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“Hannibal” Pilot Review

Hannibal - Season 1

Network TV’s Latest Serial Killer Show

Prior to watching the pilot, my feelings about NBC’s latest show Hannibal were best described as ‘meh.’

I’d heard about it a while ago and had seen a few of the trailers promoting the show, but I didn’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about the creation of what seemed to be yet another take on the serial killer trope (FOX’s The Following proved to be a huge disappointment, for example).

Still, being familiar with and appreciative of the starring actors – Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson – I figured I’d tune in just to give it a try.

The first episode introduces main character and FBI criminal profiler, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who is brought into the investigation of a series of murders of young women. Will has the unique ability of being able to empathize with anyone, up to and including deranged serial killers, which is what makes him so good at his job (and probably why some people are suspicious of him, as hinted at by a bitter and angry Will).

Will refers to his empathy as “simply the gift of imagination” – and the viewers get to see exactly how imaginative he can get, as there are several scenes in which Will pictures himself committing the act of murder, while giving a detached, near emotionless monologue about the details of the case. We’re essentially watching Will’s slow descent into the mindset of people he’d be better off not understanding.

Will’s humanity is made very clear based on the terror and helplessness he feels about his ability, the emotional toll these murders take on his psyche, and a (very cute) scene concerning him and a bunch of stray dogs.

There’s also the titular character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelson. Dr. Lecter is a psychiatrist enlisted to help create a profile on the serial killer (and more discreetly, a profile on Will). Anyone even remotely aware of the Hannibal franchise knows that Lecter is a serial killer himself, one that has a unique penchant for cooking and eating his victims.

Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) rounds out the main crew of the pilot episode. He’s characterized as serious and driven, and is fully committed to his job, solving the murders, and stopping the killers from taking anyone else. That’s what ultimately leads him to seek out Will and psychiatrist-by-day, cannibal-by-night Dr. Lecter.

The background cast includes Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), a psychology professor, and Dr. Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), a bubbly crime scene investigator, which adds to the flavor of the world that’s been created thus far in this show. Although we didn’t see much of the background characters in the pilot, I’m sure we’ll get to know them better in future episodes. This could only be a plus; given the heavy story lines surrounding the main three, the show could do with some of Katz’s amusing lightheartedness.

Hannibal is a graphic, dream-like, and beautifully directed show, with some amazing cinematography and extremely memorable images. The lead actors give chilling performances, particularly Hugh Dancy (the husband of Homeland star Claire Danes), who owns his role as Will Graham.

There’s only been one episode so far, so I can’t say for certain if the rest of the season is going to be in the standard formulaic, “hunting down the serial killer of the week” format. From what I can tell, especially with the slow pacing which is unusual for procedurals, it will be mostly character-driven.

If Hannibal keeps it up with the phenomenal acting, great writing, and wonderful cinematography, this could very well become one of my favorites.

Hannibal airs Thursdays at 10/9 central on NBC.