TV Review: Hannibal

TV Review: Hannibal

Indulging in our seeming fascination with the crimnal mind

By Mark HadleyWednesday 17 Apr 2013TV and StreamingReading Time: 4 minutes


Rating: MA15+
Distributor: The Seven Network
Release Date: Wednesdays, 9:45 PM 

This is thrilling television – no doubt about it – and if the initial episodes are anything to judge by, Hannibal will build a strong following, quickly. But is this the sort of storyline you should be immersing yourself in weekly? 

Hannibal is based on the crime-thriller series by author Thomas Harris and produced by the same production company that brought viewers the Silence Of The Lambs franchise. It delves into the early American life of the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter before he is arrested for multiple murders. Lecter is assisting the central character Special Agent Will Graham, who has the uncanny ability to put himself in the shoes of human ‘monsters’:

Lecter: “What he has is pure empathy. He can assume your point of view, or mine and maybe some other points of view that scare him. It’s an uncomfortable gift. Perception’s a tool that’s pointed on both ends.”

Graham is keen to help the FBI prevent the murder of young girls being abducted by a killer nick-named ‘the shrike’, but Lecter is far more interested in toying with the agent’s mind. Graham gets his man but it’s clear that the real devil is still working beside him.

Hannibal is the latest in a long line of procedural dramas dedicated to hunting down the worst criminals humanity has to offer – Law & Order: SVU, CSI and Criminal Minds are just some of its forerunners. It offers thrilling television with the usual ‘chess game’ structure that pits the investigator against a fiendish criminal intelligence in a race against time. Hannibal brings a superior cast to the genre including Laurence Fishburne as Agent Jack Crawford, and some creative visuals that help the viewer understand how Agent Graham is able to step back in time and relive the killings. But it manages to make the same old mistakes as its predecessors, just more brilliantly.

There is no doubt that the world is cursed by sociopathic killers like Lecter, but nowhere near as many as a weekly series like Hannibal requires. It’s also true that the inventiveness of human evil knows no bounds, but film and television often provide a wealth of details that are mercifully left out of the news. I will leave it to brighter minds than mine to debate whether or not violent television produces violent actions – there are a plethora of scientific studies going back to the 1960s worth considering. However I believe the sheer quantity of such programming has another less obvious but easier to establish effect: the tainting of our televisual tastes. 

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We are becoming fans, even connoisseurs of suffering, and the proof is as clear as Hannibal’s budget. Broadcasters are funding more violent television because they’re discovering an increasing market. Bryan Fuller, the writer and executive producer of Hannibal and other death-related serials (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies) is personally celebrating the rise of horror on television. “In the last 15 years that I’ve been working in television, I pitched many a horror series and had been told horror does not work on television.” However Fuller believes the market has emerged because society’s views on violence have changed. “We’re reflecting where people’s heads are in a certain way and that’s part of the arts’ responsibility in its role in society,” he says. 

Part of that has to be how we see ourselves. The horror genre may thrive on the super criminals but it constantly reminds us that the potential for evil lies within all of us. Agent Graham lectures his students,

“Everyone has thought about killing someone, one way or another – by your hand, or the hand of God.”

It sounds a lot like Jesus’ reminder that if we hate someone we’ve already committed murder in our hearts. In fact the proliferation of violent TV has more to say about our inner state. If we continue to ‘rate’ violent programs its because we believe that violence is acceptable entertainment. If we value programs that show super villains evading the law it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves there is a limit to justice. The question that piques my interest as a Christian is how far out we’ve placed that limit? The book series on which Hannibal has been based sees this arch villain forever evading the law. Maybe this program will eventually see the bad guy thrown behind bars, but do we think we’ll be held accountable for our own guilty pleasures?