This post represents a huge about face from me. I made it very clear that I was not going to watch “Hannibal”, would not in fact be able to watch “Hannibal”, as it came out at a time when I was feeling a greater sensitivity that usual to watching dead female bodies splayed across my TV screen. And yet here I am, preparing to launch into a long chat after watching four episodes of the first series. Here I am retweeting the good news that, after weeks of uncertainty, it’s been announced “Hannibal” will be renewed for a second series.
Yeah, that’ll teach me to make sweeping pronouncements about my own emotional tolerance levels.
So what’s with this switcharoo? Well, it is of course about a boy:
And his dog(s)
This is Will Graham (pronounced like the American crackers not like the sensible English middle manager I should probably have married by now) and his character is a little bit important to my life right now. When “Hannibal” first introduces Will he is lecturing at the FBI academy having left field service profiling because he’s, if I’m allowed to be simplistic for my own delight, ‘too sensitive’ – come on this deserve an aw:
Will has a high capacity for empathy which allows him to insert himself into situations, work out how and why they occurred and use that knowledge to trace the person involved in those situations. Obviously, when I talk about "situations" the FBI is involved in I’m using the dinner table word for "bloody, body strewn murder scenes". Will can insert himself into crime scenes and killers minds. Makes the X-Men’s angst about their super powers look pretty melodramatic doesn’t it?
In a later episode Will works on his target practise presenting the viewer with a combination of high level empathy and the hyper-masculine; the hot academic and the police officer, with a side order of extreme vulnerability and bonus dog love all in one attractively tousled man. Brian Fuller sure knows how to make fictional boyfriends:
In Will, “Hannibal” presents its viewers with the newest version of what I’m going to facetiously call the “magical” detective;1 a character who possesses an exceptional but not actually fantastical ability2 that allows them to solve cases no one else can. It’s a character type I am both fascinated by and a little bit tired of. Here’s my problem - magical detectives always seem to be white, male characters and are given narrative backing when they use their exceptional ability to get away with being quite terrible people. Holmes from “Sherlock”, Patrick Jane from “The Mentalist” – both highly effective crime solvers, both characters I find interesting, both kind of asses. World doesn’t need any more celebrated male asses right now.
In this context, yet another white, straight, male thirty-something “magical” detective seems less than exciting. Yawn, amIrite? Except, except… I can’t even wait to tell you this bit, this is the best part! Will is a different kind of magical detective. He’s the anti-Sherlock… sort of.
Sherlock and Jane are often presented as being disconnected from feeling for their fellow human beings3. Generally they care about a few special characters but otherwise everyone can be thrown under the bus. They’re also presented as being highly intelligent, "natural" crime solvers. And, as I said above, because of this intelligence and professional capability they’re often allowed to get away with being quite mean; sometimes towards vulnerable characters. They’re also able to get away with clever tricks that take them outside the law, without suffering any real repercussions. Oh sure, characters like John Watson and Teresa Lisbon rail about their inappropriate behaviour and authority figures threaten to punish them. Then they solve the crime and the narrative whispers ‘See, see!’ It is implied that their behaviour was worth it, the ends justified the means, and results were gained. The characters move on with their behaviour largely uncorrected and any professional consequences are temporary. Apologies are a complicated business with these characters, but they’re often unforthcoming and any pain these characters cause along the way is narratively flagged as being largely unimportant. There’s no time for hurt feelings when a killer is going all slash and tear after all.
I think this narrative has been carried over from stories where police officers and other authoritarian figures abuse their power “for good”. Many stories frame abuse of power as necessary; think of the railing, intimidating police officer screaming at suspects who then give up information, or the terrorist interrogator who puts a knife through their suspects hand to get them to confess. Unless these stories explicitly break the link between abuse and real results they end up validating the impulse to use inhumane behaviour in the service of crime solving.
The presentation of abuse of power has changed shape slightly in the stories about our independent detectives; these characters use a more detached, unemotional air when they commit hard-hearted, inappropriate, or lawless acts, as opposed to letting a highly emotional personality convince them that those they suspect do not deserve empathy and or obedience to the law. And their professionally unemotional attitude spills over into their private lives without being criticised as harshly by the narrative (compare how a story might present a volatile, emotional detective who comes home and remains as highly volatile, with how “Sherlock” presents its main character’s continual lack of empathy in his personal life as a hilarious joke). Despite this slightly different design, characters like Sherlock and Jane are still living in narratives, about abuse of power, that validate their poor behaviour, their disconnection from humanity and the removal of emotions from their stories by showing that they are smart and their methods get results. In their stories we see the primacy of intellect over emotion enforced and are implicitly told that it is necessary to be disconnected from human emotion (and the rules that govern human conduct when in a position of authority) if you are to achieve highly. I really hope I don’t need to explain why I find that narrative extremely concerning. It’s fun to watch, I mean, come on, I love these programs. I’m a huge fan of things like 24, Bond and Spooks and I have been known to cheer when characters remove barriers with whatever means they deem necessary. This doesn’t change the fact that these stories still have horrible real world implications once you start to pull them apart.
How does Will fit into this dynamic, divining his crime scenes using his empath connection? First off, this sounds a little bit adorable - I really want to get out of the way of everyone’s squee and be all ‘He solves crimes with feelings – take that “Sherlock”, but just because Will is an empath doesn’t mean that the way “Hannibal” presents emotions differs much from programs like “Sherlock” and “The Mentalist”. While “Hannibal” allows emotions into the detecting mix, instead of pushing the primacy of detached intellect, it still aligns ‘feeling’ with negative connotations - in this case fear and pain. The feelings Will experiences when profiling are horrific. His ability to take over the feelings of a killer scares him, he has distressing nightmares, chronic night sweats and his feelings can overwhelm him at active crime scenes; he fails to stop Abigail Hobbs’ blood spilling out because he is disorientated by the situation and, I would say, rendered ineffective by the force of emotion the scene inspires.
Another crucial thing to remember - the feelings Will uses to defeat serial killers are not his own. He is merely a channel for the feelings embedded in a crime scene and the feelings he can gather from a criminal’s particular killings. The way he uses feelings to save the day is a world away from the ‘love is strength’ Emma Swan approach to defeating evil and can be summed up more as ‘feeling is pain but it’s sort of worth it BUT WHY WON’T IT STOP!’. “Hannibal” is very much not making a point about how a detective’s individual emotions or experience of the world can enhance their professional detecting skills. No "Emotions - saving the world!" counter-narrative here then.
Then we come to Will’s own emotional makeup. Will is, ironically or maybe necessarily, an empath who has a complicated relationship with his own feels. He most resembles the traditional, high functioning detective character type in this respect – exceptionally smart but incapable of personal feeling. He’s prone to separating himself from the majority of the world4 and is often detached and sometimes scathing towards the rest of the world, again like Sherlock and Jane, although more typically for defensive rather than aggressive reasons.
One big difference between Will and highly intelligent but emotionally distant characters like Sherlock or Jane is that the program doesn’t validate Will for his detachment, or make his stand offish nature a necessary conduit for intelligence, a major humour point or an indicator of coolness. Instead it sends secondary characters like Alana Bloom and Beverley Katz to constantly chip away at that detachment and to slowly try to nudge Will into different, more connected ways. This attention from other characters quickly shows the viewer that Will’s cut off way of living may not be the ideal5. Also, with Will’s empathic talents providing the solution to all cases in “Hannibal” any idea that his detached personal behaviour helps him to solve cases so SHUT UP ABOUT HIM NEEDING TO HAVE FEELINGS is absent and “Hannibal” breaks the cycle of lauding douchey behaviour because ‘the ends justify the means’. Plus, after initial resistance Will himself seems to increasingly try to form connections with um… Hannibal. Ok, so he has poor judgement sometimes, but he’s trying to make friends and he later pays serious attention to whether he ought to try and establish a connection with Abigail. Hurray, so ultimately “Hannibal” recognises the importance of feelings right?
It’s complicated. I mean, when is it ever not with media? Will is intelligent; he’s a teacher, one who works for the FBI – I’m going to say we can assume extreme smarts are needed to attain such a position. Is “Hannibal” another program then, like “Sherlock”, which links great intelligence and crime solving ability with a low ability for feeling? The way feelings manifest in the program does not really seem to counter that depressingly, predominantly loved idea that professional greatness and insight are innately connected to emotional detachment. What is going on?
Maybe I’ll achieve some clarity by leaving that strain of thought to sit awhile. Instead, more “Sherlock” analysis! I swear I don’t want to pick on Sherlock and Jane; they’re two characters I love to watch (although I’m more of a Jane fan and a Sherlock appreciator if that makes sense) but I find it relevant to compare Will to them, and especially to Sherlock, even past their shared superficial magical detective status. Will shares two common elements with Moffat’s creation. Both investigators are disconnected from people and are largely unable or unwilling to form personal connections, as I discussed above. And both are characters cast as people who may in future go insane and start committing murders by other characters (and to an extent by their programs, which express an interest in the idea that genius and evil may be divided by nothing more than a hair).6
I totally buy into the idea “Sherlock” pushes, that even if we don’t believe Sherlock will turn killer his genius positions him half a step away from his super-villainous, arch-nemesis Moriarty. He is so awful around other people, so devoid of human caring, unless he’s looking at John Watson, and at times far too connected to the puzzle solving element of tragedy. I said above that “Sherlock” validates its main character’s rudeness and disconnection and it does, but it likes to have its cake and stuff its face too. It pushes the viewer to laugh along with Sherlock’s insults and gently roll its eyes along with Watson, but it keeps a sharp edge which reminds its viewers that laughter is just the way they soften their worries about where this disconnection from regular humanity could lead. In “Sherlock” genius seems genuinely close to evil – good job creating an intriguing moral comparison Moffat, shame about those ladies.
“Hannibal” tries to set up a similar scenario, encouraging viewers to see Will as potential sociopath, in order, I would guess, to explain why Hannibal is so interested in playing with Will rather than eating him. However, Will as sociopath in waiting is a much tougher sell. For one thing, instead of glorying in his crime solving ability and gaining power from it, as characters like Sherlock and Jane do, Will is dis-empowered by his empathy connection. More than that it frightens him and this fear keeps him from claiming much internal glory when he stops a serial killer. He also fails to use his higher power to position people exactly as he wants them so that he can win at crime solving, or to one up people all the time, or to knock others down. If the program wants to encourage viewers to believe that Will could potentially become a sociopath I’d expect to see Will exhibit a much higher capacity to use people, as characters like Sherlock do (and as Jane, who was briefly touted as a possible Red John, does every week), so that viewers could boggle at the calculating cruelty of genius. From there viewers could extrapolate connections to the cruelty of the serial murders they meet who generally pose their victims and Hannibal who controls so utterly. I’d maybe expect to see Will power drunk. Anything like this is totally absent in Will’s story line. He is the ‘fragile teacup’, the ‘broken pony’, things far away from a megalomaniac sociopath.
Will even worries he may not feel enough despite his recognised ability to feel his way into hard to understand situations. He seems to actively work at holding on to his humanity (which Sherlock and Jane are both anxious to discard to some extent, for their own reasons). I mean, that’s where the pack of family dogs comes in right? They’re his visible symbol of humanity; his reminder to be good and that he can be good. And I believe that his desire to keep a tight grip on his humanity is partly why he fumbles over his relationship with Abigail Hobbs - he feels like the appropriate response to killing someone’s father should be to counter death with a living connection, but he’s unsure if his reasoning is human or not. Will’s own concern seems to signal to the viewer that they should be worried about whether he is human enough – who knows his own mind better than Will, right, so if he’s having doubts perhaps viewers ought to take that seriously? And the program appears to show that Hannibal sees something of this potential killer of Will, as he views him as ‘…the mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by.’
Personally, I don’t see it despite these textual promptings. Partly because I just can’t get past those dogs. A house full of strays rescued from the roadside screams emotional issues, Alana shows a clear awareness of that when she tells Will ‘a dog keeps a promise a human can’t’. It doesn’t automatically suggest ‘monster, monster’ though does it?7. I know there’s this whole narrative that ‘You’d never have guessed’ and ‘He was so quiet and kind’ which gets aired when people find out their neighbours are criminals, so Will’s rescue program doesn’t automatically eliminate him from serial killer suspicion, but come on did anyone on the program really think they could convince viewers he’d turn rabid after showing him talking to all the fluffy dogs?8
Is my inability to see Will as a potential risk a failure of the program? Perhaps it’s the result of being part way through a series which has more to build up and further twists to offer? Is it something Hannibal is trying to push into existence which isn’t naturally there in Will? Is Lecter trying to create a murderer through nurture? I have no clue and, if this program didn’t seem to be elaborately planned in advance, I’d say the creators don’t have a clue where this is going either.
Another inconclusive possibility – Will’s empath "power" hurts him psychologically. Perhaps the program is trying to set up a different kind of murderous possibility in Will; one where a person could be driven to kill by lack of control rather than feeling an intense superiority like Lecter. Perhaps this reboot is trying to expand the killer spectrum of its existing franchise? It’s a theory. Of course, if it was the program’s intention to show intense empathy as a psychologically destructive force the alternative magical detective is a less than positive character type and perhaps cold intellect gets the nod yet again. Oh look, I’m back to that confusing strain of thought I left sleeping a while ago.
Let’s try and settle this once and for all - is “Hannibal” backing feelings and emotion over emotionless intellect, or is it proposing that Will’s empathetic connection is a conduit to becoming a murdering sociopath? Or, oh, here’s a thought, is the program saying that Will’s empathic crime solving is a weak intellectual counter for Lecter? Let’s not forget, Will’s ability to empathise and draw feeling out of a crime scene, and his fumbling attempt sat a higher level of emotional involvement, can be a bad thing as I discussed above. Obviously his greater involvement and attachment to Hannibal as the series progresses is A VERY BAD THING INDEED. However, empathising and making an emotional connection, again as I said above, is how he solves crimes so score one for sort of having feelings I guess... maybe… At least, that’s a pretty strong counterweight to the idea that intelligence can only come out of a cold detachment as is the fact that the coldest, most detached person with a high intellect in this program is the world’s most famous cannibal.
Still, just because Will’s super power is tortured empathetic connection and the man made of pure unfeeling intellect has an infamous name doesn’t mean this program has totally abandoned the ‘lack of emotions = smart’ equation of validation…
Oh, hello there.
Enter Dr Lecter the cannibal with… I’m not going to say no emotions, but instead very tightly controlled emotions, which only get applied to particular people, and a vastly skewed sense of what is appropriate. Hannibal is where you end up if Sherlock loses any interest in playing other people’s games and starts designing puzzles to amuse himself. In “Hannibal”, despite the fact that Will’s extreme smarts come out of his ability to emotionally connect with a crime scene his emotions are still shown to be debilitating and a lack of emotion is still shown to be the way to get what you want - while Will may be beating serial killer of the week types Hannibal is still winning overall because no one suspects him. He is left contentedly playing his own macabre chess game. I’ll be interested to see exactly what it is that gets him caught in the end. Will it be a failure of intellect or emotion? And is Will going to win at life because of his developing ability to feel and his empathetic connection to crime scenes, or is his empath side going to turn out to be destructive? Will “Hannibal” end up implicitly picking a side?
Anyway, I can probably hold on to the fact that aligning a lack of feeling with a notorious cannibal strongly indicates that the program feels it is necessary to have some feeling for others. Sure, intense empathy might mean Will is always being led by the clever Lecter, but at least he will have a soul when he gets where Lecter is taking him. That’s got to rate higher than being the one in control, right?
Speaking of the good doctor, Will’s relationship with Lecter is so interesting. Lecter is an arch manipulator as we see in his logically bizarre but effective control of Abigail after she stabs Nicholas Boyle. He seems to view Will’s empath connection as something which could be nurtured into a killing spark, but what I think becomes clear to the viewer (if not to Will, who unsurprisingly is intensely concerned about what might happen if he keeps placing himself in murderers shoes, especially on a bare minimum of sleep) is that anything monstrous which comes out of Will would probably have to be drawn out by this crafted manipulation. Will is the kind of good that fills its home with potentially flea-ridden stray dogs and helps solve crime at the expense of his own mental health. He has appropriate human emotions even if sometimes those appropriate emotions involve him firing seven bullets into the body of a serial killer. He is not going to start planting men in the ground or feeding them to his dogs.
Extrapolating wildly, it seem to me that a mixture of his professional training (being taught how to shoot to kill, instructed to be restrained and define appropriate killing circumstances), and concern about knowing his emotional responses may not be standard because he is on the spectrum, has warped Will’s idea of his own soul. Instead of seeing himself as necessarily human, he views himself as a monster waiting to hatch. This insecurity about himself makes him a prime target for Hannibal’s manipulation and Will has no way to guard himself because he has no idea about Hannibal’s true motives. It’s like they were made for each other in a cracked way; Will the perfect subject for Hannibal to play with, who presents Hannibal’s greatest challenge by being good; Hannibal the person to subtly validate Will’s own fears about himself and, weirdly, sometimes comfort him with his warped theories and attempts at manipulation. I don’t think I’ve seen a better use of the ‘best friends who are secretly arch-nemeses and fight crime together’ set up since “Smallville”. Shippers beware though, breakers are sure to abound when part of your pairing is a cannibal.
The draw of this show can’t all be about taboo, messed up friendships and boys though can it? What else does “Hannibal” have going for it? Well, it certainly isn’t the crime, but turns out that’s ok with me.
Maybe controversially, I like “Hannibal” but I don’t think it’s a good police drama. It may seem strange to like the program overall but to think that the background fabric that gives the program a reason to exist isn’t great, but here’s a thing about me – I don’t actually come to crime, the plotiest of plot built genres for plot. Generally, I tend to find crime plots much more convoluted, or difficult to believe in, than SFF plots with alien worlds and time-bending. I might occasionally talk about the problems I see in crime drama plots, although I’m not exactly known for my plot logic sensors, but really I come to crime shows for the people9 not to examine or deconstruct the truthiness of their plots. I would quite happily watch crime shows if they were all about world-building and behind the scenes work and character relationships and police characters doing things beside police work and the real life stuff that goes with living the criminal life. So, when I say it feels like this program’s murder of the week style, central crimes are set up just to provide a reason for all of its characters to get together, and as a canvas for the show’s controlled and deliberate artistry, this is sort of fine with me.
I say sort of - I do think that if a creator sets a piece of media in a specific genre they should show some care in constructing the genre elements of that piece. Sure, sure they can subvert the genre as much as they want but the thing they’re subverting should be drawn well in the first place otherwise that’s sloppiness not subversion. In “Hannibal” the crime solving denouements feel uniform and carelessly created to me and that isn’t unimportant. I know that many crime shows end with the police working out who has killed all the people and swooping in, flak jackets on and guns out, to try and save the day. I know the interest in those familiar situations nearly always comes out of the ‘will they/won’t they’ tension of that set up. It’s difficult to take such formulaic elements and reproduce them in a fresh way every week but programs like “Criminal Minds” manage to prevent the repetitive nature of this formula from seeming dull, despite its recurrence every week, whereas “Hannibal” is less successful in making the end game of each crime seem individual.
Sometimes I think it’s actually the fantastic, artful approach of the program that gets in the way of its crime element. The show’s general approach to the individual crimes it presents is detached which lessens its emotional effectiveness. Each murder is inventively horrific in form, and should inspire feeling of some kind on the part of the viewer, but I actually find that the deliberate, artful construction of each murder scene (from the girl impaled on arrangements of antlers to the family scenes of the dead) that Will ends up investigating cuts me off from feeling much about the tragedy of the individual death in front of me10. I’m never sad for the victims in “Hannibal”, or much affected by their deaths, when I feel I ought to be and I wonder how much that says about me and how much it says about any failures of the program.
Perhaps “Hannibal” is making a consistent point through its detached dramatic presentation; if viewers have to be encouraged to feel sympathy for murder victims through revelations about their personal stories, or through seeing their screams on camera, then maybe there’s something wrong. If we can’t look at the shrike copy cat murder and feel something without artistic prompts then why is that? Does the contrast between Will’s shock at his empathic connection, his visceral trembling, sweating and disgust, and the disconnected feel of the program’s artistic style (from shots of murder to its colour scheme which creates a constantly oppressive and slightly unrealistic feel out of a very specific and structured colour palette) used to highlight how disconnected society may become when exposed to so much fictional murder? Is so much about “Hannibal” so different from the usual horror gothic style or crime program because it is designed to disrupt our usual expectations about a horror/crime combination, to throw us slightly off centre and keep us from any horrible-pleasant feelings of satisfied expectations that come from watching these traditional programs wreathed in death?
Again I’m unsure, that theory involves a lot of guessing about sub-conscious feelings and media intent which makes me uneasy. It does feel like disconnection and the disruption of established ways of thinking about, or responding to, familiar situations is an overall theme of this show. Every detail of this program, from Will’s emotional distance to the way the program avoids coming from inside any one characters head, to the dull, hospital like lighting that pervades the scenes, enhances that feeling of distance from the events on the screen. The shooting choices made for “Hannibal” provides the opposite of high definition and the feeling that the viewer is ‘at the murder site’. And this overall feeling ties everything back to what the viewer can’t help but think about constantly – Dr Lecter’s distance from humanity, his lack of visible shame about his cannibalism and his distance from the regular viewer who understands that cannibalism is one of the last ultimate taboos. Is everything designed to remind viewers that something is slightly awry here, slightly different? Would channelling traditional black and red gothica all the time have made a program about the taboo of cannibalism too comfortable?
And again, I have absolutely no concrete answers here. If I’m honest I am happily baffled by this program most of the time. The only thing I do know for certain is that attaching a colour scheme majorly populated by murky blues, greens and a range of red/oranges to a horror show is fucking fabulous :
This glorious colour scheme needs someone more knowledgeable about fashion and visual art than me to examine it; all I can do is boggle and obsess. The work it must take to create something like this and keep it in place over a whole series! The way colour and light is used to affect the mood of every scene so strongly! The way this palette and the complementing fashion choices for each character play with creating a nostalgic feel which cranks up the dissonance between the subject of nostalgia and cannibalism to set up a different kind of fear! I am in awe of this whole element of “Hannibal” and I think this is one of the few times I’ve ever attached so much affection to a TV program because of its attention to colour detail. Well done creators.
Of course, another reason why I keep coming back, and this is hard to admit in public for a feminist writer, is the death. I’m preoccupied with, and a little attracted to, the way media presents disturbing (largely) female death and if a program shows that it’s going to apply a little art to that gendered death I will have to restrain myself from watching it. I can try to rationalise that away by saying my imagination has been affected by taking in so much of this stuff over the years, in the same way that reading so many stories by and about men can affect women’s imaginations (very likely). Or I can position my fascination as a feminist act in itself – as part of the gender that is targeted for these kinds of grim deaths I am necessarily involved in them and so drawn to them. I can sell it as a morbid fascination, one of the ways we taunt ourselves with our greatest dangers, or play up the need for safe spaces in which to examining those fears in a controlled space. I support those theories in the abstract but largely, aside from the idea that the massive focus on female death has forced its way into my imagination, I ultimately don’t feel like they apply to me individually.
In her post ‘Chillin’ with villains’ noonturnsmidnight talks about feminism and “Hannibal”. Isn’t it great that when you find someone worrying about whether women’s attraction to a male lead means something negative for the whole of lady kind you’ll eventually find an intrepid feminist wading in to tell them to cut it out? Even if the male character is a cannibal! I really enjoyed this post and found its ideas on the female gaze present in “Hannibal” persuasive. And this gaze isn’t the only example of the reboot’s potential feminism; so far two male characters have become female characters. Dr Alan Bloom is now Alana and Freddie Lounds, irresponsible reporter, becomes a woman too. Abigail Hobbs escaped her father’s murderous attempts and is growing into an intriguing central character. And the recurring character Beverley Katz works in the coroner’s team. “Hannibal” may be full of dead naked girls, but it looks like it’s also full of a dedication to presenting women and the female gaze:
Coming out of a franchise which brought viewers Clarice Starling, one of the most revered and alive-at-the-end female characters from the horror back list, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to find so many live women standing among the corpses of the dead. However, because of the nature of so many serial killer stories, which focus on male characters staring mournfully at pictures of pretty dead young girls, it is still a pleasant shock to see a program in that genre depart from this trend. A link between feminism and serial killers is not exclusively the province of “Hannibal” though. “The Fall”, a recent British serial killer drama, is helmed by Gillian Anderson who plays Detective Stella Gibson. The press have made much of Gibson’s sexually confident attitude (because of course, that’s the headline grabber) but in episode three we also see her character explicitly pull out some of society’s problems with women – she calls out the use of the word ‘innocent’ to describe a killer’s victims and reminds her boss that the media likes to separate women into virgins & whores. Here is a strong female character in the midst of a serial killer story, actively calling out sexism, and she is partnered by two other professional women who are, so far, outside the serial killers sphere of influence (by which I mean it doesn’t yet look like he will find them and kill them, thematically punishing them for being professional women).
The more I watch the women of “The Fall” and “Hannibal” the more I keep coming back to Renay’s question in her review of “The Shining Girls”: ‘Why would a woman write a book like this?’. My own, related, question is - Why are female and male creators giving female characters power, or including female characters who survive like Riley and Abigail, or swapping characters genders, or putting heaps of female gaze into these stories that are full of other dead woman?
I don’t want to pose that as a shaming question - Whhhhhy can’t we just admit we’re all being manipulated by the patriarchy, and walk away from these kind of stories, instead of trying to mitigate the dead girls with excepto-live women? Repeat after me: Ladies can watch what they want and enjoying certain programs does not mean they are being fooled by the patriarchy. Taking in media is a complex business as is making media. Analysing that consumption and creation in a simplistic way does no one any favours.
Nor do I want to suggest that there’s a totally feminist answer to this question – Subverting the patriarchal story of killing all the womenz! Go team lady! To me that seems too simple as well. I would guess that in a society where we are all influenced by the prevailing culture we’re exposed to, and where there’s a lot of female destruction posed as art or entertainment, elements of both those ideas feed into the way our creators are building serial killer stories which include a not-dead female presence. Again I have no answers here – it seems that a lack of answers is the theme for this post. Heck, maybe creators have just suddenly woken up to the fact that women have TVs and they watch them. Maybe female inclusion is a marketing strategy to woo more viewers in. Maybe Freddie Lounds got made into a woman just so she could die a woman later on, when the “Red Dragon” story line comes into play, or maybe a reboot which changes her gender will also change her fate.
Much like the increasing placement of African American and Asian actors/actresses in the role of detectives who are secondary-main characters, which “Hannibal” also works in, casting Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford,11 I have no idea what it means. Is media reflecting a rising chromatic presence in the police forces? Is it a version of the ‘black best friend’ set up where TV shows court praise for including one or two secondary black characters? Is placing chromatic actors and actresses in positions of authority it a sign of rising respect for chromatic people? Who knows? Who can possibly know that for definite unless there’s an overwhelming comment from the industry? We make theories and everyone has a different one. As I come to the end of this post it’s time for you and I to choose our own adventures and work our way through opposing critical commentary.
Who would have believed a few months ago, when I was declaring my best intentions to stay away from “Hannibal” that I’d produce over 6,000 words of “Hannibal” analysis? I guess that shows how a cute boy, pretty colours, some ladies, dogs and a whole heap of feels can get right under your skin even if a show is "really" about cannibalism. And no one even had to get out the filleting knife to make it happen.
1 cleolinda more sensibly calls this ‘the amazing guy who can reconstruct crime scenes’ in her re-cap of episode one. Those re-caps are recommended reading for any “Hannibal” fan.
2 Unlike Allison in “Medium” or Nick from “Grimm” who use magical powers to solve crimes.
3 I know these two characters are different – Jane has a motivation for his disconnection while Sherlock just idk … naturally doesn’t feel a lot. Jane does feel emotions, sometimes intensely, for people he barely knows and his capacity for feeling goes up and down across the series whereas Sherlock, again, not much going on in the heart department. Still, they both broadly belong to the same category of detective – brilliant mind in front, emotions following behind if at all.
4 Empathy plays a part in making him cut himself off from people in real life – how devastatingly ironic.
5 I’d like to acknowledge my own ignorance here. In the first episode “Hannibal” establishes that Will is ‘on the spectrum’, which I assume is the autism spectrum. I have absolutely no knowledge about autism, beyond what I’ve learnt from this post and a few conversations with the parents of autistic children. So, I have no way to know how to interpret Will’s difficulty with emotion or the way people try to influence him to be more connected in the context of autism. If I should say anything offensive, or just plain wrong please know the comments are open for honest discussion.
6 The fact that in both cases the people calling them insane are ladies is interesting, right? Primes the way for awful things.
7 Oh Will Graham, imagine if you were a lady with a lot of cats how differently those scenes would have probably gone.
8 Although, let’s remember “Silence of the Lambs” features a dog loving killer.
9 Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some programs that construct massively entertaining crime plots and some that weave very clever crime plots. It’s just that plot is not the primary draw for me when it comes to crime shows.
10 Sidebar: Again I’m not totally sure that personally I find this a bad thing even though it sounds like a dramatic failing. I’m watching “The Fall” as well and that program revolves around a serial killer who time-consumingly poses his female victims, sometimes painting their nails and applying their makeup. That program makes me want to take my skin off and wash it. If “Hannibal” included killers like that and lingering death scenes, along with all the other horror baggage it brings to its creation, I’d never be able to take it.
11 Jack/Will – do you ship it? Does anyone else ship this?
”Hannibal” Extras (all full of spoilers)
Occupation Girl’s recaps of “Hannibal” episodes. Do read the comments.
Hello Tailor’s “Hannibal” tag on Tumblr
Alternative career options for after the inevitable mental breakdowns
Dire Ravenstag Twitter account