This will not be a spoiler-free review. it is a review of the entire season so it will be long. What I can say is that this is the ONE season of Hannibal I would recommend. I will be reviewing the other two seasons but not because I liked them. Mostly because I intend to rant heavily about them and explain why they are so awful. In any case, this is my review of season one and what made it the amazing series that it was.
The show is a prequel and somewhat a retelling of the Hannibal series. It starts before the events of the book Red Dragon but has a lot of the canon of Red Dragon mixed in. Mainly, all of the characters that originated in Red Dragon. The story centers around a man named Will Graham. He has an empathy disorder and he can put himself in the place of killers (and victims) and this helps him solve crimes. Basically by reliving them. He’s somewhat of a recluse and owns about 800 dogs (more accurately seven) and isn’t very social. He’s a teacher at Quantico who is recruited by a man named Jack Crawford in order to investigate some murders. Those of a killer known as the Minnesota Shrike. As he is investigating these cases he is sent to Hannibal Lecter. Who we all know very well, and he’s supposed to be Will’s guide (as well as tell the FBI if he’s stable enough to investigate or not).
As such, Hannibal starts to fuck with Will because he can. Will has encephalitis which Hannibal uses to his advantage. The fevers of this induce hallucinations and make things more intense for Will. Hannibal believes that Will is “just like him”. He wants to be friends with Will because he thinks that Will is the first person he ever met who will be able to truly understand him. This is, of course, because Hannibal Lecter is insane but the series explores how he was and his relationships with people before he was caught. Having members of the FBI and other people over for dinner, repeatedly, to serve them human meat.
The characters are all from the book, except for the introduction of Bedelia Du Maruier, who is Hannibal Lecter’s psychiatrist. Through season one she isn’t seen very much but it’s heavily implied that since a patient attack (that may or may not have had something to do with Hannibal’s direct involvement) she has gone into retirement. She still sees Hannibal as a courtesy to him, or because she’s afraid of him. Even throughout the entire run of the show it’s unclear why she feels so attached to him but considering the fact that Hannibal gets into people’s heads and fucks with them, she may not have been able to help herself.
As more and more time passes, more and more things go wrong. Will is losing his mind because he’s also not being treated for his illness and Hannibal is making sure to use this to his advantage in order to frame him. By the end of season one, Will is in jail, having been framed as a copycat killer to the Chesapeake ripper (aka the man that Hannibal Lecter is before they knew his actual name).
Character and Cast Breakdown:
Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen): I had never heard of this actor until this show came on TV. I didn’t even have high expectations for this show, mostly because I thought it looked bad. I was also convinced that it was just going to ruin the books and fuck up canon. It eventually did but not in season one, which had me hooked. Mads portrays Hannibal in a new way. More reserved than the better known Anthony Hopkins version. There is no actual way to say who is “better” considering that it’s two different mediums and two very talented actors. Probably equally talented. Mads has an amazing way of working with micro expressions and very tiny little body movements to convey the most terrifying and suspenseful emotions. With just a twitch of his lips, a posture shift, or a sideways glance one can be set to a complete paranoia level. His presence on the show makes him seem to be about eight feet tall. A huge force to be reckoned with. In season one, there are very few heavy action sequences. There is really only the fight in episode five between him and Tobias. A lot of the killing is done off screen and implied. At least by Hannibal himself. He stays in the shadows and Mads has a brilliant way of portraying a highly evil man with what seems like minimal effort. I had low hopes for this actor since I hadn’t heard of him but I’m glad I discovered him because God-Damn am I EVER in love now.
Will Graham (Hugh Dancy): Another stunning portrayal that I am surprised didn’t get an Emmy nod. The cast on this show was seriously A+. Hugh Dancy was more well known in America at the time of this airing. Not that I knew him, probably because he was known for romantic comedies and I don’t watch those. Having no clue who he was either, I was just blown away by his performance. He’s an Englishman but does a spot-on American accent for the part. Wouldn’t have known he was English if it weren’t for the lovely gift of the internet. Hugh’s acting is far more dramatic and energized in comparison to Mads’ micro expressions and mini glances but that’s what makes it so powerful. The physical reactions he had to the emotional distress that the character of Will Graham goes through. Particularly a scene in Roti (episode 11) where he’s obviously losing his mind, breaking down, and then has to have a mild seizure. All of it so painfully realistic those scenes are STILL hard to watch. The whole premise of the first season works on the idea that Hannibal is gaslighting Will, and Hugh makes you actually believe he’s losing his mind right on screen. A perfect, flawless performance.
Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne): Well, what’s not to like about the man who played Morpheus in the Matrix? He’s good. Damn good. I really have no complaints about his acting. The character is frustrating, though. In the way that you just want to scream at him that Hannibal is a cannibal and in the way that he’s also way too headstrong and stubborn. Jack clearly has taken this case to a person level due to losing a student named Miriam to The Ripper (Hannibal) years ago and is dead set on catching him. He pushes Will far too hard to work when he knows he shouldn’t. A lot of people think of Jack as stupid but it’s not that. He just doesn’t have the information the audience has and of course Hannibal is a master manipulator. He is a big sack of shit for other reasons (especially how he treats Will) but he’s not stupid. Lawrence brings a very big energy and dominance to his performance and it’s enjoyable to watch. A great portrayal of this character. One I even prefer to the movie portrayals.
Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas): Originally Alan Bloom in the book, Bryan Fuller felt the need to gender-swap her. Also, she wasn’t a huge part of the book but he wanted “more female energy on the show” (Insert eye roll here). I wanted to like Alana but her character was really flakey and weird. The actress, Caroline (who I also had ever heard of) isn’t a bad actress I think the part was just badly written. For the script she was handed and the material she was given she did an amazing job but the character was…weird. I kept on hoping for her to make some kind of big move to prove her worth and all she really did was toy with Will’s heart and not insist hard enough that Jack stop pushing his ass as far as he did. She didn’t seem to have a spine and was really only brought in to support the male characters. I don’t think she was utilized correctly which is sad because it became obvious in the following seasons that Caroline definitely has the acting ability she just didn’t have the chance.
Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl): I have basically nothing nice to say about either the character or the actress. For one, the character was a pointless plot device only used to manipulate Will and push the whole stupid “murder family” crap Fuller was so fond of. They could have done the show with her character in a coma the whole time and it would have made little difference. She only existed to be the damsel in distress, cry a lot, and I guess something for the teenage SJW fans to latch onto? I really have no clue. The actress is just awful. Only really famous because her father is friends with someone who worked on the show which is how she got the role. Considering she’s basically the same crying, emo, depressed, terrified, wounded animal character in everything she does I’m sure she wasn’t chosen for her talent. You could basically skip every scene she was in and not really miss any major plot points. Did not like this character or this actress and I fail to see why she got as popular as she did. She wasn’t even a huge character in the book.
Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki): Once again, another actress who was a no name type person. Still kind of is (sadly). This was another gender swap for more female energy but I can’t disagree with it. She ended up becoming my most favorite TV female character of all time (at least so far). Universally hated by the fandom (for the most part) but I still love her. She was a tabloid journalist bent on making Will’s life a living hell by telling the truth about him. Sneaking around crime scenes. Being an overall smug bitch. The original male character was a slimy douche canoe and the change from male to female made him more charming? At least to me. As I hated and still hate the male incarnation. Lara Jean wasn’t in it all that much. Freddie didn’t have a ton of screen time. A lesser actress with lesser talent would have been very forgettable in this role. Yet, somehow, with as little material as Lara Jean got she managed to become iconic which is the mark of a good actress. I loved every last one of her scenes until the very end where she didn’t meet her demise in the way she should have. Hopefully, this is a stepping stone to more visible work for her.
Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park): She was part of the forensic team. Once again, a very under used character really only there to further the plot between Will and Hannibal. As much as Fuller seemed to claim he wanted more female power on the show he didn’t utilize the good female characters as much as he should have. Beverly was smart, sassy, strong, and independent. She was there to help Will and seemingly the only one who didn’t baby him to hell and back (or treat him like a mental case). Despite this, they didn’t pair Will with her they gave him to a far more flaky and poorly written Alana Bloom. Hettienne, sadly, didn’t have a terrible amount of screentime. I also haven’t seen her in anything else but what I can say is that with how much I liked the character of Beverly, I have to give props to her acting as well. She really made me want to root for her the whole time. Her first appearance on screen was already sassy and smart mouthed and who doesn’t love that type of character? I hope there is only more to come from her but since she also just recently had a child I don’t know what her plans are for the rest of her career.
Frederick Chilton (Raul Esparza): The original actor for this role in all of the movies is a man named Anthony Heald, who I am a huge fan of. I was waiting with baited breath to see who would take this role in the series. I was sure they were going to fuck it up. However, the moment Raul’s face appeared on screen I knew exactly who he was meant to portray. Raul does the perfect homage to the original actor while also not copying him. Putting his own spin on the greasy douche-baggary that is the character of Frederick Chilton. A man who has a little bit of power so it leads him to believe he’s some kind of God. He’s immoral but not completely evil. Overly interested in Will and maybe even some sort of tiny little crush on Hannibal. Frederick knows Hannibal in this (unlike the book where he was head of the hospital where Hannibal was kept). It is shown that he’s unethical as a doctor as he manipulated one of his patients (Abel Gideon) into believing he was the Chesapeake Ripper, which later comes back to haunt him. Raul was more known for broadway and singing before this role (as far as I’m aware) but God was he ever amazing. I’m glad he was cast because I cannot imagine a better person for this specific role. That is other than going back in time and finding a young Anthony Heald to do it all over again.
Jimmy Price (Scott Thompson) & Brian Zeller (Aaron Abrams): These two were an interesting duo. They were mainly seen together even though they were both on the forensic team with Beverly. Somewhat of a comedic relief set, which isn’t surprising considering both of the men are in comedy and have been for a while. They were both very smart and good at their jobs and brought a lot of entertaining flair to the screen. It’s hard for me to watch Scott Thompson and see him as anyone other than Scott Thompson but that didn’t ruin the role for me at all. As for Aaron, I didn’t know much about him before this show and I still don’t know much about him but I hear good things. I don’t think the show would be the same without these two in these specific roles even if I also can’t say much more about them. Just some kind of unexplainable magic that comes with good chemistry between two actors.
Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson): I find it ironic that Gillian Anderson got into this show at all. Mostly because her character of Dana Scully was inspired by the character of Clarice Starling and then she ends up on a show about Hannibal where she’s playing Hannibal’s psychiatrist. Not much is known or shown about the character in season one. Other than Hannibal seemingly pining for her (or just her friendship) and her somewhat having control over him. This was done on purpose, I assume, due to Gillian’s schedule which was very tight. Originally Angela Lansbury was wanted for the character and I cannot imagine the scenes would have ever met the same depth they got to had she been cast instead. Gillian’s ice queen and reserved performance keeps you guessing the entire time. Is she evil? Is she good? Is she a victim of Hannibal’s? Is he a victim of hers? Are they fucking each other? Did they ever fuck? Who knows? As with any role, Gillian makes it completely her own and it’s very easy to get lost in the few scenes she has with Mads because they make a very compelling team.
Problems/Complaints With Season One:
Overall there aren’t too many flaws over the course of this season that I can name. No body of work is above criticism, though, so here goes.
The character of Abigail Hobbs was just a trainwreck of plot holes and bad ideas. I really don’t know why she was in the show other than to cater to the teenage fanbase (which was the majority of the fanbase). The show was mainly marketed to teenagers and on a website called Tumblr which was a HUGE mistake. Other than doing that, there were some trailers in the theaters before horror movies (which was how I knew about it). I don’t even recall there being promos for the show and had Gillian Anderson not been announced as part of the cast closer to the time of it airing I more than likely would have forgotten about it myself.
The Hannibal and Will relationship, though good, was bordering already on WAY too “gay” considering both characters are canonically straight. I could potentially agree to Hannibal being pansexual but not Will Graham. They had a good chemistry, even a good sexual chemistry, but it was pushed too far by the creator who was too into shipping his own main characters while also crying up and down they were straight men. This whole dynamic led into some weird sort of “subplot” of a murder family. Which was just an awful idea. Basically, the “premise” was that Will and Hannibal were going to raise Abigail as their “daughter”. Hannibal did use Abigail in this capacity to manipulate Will but the fandom took it far too literally and Fuller picked up on it. Which is when it somewhat became about two gay men who were totally straight but LOL just kidding. Luckily the sexual tension between the two wasn’t pushed TOO far in season one and was easy to ignore.
Despite the massive failure of a character that Abigail Hobbs was, and the under-usage of good characters like Beverly, Freddie, and Bedelia…season one was a masterpiece. What it turned into after that point is an utterly unsatisfying pile of fanservice bullshit that I shudder to think I’m going to have to write about.