Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Idiot Box: Hannibal 1x12/1x13 - “Releves” and “Savoureax”

When I first started watching Hannibal, I had no reason to think that I would grow to like the series as much as I have. Though I've always been a casual fan of the films (or a few of them at least), I've never read any of the books, and the main draw of the show for me has always been the influence of Bryan Fuller, one of my all time favorite television writers. Even as it has gotten better and better, I've always questioned whether this was the best use of his time, especially given the loss of the brilliant Munsters remake that made it possible. Now that its officially ended its first season, I have to admit that whatever my misgivings about opportunity costs and the limitations of re-telling a story that's been adapted so many times before, the masterful execution typified by these last two episodes proves that its all worth it.

The interesting thing about this show has always been its unique ability to take a formula as well-worn and tired as the police procedural and subvert it just enough to make it engaging and relevant without losing the essential elements that make the genre what it is. We still get the cases of the week and the statistically outrageous abundance of serial killers with unbelievably gruesome methods of murder, but the often over the top, gritty faux-realism that you might see in a typical Law and Order episode that only highlights the silliness of any given story is replaced with a surreality that paradoxically fits better with this kind of hyper realistic form of storytelling. Throughout the last two episodes of this season, as I saw the arc of Will Graham's increasing isolation and Lecter's growing menace come together to their natural shared conclusion, I kept waiting for the moment that television has taught me to expect, where all of this forward momentum reverts back to the status quo before season's end. And then it didn't, and in one final wordless shot this show jumped up from already extremely watchable to one of the best things on television.

I won't spoil it in case you haven't seen the finale yet, but anyone who has seen the films will instantly recognize the clever reversal of the iconic relationship between Lecter and the agents he “works with” after the truth of his crimes comes out. Its powerful and made even better by the fact that even as the pieces fall into place right in front of you, you don't see it coming until you're right there. And to top it all off, its a final scene that's punctuated with that subtly creepy Mads Mikkelsen smile that rarely comes across his usually stone like face, but when it does, signals that all is not right with the world. I'm tempted to worry that the way this season ended might even be too much too fast, as I've read that the producers don't intend to get to Red Dragon until season four, and this seems to suggest a very clear path to that, but then I can't say I don't prefer this pace to artificially delaying the inevitable, which is what any other show would do.

I know it sounds like I'm talking a lot about the finale and not the previous episode, but really, they are two parts of a single thirteen part story that seemed much more disconnected as it unfolded, but in hindsight was much more cohesively interconnected than I previously gave it credit for. Though we may have been able to skip over or forget the specifics with regard to the mushroom growing killer or the angel wing killer, the impact of every episode on the main characters culminates in such a way that I can't really point to any one episode as filler now that its all come together. Maybe because my expectations were so firmly geared towards assuming the week to week stuff was inconsequential, I wasn't ready for the slow build to come into focus, but then I can't imagine that wasn't some bit of deliberate misdirection on the part of the writers to play my preconceptions against me to enhance the experience.

Whatever the ultimate fate of this show in the long run, which despite its season two pick up is still extremely low rated, I think this year of Hannibal easily cements Bryan Fuller as the Joss Whedon of his generation, establishing a unique and instantly endearing style that works with everything from science fiction, to whimsical fantasy, and now grisly horror, and expertly takes what we think we know about the medium of television and turns it on its head to create something better than you thought possible. I mention Whedon not only because I'll soon be reviewing his new show later this year, but because I strongly suspect that Hannibal might go the way of his last one, the equally underrated Dollhouse. I hope I'm wrong, but in the meantime, anybody who hasn't gotten on board with this show really needs to take the time during the hiatus to catch up on what they've been missing.

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