*** when in doubt, aka writer’s block, write what you know. And what I know is Hannibal***
Of all the television that I’ve watched in my day, not a single show has stuck with me the way NBC’s Hannibal (2013) has. For those unfamiliar, Hannibal, based on the characters by Thomas Harris, tells the story of Hannibal Lecter, the renowned psychiatrist and his patient Will Graham, an FBI criminal profiler, who struggles with his ability to empathize with serial killers. However, this isn’t your typical “Hannibal the Cannibal” tale about a man who kills and eats people. In creator Bryan Fuller’s (American Gods, Pushing Daisies) world of Hannibal, it is so much more than that. For you may find, as time goes on, that it’s nearly impossible not to develop an ounce of affection for the one person who truly understand you, regardless of those sticky predilections.
This, instead, is a story of two men trying to make sense of a world in which they cannot redraw their hand. While one lives his life through the lens of pure ego and narcissism, the other lives his life, and is haunted by, the simple fact that his empathy overpowers him. Hannibal Lecter, the sociopath who has no empathy at all and Will Graham, the young profiler who has too much.
In the early episodes of Hannibal, the task is an uncomplicated one: to catch a killer. But in order to do so, we must bring in elements of the complicated. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), on a good day, is anything but uncomplicated. As a young man who empathizes with serial killers, his job becomes a dangerous one. For fear of getting too close to the cases he’s been brought in to solve, Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne), head of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, sends Will to see Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson) with the hope that the good doctor can help ease Will’s stress and therefore help Jack get the job done.
And it works. For a time.
Will and Hannibal’s relationship is one that supersedes the most common notions of what it means to care for another person. Usually, when we have feelings for someone, platonic or otherwise, we find that their best interest also becomes our best interest. We want for them what they want. Happiness, success, joy, comfort, and above all, love. But what happens to a relationship when your deepest desires overpower theirs? And when you can’t help but feel as though they would be much better off doing as you do.
That’s when it happens. That’s when murder happens.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is anything but ordinary. He’s suave. He’s charismatic. He’s charming. And he’s an exceptionally good cook. But underneath the expensive suits and grandiose language is an overwrought imagination. An imagination that extends far beyond the realm of decency and hope. To Hannibal Lecter, death, is the only significant thing life has to offer.
Hannibal is a man who feels very alone in his extracurricular activities. Yes, there are those out there who seek to emulate him, but there is no one quite like him. And it’s in this isolated state that Hannibal finds himself a tether in one Will Graham. Will’s overwhelming empathy and Hannibal’s lack thereof, makes Will the perfect candidate for sculpting. And sculpt Will Graham, he does. Into the very man Will has always been so terrified of becoming.
If we are to think about love in the time of Hannibal, one thing comes to mind: tolerance.
As the series goes on, the eventual discovery of Hannibal’s true nature comes to light. And it is a bloody discovery. However, the empathetic man that is Will Graham comes to terms with this truth in the only way he knows how.
He tolerates it. He doesn’t sympathize with it. He doesn’t feel compassion towards it. He tolerates it because he understands it. The urges, the impulses, the desires. He sees these inclinations as what truly makes Hannibal, Hannibal. And it’s through this understanding that Hannibal, for all his faults and misdeeds, finds himself enamored. Regardless of whether or not you agree that a sociopath, devoid of all conscience, even has a capacity for love, the show Hannibal reaches out through the dark and pulls you in, making you question everything you ever thought you knew on the subject.
And then twists it into something unrecognizable. And although most relationships are built on trust, in this case, simple truth will do. When you find you can be honest with someone, you find that you can show them your true self. And Hannibal finds that in Will Graham. And by the end of the series, Will Graham, not only sees Hannibal, he finally sees himself. His true nature and what Hannibal has always believed Will has been capable of. And it’s in this discovery of their true selves that they find comfort and solace in each other.
But if love is wont to destroy Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal will not go down without taking Will Graham with him. After all, the deeming of the term “Murder Husbands” does not go without merit.
But whether or not they survive this free fall is a story for another season.