Last Saturday, with not a bang, but a whimper (I don’t think the episode even actually aired here in Philadelphia, if my DVR is to be trusted), Bryan Fuller’s misunderstood genius of a series, Hannibal, ended it’s unprecedented three year run on NBC. Week in and week out the show would amaze with its meticulously constructed set pieces of violence, sex, cannibalism and psychological turmoil. This wasn’t simply torture porn though, Hostel: The Television Series, no, there was a very thoughtful construction to all the buttons the series pushed, an impetus towards artfulness plain to see for those willing to look beneath the surface. Rumor has it that creator Fuller would tell his collaborators not to think of the show as a television series, let alone a network television series, but as an 80’s arthouse film, and the intention shows.
The series’ violence was on par if not more outrageous than that seen on premium cable networks, but always presented more thoughtfully than any Game of Thrones decapitation or Boardwalk Empire gangland shootout. Another wrinkle was that the perpetrator of that violence, the titular Hannibal, was portrayed in such a relatable way as to make the audience almost feel guilty for sympathizing with him, rooting for this silver screen monster made flesh. Lecter here was portrayed in the role of a lifetime by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, only chewing the organs of his victims here, not the scenery as Anthony Hopkins began to do the film versions of the role as the once iconic and terrifying Silence of the Lambs character became stale as the series progressed.
Englishman Hugh Dancy was similarly electrifying is the well-trod shoes of FBI profiler Will Graham, previously worn by William Petersen and Ed Norton. This has to be one of the most nuanced, respectful but also heartbreaking portrayals of mental illness in the history of filmed entertainment, and both actor, writer, various director(s) and anyone else involved in the direction that was taken is to be applauded.
We spoke before about the unceremonious way that NBC chose to lay the series to rest, burning off the series final arc of summer Saturday nights, the wasteland usually reserved for complete failures, where previously un-aired oddball pilots go to die. Hannibal deserved better, deserved for its series finale to be a pop culture event on par with Breaking Bad or Mad Men, but alas, it was not to be.
The episode itself brought the Red Dragon arc to a close beautifully, Francis Dolarhyde gruesomely faking his death to his blind confidant Reba using a house fire and a missing gas station attendant with his brains blown out to cover his tracks, getting the jump on Will only to be tricked into an uneasy alliance against Hannibal, the cunning profiler convincing the disturbed killer that Lecter is the one who truly requires “changing”. Will, Jack and Alana concoct a plan to fake Hannibal’s escape in order to draw the Dragon out of hiding, which works only too well and costs several law enforcement officers their lives as Dolarhyde slays them in his pursuit and Lecter and Graham, and they escape to Hannibal’s Cliffside retreat, where he had previously brought Alana and Miriam Lass.
There Will lays out the plan for Lecter, including that he may not survive himself, just then the Dragon attacks, shattering the Wine bottle in Hannibal’s hand and the glass door behind him as Dolarhyde’s bullet passes through. What follows is a bloody battle not unlike the one that took place in Hannibal’s home at season two’s end, both men taking heavy damage from the Dragon, Will a knife to the cheek, before Graham and Lecter gain the upper hand, slicing open Francis’ stomach and biting his face, respectively.
After the altercation the reluctant partners, bloodied and battered together, not for the first time, embrace with what strength they have left, and as his last act of defiance against his demons, both real and imagined, Will throws the both of them off of the cliff.
As a series’ end it’s perfectly downbeat and nihilistic, Hannibal and Will, seemingly doomed (platonic, officially anyway) lovers dying as tragically, brutally and beautifully as they lived. Of course, in a perfect world where the series wasn’t cancelled Fuller had plans to bring these actors’ portrayals of the characters into his own wonderfully twisted version of Silence of the Lambs, but again, not to be. All that remains is the series on Blu Ray, there to be enjoyed over and over again, and our memories, of a Series that dared to be thought-provoking, dangerous, gorgeous and hideous in equal measure in the normally overwhelmingly beige world of Network Television.
Hannibal is dead, long live Hannibal.