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Hannibal – Potage (Review)

Hannibal continues to move apace. Serialisation can often be a tricky beast, because it relies heavily on pacing. Reveal too much too fast and none of the plot beats carry enough weight. Drag out your revelations and your game-changing twists, and things feel too slow. The sense of progression is lost. On top of that, and something which is easily overlooked when it comes to serialisation, the key is to ensure that each episode exists as its own entity, while remaining a part of the whole. As often as one might use the “chapters of a book” analogy for episodes of The Sopranos or The Wire, this tends to ignore that each episode generally tended to be structured as its own entity. While a part of a larger story, each episode was its own self-contained unit of story.

Potage seems to suggest that Hannibal is finding its feet in the area, and carefully pacing itself. We are peeling back the layers on the eponymous psychiatrist at a pace that is neither too fast nor too slow. The evidence is mounting and his moves are becoming more brazen, but he retains his air of mystery. Since Lecter is a character who only really works with that sense of mystery, it’s a shrewd balance between progressing the plot and retaining the character’s appeal. Potage demonstrates the show has quite a knack for it.

The good doctor?

The good doctor?

With Amuse-Boche, I worried that the show might run the risk of turning into another weekly crime procedural. After all, shoehorning a secondary plot about a grizzly serial killer into a show about the fallout of Apperitif suggested that the show might be attempting a “serial killer of the week” format. Given how influential Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon was in defining that genre, and its importance as an ancestor of CSI and the nineties boom in serial killer movies, the temptation is understandable.

What’s most impressive about Potage, then, is the fact that the episode doesn’t need an unrelated subplot. Instead, it is still preoccupied with the consequences of the very first episode. I like this idea, for several reasons. Most obviously, although also most arbitrarily, it adds a sense of verisimilitude to the show. I know, it’s absurd. Serial killers exist in the real world. Hannibal Lecter was drawn from a variety of real sources. However, his character is more of a horror movie monster in human flesh than documentary exploration of real-world serial killers. His abilities may as well be supernatural.

Where there's a Will...

Where there’s a Will…

However, the world he exists in seems relatively real. The characters around him always seemed more realistic and more well drawn than the characters who tend to round-out the casts of police procedurals. The scars inflicted by Lecter (and by others) tend to linger. The darkness surrounding Lecter feels more organic and more realistic than the routine “week in, week out” grind of most police procedurals where the grotesque serial killer of the week is forgotten by the cast by the time the logo appears at the end of the episode.

I admit it’s an arbitrary distinction, but I like it. And I was worried that turning the show into “what serial killer is Lecter consulting on this week?” would diminish that sense of intruding reality. So I like that Potage is primarily concerned with the on-going investigation into the Minnesota Shrike. I like that Garrett Hobbs’ violence is not forgotten and that it lingers. Because, let’s face it, gazing into that sort of abyss on a weekly basis would strain credibility. You can’t just box off the past and close it away. The defining characteristic of Will Graham is an abundance of empathy, and letting him grow too distant from the crime would undermine that.

Body of evidence...

Body of evidence…

Potage concerns Abigail Hobbs, the daughter of Garret Hobbs who survived his attempted murder in Aperitif. She spent Amuse-Boche in a coma, and Potage opens with her waking up. Much of Potage invites the audience to wonder how complicit Abigail was in her father’s crimes. It’s an uncomfortable question and although the evidence winds up suggesting that she is an innocent victim, I appreciate the way the show probes the darkness which must surround these investigations.

And we get the first true glimpse of Hannibal Lecter as the manipulative psychopath we know and love. Mads Mikkelsen has presented Lecter as an outside observer for most of the past two episodes, with only slight hints of his hedonistic “let’s do this because the results interest me” persona shining through. Although he tipped off Hobbs that Graham was coming, and leaked information to Freddie Lounds about the case, his involvement here seems like a step up.

It's beginning to mount...

It’s beginning to mount…

For one thing, we’re almost entirely certain he’s the copycat killer, what with his attempts to provide a convenient fall-guy for the crimes. We don’t get absolute and incontrovertible proof one way or the other, and I like that, but it would take one hell of a twist to reveal that he wasn’t the copycat. We also get Lecter’s first on-screen act of violence, as he rather bluntly incapacitates Alana Bloom. More than that, the relationship between Hannibal and Abigail looks to be fascinating.

Rather tellingly, although implicated in two copycat murders, Lecter’s defining on-screen moment here is the manipulation of Abigail Hobbs. Offering her a deal with the devil, this is a version of the character that audiences will remember from his other on-screen interpretations – the needling and manipulative psychopath running rings around those who need his help. In particular, his manipulation of Abigail seems particularly Machiavellian and wonderfully opportunist, because it’s quite easy to argue that the FBI would have been willing to write off the killing as self-defence.

Daddy's little killer...

Daddy’s little killer…

“This isn’t self-defence, Abigail,” he tries to convince her. “You butchered him. They’ll see what you did, and decide that you’re an accessory to the crimes of your father.” Mikkelsen continues to distance his performance from that of Hopkins, and it’s still a shrewd move. Mikkelsen’s manipulations feel more forceful than Hopkins ever did. Hopkins had a tendency to grin and gloat, while Mikkelsen feels more urgent and forceful. Hopkins’ Lecter would probably speak more softly as he attempted to pressure Abigail, as if prompting her own insecurities. Instead, Mikkelsen bluntly states the facts as they suit him and waits to observe the response.

It’s still the same character, just with a slightly different emphasis. Indeed, one of the most telling observations about Lecter comes from the psychiatrist’s own mouth, discussing the copycat killer. When the introduction say Hobbs suggest that harvesting flesh and bone and organ was a way of “honouring” the dead person or animal, I feared that the show might try to present Hannibal’s cannibalism as something similar – to suggest that he was paying tribute to his victims by consuming them.

What's eating Will Graham?

What’s eating Will Graham?

Luckily, it turns out that the show knows Lecter better. Asked how he knows the victim of the copycat wasn’t killed by Hobbes, he observes, “Garrett Jacob Hobbs would have honoured every part of her.” Lecter’s under no illusions about what he does. He kills for his own pleasure, and feels no need to rationalise it or justify it. Indeed, Harris himself lost a lot of what made the character so fascinating when he attempted to offer justification for the character’s violence in Hannibal or Hannibal Rising. Lecter went from a man who killed college girls because he wanted to eat them to a grim avenger who pressured child molesters into self-harm.

The show seems to be leaning towards Harris’ earlier and unambiguously evil version of Hannibal Lecter, the version present in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. It’s a smart move, as the character was always more compelling as strangely seductive version of pure monstrosity in an unassuming form than he ever was as a brutally dark anti-hero. Potage suggests that we are just probing the darkness on the surface of Hannibal Lecter, but there’s a great deal more to explore.

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