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Hannibal – Entrée (Review)

It’s nice that we got this far into the season before Entrée was necessary. It’s the kind of episode that a show like Hannibal was always going to have to produce relatively early on, allowing it to air the laundry, so to speak, and to overtly and clearly distinguish itself from a popular predecessor. In this case, it’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Although we haven’t met Clarice Starling yet, although the credit at the start of each episode cites Red Dragon as the show’s inspiration, it’s hard to escape the shadow of one of the most popular horror films ever made. Many argue that The Silence of the Lambs was the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Even today, it remains a cultural touchstone, and there’s an incredibly large number of people who are only familiar with the character of Hannibal Lecter through that story and – in particular – through the film adaptation.

Hannibal hasn’t been shy about referencing The Silence of the Lambs, nor should it be. Crawford’s office from the start of Aperitif seems arranged in homage to the film, while the arrangement of two of the victims in Coquilles couldn’t help but evoke Hannibal’s dramatic escape from his cell at the film’s climax. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Entrée exists mainly to allow the show to indulge and engage in the imagery and iconography of the film, so that Hannibal can truly distinguish itself.

"Oh, goodie..."

“Oh, goodie…”

The setting is familiar. We know Baltimore Psychiatric Hospital. We know that the most dangerous inmates are kept in the basement, inevitably arranged in increasing order of creepiness. All the way at the end of the cells, we find a figure waiting for us. He’s supposed to be American, but he’s played by an established English performer. Locked behind the cell walls, one might imagine that he’s harmless, but his words spill out. He flirts and taunts and teases, claiming awareness of crimes the FBI have been unable to solve.

However, one mustn’t get too close to him. He’s quite resourceful, capable of secreting away potential lock picks on his person. He might have seemed cooperative and docile, but he’s always ready to strike. It was only recently that he brutally attacked. To be fair, we don’t quite find out if this killer’s heart beat ever got above eighty, as he disconnected the monitor before he struck. But otherwise, the whole thing seems very familiar.

A census taker once tried to test him...

A census taker once tried to test him…

Except it’s not quite. Gideon is very clearly intended as an analogue for Anthony Hopkins’ version of Hannibal Lecter. He’s a psychopath who consults with FBI behind bars. He speaks in a soft and low voice. He shares quite a few traits with the iconic version of the serial killer, including a sense of taste and class. “Never liked being called the Chesapeake Ripper,” he confesses, much as Lecter must have balked at “Hannibal the Cannibal.” He suggests, “Maybe something with a little more wit.”

When Jack Crawford interrupts their conversation to take a call, Gideon admonishes him for his rudeness. “The polite thing to do is to ask them to call back.” It recalls suggestions that Lecter preferred to eat the rude. Gideon exists as one giant tip-of-the-hat to the movie version of Hannibal Lecter. However, he’s not quite the same thing. “I see the Ripper, but I don’t feel the Ripper,” Graham confesses, inspecting the crime scene. “He’s a plagiarist.” Gideon is a copy, and inherently inferior.

Hannibal does not like plagiarists...

Hannibal does not like plagiarists…

He’s also quite played out and tired. When Thomas Harris published Red Dragon, characters like Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter were relatively unique. However, the novel (and the sequels and the films) proved to be so popular that they wound up inventing their own subgenres and archetypes. Will Graham has been duplicated and copied across all forms of serial killer fiction. In fact, naming the episode’s Lecter stand-in as “Gideon” is probably a direct shout-out to the character of Gideon from Criminal Minds, another none-too-subtle imitation of the profiler-as-empath that Harris helped define.

In the years since Red Dragon was published, and especially in the years since The Silence of the Lambs was released in cinemas, this classic version of Hannibal Lecter has become played out, a bit of a tired joke. What was once a great and novel concept is now just a tired old repeat, a piece of plagiarism of what had been a smart idea. Entreé seems to be an attempt by Hannibal to explain why it has taken such care to differentiate its lead character from the version played by Anthony Hopkins.

"So, did I get the role?"

“So, did I get the role?”

It’s not too hard to imagine a version of Hannibal where the lead character is played by Eddie Izzard. He’s British, he’s creepy, he’s very good at offering dry and sarcastic wit. However, he’s also too similar to Anthony Hopkins. Izzard’s dry Britishness would exist in the shadow of Hopkins’ iconic portrayal of the character. He’d just seem like an imitation, rather than a fresh new take on the character. Entreé exists primary to explain how and why this version of Hannibal Lecter is so different from his predecessor.

It’s no coincidence that we’re introduced to this pale imitation of Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter in the same episode where we see Lecter finally take a life. The show has been building to this moment, even though we all knew it was coming. It would, after all, defeat the purpose of doing a Hannibal television show if the lead character wasn’t a psychopathic serial killer cannibal. (Well, unless he was a Carthaginian general.)

"Is this Clarice? Ah, hello Clarice..."

“Is this Clarice? Ah, hello Clarice…”

The show has been remarkably restrained in its portrayal of Lecter. He’s been slowly slinking his way to the heart of the show. We know he’s a manipulative sociopath. He know that he’s up to no good. And yet Hannibal has managed to find a way to make it suspenseful. That takes considerable skill, and it’s a testament to how well the show is put together. And a lot of that is down to the fact that this is a different Hannibal.

Mads Mikkelsen is the perfect fit for the role, because he’s quite possibly the worst replacement for Anthony Hopkins in the world. He checks all the essential Lecter check boxes. He’s sinister, vaguely European, exudes a sense of sophistication and class, is downright terrifying and creates the sense he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. However, Mikkelsen embodies all of these qualities without resembling Anthony Hopkins.

The good doctor...

The good doctor…

In a way, it seems like a very smart failsafe from the creative team. Even if they wanted to write the character in the style of Hopkins’ version, there’s no way that Mikkelsen could offer a convincing impersonation. The show has already given him several lines from Hopkins’ Lecter, but Mikkelsen’s style of delivery is so distinct and unique that they sound almost fresh. There’s very little sense that the show is retreading familiar ground, despite the fact that – by its nature – it must be.

And you can see the show’s attempt to distinguish this version of Hannibal quite clearly in the choice of his first on-screen victim. The show doesn’t just offer us Gideon as a convenient stand-in for Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, it gives us a nice copy of Clarice Starling from the same film. Miriam Lass couldn’t be a more obvious stand-in for Clarice Starling if the show gave her a faintly-disguised Southern accent.

Yes, that is a crazy tie.

Yes, that is a crazy tie.

She’s a young recruit, pulled out of class to meet with Jack Crawford. She’s near the top of her class, and she plans to work in behavioural sciences. She’s even useful to him because she’s a trainee – she can do things or ask questions that he can’t. Much like Crawford sent Starling to interrogate Lector because he would be less sceptical of her than a trained agent, Crawford is able to use Lass to violate various agency procedures to help with the investigation.

There’s also a sense that Crawford also lost Lass to Hannibal Lecter, as he would ultimately lose Clarice. Well, at least within Harris’ novels at any rate. It feels like another relatively sly shout-out to Thomas Harris’ somewhat controversial Hannibal, another sign that Fuller and his writers have done their homework and are drawing on a rich selection of Hannibal Lecter lore for the television show.

I think she got the point...

I think she got the point…

So there’s something quite symbolic about the fact that Lecter’s first on-screen murder is a stand-in for Clarice Starling. Hopkins’ Lecter was humanised by Foster’s Starling, and it allowed us to see him as something more than just a monster. (The same was arguably true of Julianne Moore’s Straling in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal.) By allowing us to see Lecter brutally strangle most of the life out of a character who is an obvious stand-in for Clarice, the show gets to firmly subvert our expectations.

This isn’t Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. This is something altogether new and altogether different. If Coquilles was about paying homage to Will Graham’s character arc in Red Dragon, Entreé is about clearing the audience’s pallet. It’s a bold and definitive statement about what this version of Hannibal Lecter isn’t. Unfortunately, that means it feels more essential than it does fun, like homework that has to be done before the show can cut completely loose with its own version of the mythology, having taken forty-five minutes to explain why this isn’t the same as it was before.

Very fine penmanship...

Very fine penmanship…

The shoutouts permeate the episode. We’re introduced to Doctor Frederick Chilton, the character played so well by Anthony Heald in the films. Even if this is a different Hannibal Lecter, it’s the same Chilton. He’s arrogant, condescending, foolish, selfish and reckless. Lecter even gets to invite him over for dinner, offering a none-too-subtle reference to his final threat concerning Chilton in The Silence of the Lambs. “It’s nice to have an old friend for dinner,” he remarks.

Of course, Entreé doesn’t limit itself to shoutouts to The Silence of the Lambs. Again, there’s a sense that Fuller and his writers are drawing rather skilfully from the source material, never so blatantly that it feels like a retread, but with enough effort that it seems almost like an echo reverberating around a sound chamber. “We have a direct way of communicating with the Chesapeake Ripper and we’d like to see if we can push him,” Crawford advises Will, evoking a similarly failed attempt the two would make in Red Dragon.

Give her a hand...

Give her a hand…

“We might be able to influence him to become visible,” Katz suggests. “If we can enrage him,” Jack adds. The plan is very similar to that hatched by the FBI in Red Dragon to force Francis Dolarhyde to come out to play. “Are you thinking about getting into bed with Freddie Lounds?” Graham asks, suspecting that even the means might be similar.

Continuing on from Coquilles, Hannibal continues its development of Jack Crawford as a character rather than a convenient plot device or a simple archetype. It makes sense to use Fishburne, since he’s a phenomenal actor if given the right material. After all, we have already seen a lot of Hannibal interacting with Graham or Starling, so there’s something novel about the way that he’s teasing and haunting Crawford here.

Freddie's not-quite-dead...

Freddie’s not-quite-dead…

“Who else couldn’t you save?” Hannibal teases, a question which seems to cut through Crawford like a knife through butter. It’s nice to see Hannibal broadening its focus out a bit. I doubt it’ll ever be a true ensemble show, but it’s nice to see Crawford getting some attention and development. In a way, Hannibal seems to be hinting that he is just as haunted as Will Graham, which makes his tactics seem a lot less cynical and calculated than they do in his other appearances.

Entreé isn’t a bad episode. It’s quite strong in fact, and it benefits from a strong sense of purpose and clear idea of where the show wants go. At the same time, though, this feels like something the show is obligated to do, rather than anything it wants to do. It’s a necessary part of Hannibal articulating exactly what it is, and specifically what it isn’t. As a result, it feels almost like having eat our vegetables.

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2 Responses

  1. No worries , now that you have eaten your vegetables , you are about to get to tender meat pieces and dessert and digestives.
    The season only get sbetter and better towards the end.
    And Mads Mikkelsen is as impeccable in his performance as he is dressed!

    • He really is great, isn’t he? I love how this is very clearly Hannibal Lecter, while still being completely distinct from the version played by Anthony Hopkins.

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