While a police procedural may seem a bit of a departure for Geek Chocolate, our writers have diverse tastes, and this is no typical show in the standard forensic template, developed by Bryan Fuller, who worked on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager and Heroes also created Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies and Mockingbird Lane. Based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, filmed previously by Michael Mann and Brett Ratner, the new series stars Hugh Dancy as criminal profiler Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as Doctor Hannibal Lecter alongside many of Fuller’s frequent troupe of actors, Owen Williams tells us why we should be paying attention.
Although most famously played by Anthony Hopkins (who won an Academy Award for his depiction in The Silence of the Lambs), the character of Hannibal Lecter has appeared in four novels, featured in five movies and has also been portrayed by Brian Cox, Gaspard Ulliel and now, with his own television show developed by Bryan Fuller, the man behind Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls and the truly outstanding Pushing Daisies, which in itself is a cause to be optimistic, Mads Mikkelson has taken the role.
Whilst Fuller is a greatly respected producer, creator and writer it’s hard to imagine the fit between the surreal fantasy of his previous creations and the psychological horror thriller required of a series delving into the origins of Hannibal Lecter; one cannot, for example, imagine Doctor Lecter bursting into song whilst flambéing a victim’s kidneys. Although that would be cool.
The series itself is a double act between Lecter and Will Graham, an FBI special investigator played by Hugh Dancy (Ella Enchanted, Confessions of a Shopaholic), and whilst the good doctor might bag the title it’s Graham who is the focus of the pilot. Possessing what can be described as “ultimate empathy”, he can put himself in the mind of a killer and feel what they feel when surveying a crime scene, imagining himself as the murderer and experiencing the emotions that they went through when committing the act. Whilst useful when trying to track a serial killer, it does not lead to the most stable of minds.
Despite his fairly minor league resume, Dancy manages to step up to the mark and is an instantly sympathetic character, portraying Will Graham as a broken man, unable to establish or maintain relationships because of his gift. After a relatively wordless introduction which illustrates how he processes a crime scene and how it affects him, he becomes a lecturer, but a series of murders where college girls have gone missing requires Special Agent Jack Crawford to seek his assistance.
Movie actors taking prime television roles has become an expected part of each season since Kiefer Sutherland first took on the role of 24’s Jack Bauer in 2001; Christian Slater did it for the underrated My Own Worst Enemy, Gary Sinise moved from being an Academy Award nominee to CSI: NY, Harvey Keitel decided that the US remake of Life on Mars was a good idea, and the producers of Hannibal have procured Laurence Fishburne for the role of Jack Crawford. Whilst Fishburne doesn’t feature prominently in the opening episode, he may well turn out to be the anchor of the series, for not only is it he who recruits Graham to track down the killer, he then recruits Doctor Lecter to make sure Graham retains some sort of mental stability during the process.
Following Hopkins is no easy task, and it falls to Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, The Hunt) to take up the mantle, and even though he’s the titular character, he doesn’t appear until halfway through the episode. Despite a tendency for suits from the 1970’s and an Adolf Hitler haircut but very little emotion and few facial expressions, Mikkelsen makes this version of Lecter distant and menacing, but not yet particularly memorable.
At the point where the show begins, Lecter is already a cannibal and serial killer, which leads to him staging a copycat murder so he can taunt the authorities and have himself a nice meal of lung a la flambé, yet exactly what Mikkelsen is trying to convey is hard to discern.
It might be too simple an analogy to say that Lecter sees Graham as a kindred spirit, or perhaps a challenge, the one person that might be able to catch him, but the possibility is there. Does Lecter want to be caught, or does he see Graham as nothing more than a toy to be played with? At one point Lecter suggests that they be friends, but is this just an example of a predator toying with his food?
Despite the majority of the audience already aware how the story plays out, the burden of all prequels, there is hope that the journey to that inevitable destination will be distinct and intriguing. The relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter is rife with possibility and drama.
We know that it is Will who catches Lecter, and that they have a student – mentor relationship, but how does that relationship build? Are they friends? Does Lecter become Graham’s “blind spot” in that he can easily put his mind into that of a serial killer but cannot spot the one in front of him? Why does Lecter put himself in such a position to be caught? Is it hubris or is Lecter desperate to find someone to stop him from his work?
Hopefully, these are the foundations upon which this series will be built. The pilot is a solid tale, but it’s more about the psychology of the main characters than it is of the killer they are hunting. If the series sticks to exploring the minds of Graham, Lecter and Crawford rather than increasingly gruesome murders then this could become addictive viewing, but the question will be whether Fuller’s probing will satisfy the notoriously fickle appetite of the audience.