Recently, I discovered that all three seasons of the show Hannibal are on Amazon Prime. Pretty much every person in my life, from my fiancé to my very own mother, have watched this show and enjoyed it. I decided to give it a go, seeing as how I love the Thomas Harris universe of Silence of the Lambs/Red Dragon/Hannibal.
Firstly, I really want to point out the positives. I find myself liking this show very, very much. Though the characters remind me a little of soap opera stars rather than real people, I am okay with that. This is a highly stylized, highly dramatic show where Will Graham’s theatric tortured genius does not feel out of place. The plot really sucked me in and I was hooked pretty much from episode two. At first, I thought this show was a prequel to Red Dragon, but when I realized it was actually a re-imagining of the universe, I came to appreciate it that much more. Since this is a horror blog, it’s not shocking for me to say the kills in this show are amazing spectacles and I love them. I personally think that Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is slightly superior to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal (though both performances are top-notch). Right now, I have just finished season two and I cannot stop watching. Now that I am more halfway through the series (I was crushed to learn Hannibal lived a mere three seasons) I can say there are more things I like about this show than I dislike, but the two things I dislike the most are pretty important for me to talk about. Keep in mind, I have only watched season 1 and 2 (Michael recently discovered the magic that is the first 3 seasons of True Blood, so I got a little side-tracked) so my commentary is based on just these seasons.
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn’t notice how white this show is until now; even though one of the main characters, Jack Crawford, is played by Lawrence Fishburne, he is the only main character who is not white and still alive. There have only been two other more prominent secondary POC characters: Jack’s wife Phyllis “Bella” Crawford and FBI forensics agent Beverly Katz, and both women at this point in the show are dead or dying. Honestly, this bothers me because this show had no problem changing the demographics of the some of the more well-known characters in the films; Jack Crawford in the films is white and reporter Freddie Lounds is a man in the films, a woman in the TV series. Given that the show took small steps to mix up the cast, it doesn’t really make sense to me as to why they would stop at changing the race of only one character (it does make sense; I know its racism).
The second problem I have with this show has to do with how they treat women*; put bluntly, the women in this show are not good at their jobs and the one or two who are competent are punished for it. Dr. Alana Bloom develops romantic feelings for not one, but two men whom she is professionally attached to and allows her feelings (and eventually a sexual relationship) to interfere with her judgment (which tbh is never that great). I know the show is trying to show the audience how slick Hannibal is, fooling just about everyone so of course Dr. Bloom would be no exception. I didn’t have a problem with this until after she sleeps with Hannibal and digs her heels in a little more about how he couldn’t possibly be the Chesapeake Ripper while the men around her are slowly starting to figure Hannibal out (and eventually concoct a plan to catch him while Alana remains in a state of denial until she is literally shoved out a window). Why the Alana/Hannibal sex sub-plot? Hannibal could have just as easily drugged Alana without perusing a sexual encounter with her; she still would have provided him his much needed alibi without calling into question her professionalism (and for the record an adult having casual sex with another consenting adult is 1000% okay and in no way damaging to their integrity but when a licensed professional has sex with a colleague in the midst of several federal investigations, that’s when their professional integrity may be compromised). Alana having a sexual relationship with Hannibal and then going on to defend him without question makes her look even more foolish to us, the audience that knows what Hannibal really is and I don’t like that because I gather from this show Alana is supposed to be smart and good at her job.
The show gives the same treatment to Miram Lass, a secondary character; she’s not very good at profiling and just a pinch racist, tbh. The two women, Freddie Lounds and Beverly Katz, who are good at what they do, are either brutally murdered (Beverly) or arguably the most unlikable character in not only the TV show but the entire Hannibal universe (Freddie). Abigail Hobbs is a two-dimensional surrogate for the projections of Will and Hannibal. Hannibal’s psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (played by the amazing and perfect Gillian Anderson), is actually a pretty good character but her role is very small.
Now, these examples on their own are not a deal breaker for me and honestly wouldn’t be so problematic if the men in the show have similar challenges; Hannibal has gotten into Alana and Miram’s heads and it’s understandable why they would not be able to identify him as the killer he is. The problem is the women are the slowest to wise up, even when the men face similar manipulation from Hannibal; Jack Crawford, a man who heaps praise on Hannibal for most of season one and who is also unquestionably manipulated by him, knows something is up. Will Graham is the first person to make Hannibal, even though it’s safe to say he suffered similar psychological torture from Hannibal. Maybe there’s an argument that can be made about the level of psychological manipulation and abuse Hannibal heaps on the women in the way he doesn’t on the men (while he really fucks with Will’s head in season 1, he keeps Miram locked in a well for like 2 years) and why this is done purposefully by him but it’s certainly not addressed in the show.
Again, I want to emphasize that I really like this show; there’s so much right with it! The acting! Those amazing visuals! The incredible story lines! That food styling, tho! Season 2 didn’t blow my socks off; the Will/Hannibal circle jerk that made up 82% of the plot really didn’t do it for me the way it did for other fans, but the variation of serial killers that made up season 1 really hooked me. I am really excited for the gang to go to Italy to try and catch Hannibal and how Frances Dolarhyde (my favorite serial killer in the universe) will play into season 3. With that being said, I can’t ignore the white male supremacy this show gently nudges on us (probably unknowingly because that’s just the culture we live in). I will still watch intently and hope that some streaming site snatches up the rights to this show for a fourth season, maybe with better, more fleshed out femme characters and not so many white faces?
*This post is very binary because cable TV is sadly very binary.