Binge Watch: Hannibal

Hannibal_Season2_Poster

The advent of Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon, HBO GO, Roku, and AppleTV has inspired a new craze — binge watching. This is when people dive into television shows (past or present) and begin an intense “binge” or marathon viewing of every episode.

So, since we’re television junkies here, we decided to dedicate a column to it. Here it is: our first suggestion for you to dig in and spend the next few weeks gorging yourself.

Premise: Hannibal is based on the characters created by author Thomas Harris in the novel Red Dragon. The series, set in present day, take place before the events of the novel and movie Silence of the Lambs. The focus of the show is the relationship between serial killer/psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Madds Mikkelsen) and FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) – as friends and as adversaries. The two along with Dr. Alanna Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) are consulted on gruesome serial murders by the agent-in-charge of Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). The main killers who plagues the series are the Minnesota Shrike and The Chesapeake Ripper, one of whom just happen to be Hannibal Lecter.

Photo Credit: Michael Muller/NBC
Photo Credit: Michael Muller/NBC

Watch It If You Like: Silence of the Lambs, True Detective, Breaking Bad.

Seasons: 2 (2013-Current) Channel: NBC

View It on: While most shows can be viewed on multiple mediums, Hannibal can be seen through stream or rental on Hulu, Amazon and Netflix.

Behind the Scenes: Bryan Fuller, the man behind cult favorites Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls and Pushing Daises, created and developed the series. He remains the executive producer of the show. David Slade, who directed Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, is also an executive producer on the show and has directed five episodes so far. The Dino DeLaurentis Company, which produced Hannibal (the movie), Red Dragon and Hannibal Rises, produces the show.

Wait…Isn’t That: Yes, there are a number of series regulars and guest stars that you will recognize on Hannibal. First, does that medical examiner look familiar? Well, he should, because it’s Scott Thompson the longtime Kids in the Hall cast member.

Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) makes a number of appearances as Hannibal’s personal shrink. Sex in the City alum Cynthia Nixon drops in for a few episodes as Jack Crawford’s boss. Firefly star and real life spouse of Laurence Fishburne, Gina Torres appears as Crawford’s dying wife. There’s an NBC crossover as Law & Order: SVU’s Raul Esparza assumes the mantle of the oily Dr. Chilton.

Photo Credit: Michael Muller/NBC
Photo Credit: Michael Muller/NBC

The brilliant British comedian Eddie Izzard has a wonderful multi-episode run as the murderous Dr. Abel Gideon. Veep and My Girl star Anna Chulmsky appears as the scarred FBI agent Miriam Lass. Being Human star Katherine Isbaelle and Boardwalk Empire alum Michael Pitt appear towards the end of Season 2 as Margot and Mason Verger.

Then there are the familiar faces that made one-off appearances like: Pulp Fiction’s Amanda Plummer as a deadly acupuncturist, horror staple Lance Henriksen as a geriatric killer and SNL alumn Molly Shannon appears in an episode that did not make American television out of respect to the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut.

Favorite Character: Hannibal..of course. This show does not work without Hannibal Lecter. Much like in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter may not be the main character but he is the straw that stirs the drink. Before the show aired one had to worry if the series’ choice of European character actor Madds Mikkelsen was the right choice. Mikkelsen is a much less verbose actor than Anthony Hopkins, the man who made the role famous. And while sporting a solid resume, Mikkelsen just doesn’t have that same cache, that same outward sense of panache that Hopkins possesses. It was a bold move by the series.

Luckily, the risk paid off as you see that Mikkelsen was the perfect choice. He makes his version of Lecter the antithesis of Hopkins’. He’s quiet, understated, more physically imposing, more debonair and most importantly, subtle in his sinister ways. The grandiosity of Hopkins’ Lecter is dialed down, but the brilliance, the madness and conviction are all still there. Mikkelsen is able to get you to sympathize and fear Lecter at the same time. He also gives Lecter an understated playfulness which comes out during the doctor’s cooking sessions and most of his murders.

Photo Credit: Michael Muller/NBC
Photo Credit: Michael Muller/NBC

Mikkelesen’s soft-spoken and methodical approach to Hannibal Lecter makes his puppet master persona that much more evil, and it also makes his murderous tendencies and violent outbursts that much more shocking and jarring. He lulls you into a sense of calm then jars your senses with cold, calculated, explosive violence.

A Close Second: Jack Crawford. Laurence Fishburne is a fantastic actor. Has he been in some really crap movies? Sure. Do we want to forget he did CSI? Absolutely. But, even surrounded by the worst scripts, co-stars, special effects and productions, Laurence Fishburne always shines. He’s always the cream that rises to the top. And it seems like with Hannibal that Fishburne has really found his home on the small screen. As Jack Crawford (a role performed by Dennis Farina, Scott Glenn and Harvey Keitel previously) gives probably one of his best performances in a long, long time. At times Crawford is a master manipulator, a puppet master like Lecter (something played upon heavily in Season 2), but he’s also extremely aware and emotionally conflicted about it. The pain etched and anguish buried in the deep furrows of Fishburne’s brow could fill volumes. Fishburne also shows a very fatherly nature in Crawford, particularly when dealing with a mentally fragile Will Graham. This is something his predecessors never achieved and is a unique shade of Crawford.

But, it’s at his most emotional, at his most vulnerable, that we see the brilliance of Laurence Fishburne’s performance. This happens any time he is onscreen with his real life wife, Gina Torres, who just so happens to portray his small screen spouse. Crawford’s wife is dying a painful and slow death from cancer and throughout the series we see Crawford fighting back the tears or just in a state of openly weeping. His confessions to Hannibal about his harrowing sorrow for his wife are heartbreaking. Anyone who has ever experienced loss in their life, can easily relate to and empathize with Jack Crawford. It’s a shame that the Emmys have overlooked Fishburne in this role, because these scenes alone are worth of a golden statue.

The Best Episodes…Spoiler Alert!! We’ll try not to give too much away…

“Fromage” (Season 1, Episode 8): This is a very intense episode because it’s one of the first times we see Hannibal in danger. A murderous musician and maker of violin strings named Tobias (using human intestines instead of cat gut), not only reveals to Hannibal that he himself is a killer, but he knows Hannibal’s secret. There’s a great scene where Hannibal and Tobias have this intense fight where you think Hannibal could be killed at any moment. Prior to that there’s an awesome sequence within Tobias’ house where Will is trying to go through a dimly lit basement to find him that has the same paranoid tone as the famed “night vision” sequence in Silence of the Lambs.

“Rôti” (Season 1, Episode 11): This is a huge turning point in the series as Will Graham, who is legitimately losing his mind, stalks the serial killer Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) and then takes him to Lecter’s home. Lecter then takes the opportunity to put his plan of setting Will up in motion. This is a visceral and violent episode that really has you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC
Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC

Mukōzuke (Season 2, Episode 5): As the poet’s would say, this episode was when “shit got real.” Will does a complete heel turn and recruits an orderly from the mental hospital, (who admired Will Graham and even killed in his name) to murder Hannibal Lecter. This episode really shows just how far down the rabbit hole Will had gone and really had us wondering if Will was just as evil and murderous as Hannibal Lecter (another theme explored throughout Season 2). The end scene where the order has sliced open Hannibal’s wrists and crucifies him, then monologues as we see Jack Crawford racing to Hannibal’s rescue is almost too hard to watch, but it’s just so damn good you have to get through the awkwardness in order to get that sweet pay off.

“Mizumono” (Season 2, Episode 13): The Season 2 finale still impresses me. It was an absolute barn burner of a finale that featured some of the finest network television acting of the last 10 years by Mikkelsen and a such an amazing cliffhanger that you’ll be in agony that you have to wait a whole year in order to find out what’s going on with out heroes.

Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC
Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC

Is It Worth The Marathon?: Absolutely. Hannibal has been a criminally under-watched series due to NBC burying it on Thursday night at 10pm with extremely weak lead-ins from their failing comedy block and the graveyard that is Friday nights at 10pm. However, the late night obscurity has allowed this series to flourish from a creative standpoint. It is allowed to take more risks in terms of visual imagery (which is absolutely psychedelic and mind-blowing) to edgier performances to the envelope of violence being pushed to the very edge of the table. This show was built was cable television and if it aired on FX or AMC or a premium channel, it’d be getting so much more love and most importantly, viewers.

If you have any trepidation about the film characters being adapted to the small screen, put that aside. The performances and the characterizations of everyone involved is unique to the performer, but also honest and faithful to its predecessors. So don’t let that get in your way.

But we digress. This series is on par with the best on television today. I will blaspheme and say that is a slight notch below HBO’s True Detective. It’s that engrossing from a story perspective, the performances are that powerful (we didn’t even touch how amazing Hugh Dancy is throughout the series) and after the majority of the episodes you’re left in breathless anticipation for the next. And for a series to binge on, that’s exactly what you want.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites