estranged family. Obviously the A- and B-plots are going to reflect each other, but the writers and directors pull it off in a way that’s less showy than with the previous two episodes.
If there’s one flaw with the episode, it’s that there’s an implied supernatural dimension to the killings that I’m not sure entirely works in this series, which for the most part has worked very hard to stay solidly rational. But I don’t feel it really harms the bottom line all that much.
I’m not willing to be too hard on the season’s first few episodes–every show, in its infancy, will suffer from the pains of the creative team as they figure out what their series does and does not do well, so a rocky patch is only to be expected. But “Coquilles” is where everything snaps into place. There are definitely better episodes down the line, but this is the point at which Hannibal starts being Hannibal.
Next week on Hannibal: A legendary serial killer known only as “the Chesapeake Ripper” figures heavily in “Entrée” and “Sorbet,” while in “Fromage,” Dr. Lecter’s interest in the bizarre murder of a concert cellist turns out not to be strictly professional. Plus, Crawford faces his past, Will’s mental state deteriorates, and Hannibal visits his own therapist. Featuring guest appearances by Eddie Izzard, Anna Chlumsky and Gillian Anderson, and the first appearance on Hannibal of Lecter’s eventual second-string nemesis, Dr. Chilton.
Season 1 episode ranking: