“Hannibal” 10 Years Later – A Brilliant Series That Ended On Top

Dr. Hannibal Lecter remains one of the most iconic horror villains of all time.  The American Film Institute listed him as #1 on their best villains list, and Anthony Hopkins even won Best Actor during his first performance as the character.  The character lives via Thomas Harris’ novel series, as well as the film series (including the one time Brian Cox played the character in Manhunter).

So back in 2013 it seemed a strange choice to adapt the character into a TV series (on NBC no less).  However, Hannibal managed to gain a diehard cult following, many of whom cried injustice at its cancellation after the third season.  So in honor of the 10th anniversary of its debut, we wanted to take a look back at Hannibal and discuss its merits and ultimate cancellation.  As well as why (unpopular opinion), it was probably better off ending when it did.

Hannibal Without Clarice
The first major distinction of this series was that it was based more so on Harris’ novels “Red Dragon”, with elements of “Hannibal”, with “Silence of the Lambs” nowhere in sight.  As odd as it feels to feature Dr. Lecter and not Clarice, there was more than enough material for Hannibal and other characters (as opposed to the TV series Clarice which struggled to portray Clarice without Hannibal).

Focusing primarily on the professional/personal relationship between Hannibal Lecter, and Will Graham, the series did a genuinely good job of picking specific plotlines and characters from “Red Dragon” and “Hannibal”, while also infusing it with original characters and stories to craft a compelling show.

Hannibal cover
Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy had amazing on screen chemistry and played really well off of each other.

Ultimately, it worked because, arguably the dynamic between Hannibal and Graham is far more interesting that his with Clarice.  Nothing against Agent Starling; Hannibal certainly has a fondness for her and he does enjoy toying with her.  Their working relationship feels more personal and almost romantic.  Whereas Will Graham has always felt more like a “frenemy” that Hannibal has a lot of respect for, even in the moments that he hates him.

Murder by Style
The whole point of doing a remake or a reboot is to try something different, and in that regard, the Hannibal series went all out to try and stake its own claim and be its own thing.  The whole show has a very heightened, stylized sense of reality, and often feels much more surreal than the often gritty and down to Earth nature of the previous films.

While some fans preferred the realness of the movies (myself included), the show deserves credit for going in a completely different way and trying to stand apart.  Also to its credit, the series boasted incredibly cinematography, production/art design, and acting.

The crime scenes looked like grotesque works of art, and the whole series had an almost dreamlike quality, paired with the cold clinical nature of the grim subject matter.  It was also entirely shot in Canada, so it was often very cold and snowy in the background (so you had to suspend your disbelief that it was always Maryland or Virginia).

Hannibal 2
Crime scenes like this would get you an “A” in art class, but definitely a visit from the police and psychiatrists.

Character Mismatch
There is no discussion of this series without highlighting the lead performance by Hugh Dancy (Will Graham) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter).  Mikkelsen arguably had the more daunting task of taking on a role that was so iconic and memorable.  He, along with the writers/directors smartly crafted a completely different version of the character.  Hopkins’ performances were award-winning, but they were definitely over the top.

Mikkelsen portrays a much more quiet and calculated psychopath who’s dangerous because of just how subtle he is.  You could definitely see him convincing people to do terrible things to themselves or others simply because of how persuasive he is.

HANNIBAL, Mads Mikkelsen, 'Naka-choko', (Season 2, ep. 210, aired May 2, 2014). photo: Brooke Palmer / ©NBC / courtesy Everett
While not the most important detail, the character is supposed to be from Lithuania. And Mikkelsen’s Danish accent is at least closer to that than Hopkins’ Welsh blended with the strange Katherine Hepburn voice he was doing for the character.

That being said, the writing didn’t always serve the character in the best way.  Not in terms of dialogue itself, but in terms of having Hannibal “reveal” himself to what seemed to be the majority of his patients.  This is not a man who can expect to get away with murder for too too long (more on that later.

Laurence Fishburne perfectly stepped into the role of Jack Crawford.  In fact, most of the characters (both from the novels and original creations) seemed superbly written and acted, with the unfortunate exception of Will Graham himself. Let’s be clear, Hugh Dancy’s performance is not at all the issue.  He played unhinged really well and existed perfectly on the fringe of insanity.

But the overall series did a major disservice to the character.  Graham was always a tortured individual, disturbed by his innate ability to get into the mind of a killer.  There were times that you thought he might snap and actually become a murderer himself.  And if that was the goal of the character here, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Hannibal 4
He’s a complex character, but he went too far back and forth too frequently to seem like a real person at times.

The problem is how many times they flipped him back and forth between wanting to follow the law to wanting to kill people he felt deserved it, as well as between trusting Hannibal and wanting to kill him.  Again, they weren’t beholden to always follow what the previous iterations had done, but the constant back and forth got annoying after a while.

Fitting End?
Which of course brings us to the series’ ultimate cancellation after the end of season 3.  While it ended on something of a cliffhanger, it wasn’t so much of a loose end that audiences could not be satisfied with it ending there.  Granted, Bryan Fuller and others tried to shop it around to get another season made and countless fans were upset by the cancellation.  But in hindsight, it was likely for the best.

At this point, the series had mostly run the gamut of material from the novels “Red Dragon” and “Hannibal”, and it was clear that they were starting to run out of ways for Hannibal to be suspected, get caught, escape, kill someone, later reveal he didn’t kill that person and for Will Graham to be insane, be sane, wanna kill people, not wanna kill people, catch Hannibal, let him go, etc.

Hannibal 1
Short of doing the Silence of the Lambs story (which again, the series did not have the rights to), there wasn’t that much more you could do with these characters without it getting repetitive.

Look no further than a similar serial killer based series like Dexter, and you’ll see a series that went on far longer than it should have.  Most would agree that Dexter peaked in Season 4 with the Trinity Killer storyline and that the four seasons that followed didn’t quite live up to what came before.  It then infamously had one of the worst series finales in recent memory, so much so that they attempted to “correct” it with a spinoff years later.

All that said, Hannibal was still very much in its high point, and its larger issues of repetitive back and forth storylines were only just starting to become an issue.  Better for it to end on that higher note, than for audiences to have gotten another three or four seasons that progressively got worse and worse.

Let’s be clear, NBC’s decision to cancel the series was much more a business decision based on ratings, but it also may have been an inadvertent favor.  Because fans can still enjoy three very good seasons as opposed to lamenting how their beloved series died a slow and painful death, much like one of Hannibal’s victims.

What do you think of Hannibal?  Do you think it had more story to tell and could have gone on for more seasons? Let us know in the comments!

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