Hannibal’s Last Course
Welcome back guest writer Nat, who delves into the end of the TV show “Hannibal.”
The Romeo and Juliet-like story of two star-crossed lovers—a serial killer who indulges in cannibalism and the profiler tasked with catching him—came to a close recently with the series finale of “Hannibal.” Three years ago I started watching the show expecting a trainwreck of colossal proportions. After four books and five movies, what new and interesting take on a well-trod story could Bryan Fuller and company squeeze out? Suffice it to say, after the first season, I was head-over-heels with the visceral, twisted, and, dare I say, erotic take on the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. However, nothing good lasts forever. While “Hannibal” managed second and third seasons, the viewership was not enough for NBC to invest in a fourth one. So, going into the last episode, with the third season being split between two major story arcs and set years apart, I was wondering how the show would reconcile everything we’d seen in the last 13 episodes, much less capture the magic of three seasons.
The writers wrapped up the Red Dragon arc cleanly. While deviating somewhat from Thomas Harris’ ending for the tormented Francis Dolarhyde, the Great Red Dragon met the same fate all of his incarnations had: death. This time it was at the hands of Lecter and Graham, though, and not Graham’s wife, Molly—which left me a bit conflicted. On one hand, I liked how Molly saved the day in the books. On the other, however, the focus of the show has always been on Hannibal and Will, so it was more than fitting that the pair ended Dolarhyde’s threat.
Mind you, it wasn’t exactly a triumphant moment where good has defeated evil; in fact, a new evil may have been formed. In “Knights of the Old Republic II,” the Jedi Exile’s so-called mentor Kriea says, “It is such a quiet thing to fall.” Very rarely is an alignment shift in media depicted with anything except mad cackling. Until “Hannibal,” I had only seen such a portrayal in a video game. Will has always walked a slippery slope and to see him finally fall was frightening yet exciting. It was not only Will’s release, but also the consummation of the deeper relationship Hannibal and Will have always shared. Freddie Lounds referred to them as “murder husbands” at one point; if there is any appropriate sort of symbolic joining of Hannibal and Will, it is committing a murder together.
Bolder still was the choice by Will to throw himself and Hannibal over the cliff after Dolarhyde was killed. Was it some last vestige of Will’s moral compass trying one last time to push back? Or was it an extension of Will’s darker nature to try destroy the monster that helped shaped him? Sadly, I’m unsure if we’ll ever get an answer to that. Nor will we know how exactly Bedelia Du Maurier ended up with three place settings at her table and her leg on the menu—though it is not a stretch of the imagination to presume Will and Hannibal survived their fall. The other question that lingers with me: How the heck did all of these psychological experts miss Will’s manipulations? They had not long ago had the wool pulled over their eyes by Hannibal; how did they not see Will’s games—particularly as there were repeated warnings from Hannibal, and other characters, about Will’s becoming? I digress.
I was pleased with the ending of the show; very rarely do I like ambiguity in my conclusions, but in “Hannibal”, it worked for me. Throughout the series, the dream-like visuals, the flowery and occasionally awkward dialogue all helped create an environment that was grounded in the present day. But because of its exploration of the human psyche, these allowed for fantastical elements to be included without taking the viewer out of the moment. Yes, some things were implausible. But they always fit within the mythos and rules of the show, which themselves often broke established norms—one of the most significant being the exploration of a relationship between men. Women are occasionally allowed to have more in-depth, undefined relationships in media, but men rarely are. Men are, traditionally, allowed to be friends, brothers, lovers, and fathers. But deep, emotional relationships outside of those roles are not allowed, particularly with other men. While an argument could certainly be made that Hannibal and Will are in love, it was handled in a way that was refreshing and unique. Human emotions, and the bonds we form with others, can be incredibly complicated, and it was nice to see characters which reflected that.
Also, “Hannibal” did a much better job in handling its female characters than in previous seasons, particularly Dr. Alana Bloom. Alana started out as a love interest and advocate for Will in season one, and that was all she seemed to be: a character who existed solely to act as a counterpoint to Hannibal, the angel on Will’s shoulder, and his guardian against the machinations of Jack Crawford. Season two, Alana was a point of conflict between Hannibal and Will, having developed a sexual relationship with Hannibal during Will’s incarceration; again, Alana seemed to have little else to do but be a pawn for her male counterparts. This past season Alana finally comes into her own; while her previous ties to Will and Hannibal remain, she gets to pursue her own goals on her own terms. Alana’s more confident. She takes a lover, and, most importantly, she gets a chance to show off her own profiling skills— often spoken of but never really shown.
“Hannibal” was one of those rare treasures where a re-imagining of an established story worked. The show took familiar characters and plots and twisted them into something new and enthralling. If more show runners were brave enough to step outside the traditional beats that dominate crime dramas, television would be more interesting, to say the least. The exploits of Will and Hannibal will certainly be missed, and it will likely be a long time before we see art this compelling on television again anytime soon.
(Featured photo by NBCUniversal)