Spoiler Warning for Hannibal, Season 1
“At night I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields. When I look back, from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.”
—Will Graham, Hannibal 1×04
Confession: I am one of those people who watches a show and can’t quite accept that it’s gone. The show instead lives on for me internally. So, basically, do not tell me The Wire is gone. Nope. Nor Deadwood, The Sopranos, Parks and Rec, Justified, Veronica Mars, and a handful of others, just… for me, they’re not gone. The show’s still out there. Immortal. Ever-present. So, for me, yes, somewhere Tony still watches the exits. Somewhere, Raylan works out his inner demons. Somewhere, Leslie Knope is President. Somewhere, Dan and Casey are still wittily tossing out sports metaphors under Dana’s eagle eye. Somewhere, Veronica’s fighting for justice next to her Dad. And somewhere, Hannibal and Will are still embattled. Or engrossed. But they’re out there, somewhere, somehow. Living on, in a smarter universe.
Fellow fans of Hannibal will no doubt especially feel my pain on this. And as someone still deeply mourning the end of the show all these years later, I thought the best consolation might be to go back and watch the show from the beginning, and it’s been a joy, offering new nuances and moments galore. It’s been especially fascinating to be able to go back to the beginning, and most especially to see how far back Bryan Fuller and his talented team set up the relationships, conflicts, and inspirations on the show, which are present even in the pilot episode.
The Table is Set
The blood splashes in the credits, Brian Reitzell’s superb score surges ominously, and Hannibal begins. Boom. Grossness. Ooky murder victim close-ups. Dating taboos. Ships, ships, and more ships sail into the distant horizon (how were we ever possibly this young?).
Welcome to the world of Hannibal. So let’s drive right in, to episode one, for instance, and that beautiful first meeting of Will (a wonderfully twitchy Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (a chilly, graceful Mads Mikkelsen). Where, if you watch closely, you’ll find extra enjoyment in all the little subtleties to Mads’s and Hugh’s performances—because they’re setting the foundation for every single moment to follow.
It’s all right there, the entire show. Hannibal’s focus and detachment, mixed with that strange fleeting tenderness. Will’s disgust, empathy, and fear that also mask his inevitable fascination and self-loathing. Cue the mental metronome as it sweeps ominously across the frame in red. We begin, and even within 40 short minutes in episode one, as Garret Jacob Hobbs dies, whispering, “See?” to a horrified Will, the table is set.
The finishing touch on this scene (that will echo back so tragically at the end of the season) is the fact that Hannibal, watching Will, seems to decide to save Abigail because it is something that Will wants. So he gives it to him, the gift of Abigail’s life, placing his hands gently on Abigail’s throat in order to save her. He further does this, I think, because for Hannibal everything comes down to power, because he can, and because it will tie both of those people to him in ways he wants to watch play out further.
But perhaps the nastiest trick he plays on Will here is his facade at the episode’s end, as Will enters Abigail’s hospital room to find Hannibal already there, holding Abigail’s hand as if he is not the monster her father was, but as if he is, in fact, the caring savior he pretended to be. Everything that occurs between the two men from here on out, occurs because Will mistakenly uses this image of Hannibal as a baseline. It’s diabolical and tragic.
Cat and Mouse
I think my favorite aspect of the rewatch is that I have changed my opinion slightly when it comes to Hannibal’s reactions and motivations. Upon a second viewing, most of the time, I now do think that Hannibal seems to play out his scenes with others as honestly as he can, at least, to a point.
I remember that I thought Hannibal was smirkier the first time I watched it; I felt like he was playing them. But now I actually think he’s weirdly transparent. I do think he likes and respects the team and genuinely (and quite quickly) grows to care for Jack and Will. It doesn’t mean he won’t torture them, mind you—Hannibal’s so warped that I truly believe he has no concept of how normal, non-psychotic people feel or demonstrate tenderness.
Shoot, for all we know Hannibal considers everything he does to poor Will in Season 1 to be nothing but simple foreplay. (“What are you complaining about?” I can imagine him saying to Will. “I fed you an ear!”)
Speaking of love, however, I most definitely missed how closely Beverly (played with subtle wit and tenderness by Hetienne Park) is involved with Will in many scenes the first time I watched the show. Her shooting range scene with Will in Episode 2 is terrific. Sparky and fun, on rewatch, it’s evident to me that Beverly likes Will. I mean, I think she like likes him. Which just adds to the tragedy of her entire arc.
Every bit as much as Jack and Alana, Beverly seeks Will out, to goad him, to study him, to offer support. She visits him several times (including in “Ceuf”) just to talk to him, for instance. And in the Angel episode (“Coquilles”), Beverly approaches Will again, offering help and asking him to confide in her; they interact closely once more in episode 6 (“Entree”). I’d really missed how close these two are in my first viewing of the show, and this makes Beverly’s devastation at Will’s arrest that much more heartbreaking to witness as season 1 moves toward its close.
The Wolf Visits the Sheep
In Episode 4 (“Oeuf”), in one of the best scenes across the entire show, Hannibal explores Will’s house. And I think upon rewatch this is just an incredibly rich and fascinating scene. Hannibal enters as a guest (and we later learn that Will asked him to feed the dogs for him while he was gone), and absently feeds Will’s beloved dogs, who adore Hannibal instantly. Hannibal, of course, feeds them what we assume is yikeshannibalsoylentsausage. Of course, he then simply wanders through Will’s home, and it is just sort of mind-bogglingly, quietly amazing to watch him do so. I think it’s easily one of the most naked moments for Hannibal in the course of the story. We get this rare opportunity to simply watch him study and react without the need to play the role of the guy in the human-suit that Bedelia calls him out on being.
As he enters Will’s home, Hannibal pats and feeds the dogs, then (in a poignant note for me as a classical musician) notes that Will owns a piano but that it is out of tune.
I found this moment lovely and subversively interesting for what it says about both men. Hannibal is a person who writes and plays music at a superb and virtuosic level, and who listens in the same way. Now he enters Will’s home and sees, unexpectedly, another fraction of his heart. Another realization, piercingly, that Will is like him. He is not alone. So yes, my favorite part of this scene is how Hannibal sees the piano and his glance lingers on it.
And right there, to me, I think is when Hannibal becomes a love story.
The Search for Connection
It’s not really about romance, to me, however, but about something more subtle and fragile—about recognition. Kinship. Fellowship. The pleasant, guilty surprise of bondage. Forget romantic love. Love’s less complex in this universe, and I’m not even sure it’s given anywhere equal weight. What the show is seeking and exploring, ultimately, is a dozen times more complex: the connection of equals, a speaking of souls. The mitigation of loneliness.
Hannibal as a character or person may not believe in love, but I’m certain that he (and the show) believes in soulmates. More casual viewers, I think, may miss that about this show. Hey, ship anything you want, any character combo that floats your boat. Seriously, I get you. I ship Hannibal and Will, at varying moments, with pretty much every adult who shares a scene, not least because Mikkelsen and Dancy both have chemistry with everyone around them.
But what Hannibal is ultimately about, to me, what sets it apart and makes it real genius… is loneliness. And connection. Hannibal seeks it, and is surprised and charmed to find it in Will, even in his home. We already know how much Will desires and fears the same thing.
And everyone else we glimpse, don’t they want that same sense that someone knows and understands them? Jack? Alana? Beverly? Every single cop, medical examiner, or killer we meet?
Of course. Cue drama.
Make Yourself at Home
So back to my point. I mean, Hannibal’s visit to Will’s home is fantastic. And pivotal. To me, it’s the core moment in their evolution as compatriots and friends and, perhaps, lovers. It’s so intimate.
Moving on. In his home visit for Will, Hannibal also notices a full outboard motor evidently in repair in Will’s living room (tellingly, later, in the “therapy” session with Hannibal, Will talks about his father’s work in boatyards from Biloxi to Erie).
Hannibal then checks out Will’s bureau and oh, Lord, gloriously, yes, there are the white tee shirts and socks, neatly stored, although I imagine the filmmakers simply cut out Hannibal’s full-body recoil at the sight. Hannibal then goes over to Will’s desk, looks through the magnifying glass there (nice subtext) then plays with one of Will’s fishing lures, carefully adding one of the feathers from the tray on the desk, before deliberately cutting himself with the hook he has just perfected. Then he licks the wound. And, yeah, it’s weirdly erotic.
This is also the episode when Will confesses to Hannibal, in one of the show’s most beautiful moments, that he only feels safe from a distance: “At night I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields,” he says quietly. “When I look back from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.” It’s yet another in a long line of beautiful boat references that help us to get to know Will that will also come back into play in later seasons.
Hannibal, potential anchor that he is, merely gives the tiniest hint of a smile. Because he is in control. He doesn’t need an anchor… or does he?
But although it’s fun to watch Hannibal become fascinated with Will, I forgot that Hannibal initially befriends Jack much faster than Will. Jack joins him for many more dinners at this point, actually. Jack and Hannibal become good friends, and Hannibal’s friendship visibly means something to both men.
Meanwhile, complicating those waters, is Will, of course. I mean, “Coquilles” is also the episode where Hannibal sniffs Will! And Will notices! It’s weirdly awesome. (Will: “Did you just… smell me?” Hannibal: “Difficult to avoid. I really must introduce you to a finer aftershave. That smells like something with a ship on the bottle.”)
I also love Will’s conversation with Jack here:
Will: This is bad for me.
Jack: I’m not your father, Will. I’m not going to tell you what you ought to do.
Will: Seems like that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.
Jack: You go back to your classroom, when there’s killing going on that you could have prevented, it will sour your classroom forever.
Will: Maybe. And then maybe I’ll find a job as a diesel mechanic in a boatyard.
Jack: You wanna quit? Quit.
Interesting that Jack smiles to himself as he says that. He knows Will can’t quit. When it comes to duplicity and hidden meanings, Jack is every bit as subtle as Hannibal himself. And he’s willing to do it because he’s willing to risk Will’s sanity in order to save lives—and because he’s also confident enough that he can see Will through it without harm.
Onward to therapy!
Episode 7 (“Sorbet”) is pure genius with its series of therapy sessions—Hannibal with Franklyn, Bedelia with Hannibal, Hannibal with Will. In each session there’s this tangible subtext of yearning and loneliness yet again: of Franklyn trying to impress Hannibal, of Hannibal trying to impress Bedelia, and then having a glass of wine with Will. There is something sort of poignant and lonely about Hannibal saying, “I have friends.” And we know who they are and how much he hides from them. (Note: I also think that it’s telling and important that Jack dreams of a mutilated Will in this same episode, as well.)
Episode 8, meanwhile, features one of my favorite exchanges between Hannibal and Will when Will says, “I feel like I dragged you into my world.” And Hannibal quite truthfully replies, “No. I got here on my own. But I appreciate the company.”
What’s interesting as I rounded out Season 1 here is the way Hannibal interweaves that loneliness I mentioned earlier as an almost palpable, touchable aspect of the show’s fabric. I was constantly struck by how solitary everyone seems to be in Hannibal’s world, how disconnected—a fact emphasized in many scenes by the show’s lighting, which is moody and dark, with characters illuminated in stark relief as if trapped onstage. Every major character also seems caught in a dreamworld now and then, as if mute on the most important level—speechless about the things they truly want—yet all are yearning, and all are quietly starved for connection.
Not just Will, but Hannibal himself, and even Jack, Bedelia, Bella, and Beverly. They all seem like characters seeking connection and safety. Alana is the only one who, to me, implies a rich external life elsewhere, and it’s interesting to watch her move in and out of all these other lives with so much ease, especially knowing what lies before her in later seasons.
One thing that really struck me upon my Season 1 rewatch was just how fantastic the actors are. I’ve talked about Will and Hannibal, but let’s just call out Caroline Dhavernas as Alana, for instance. She in particular is just wonderful, much stronger than I remember her being (and it really sucker-punched me when she goes to the car to scream and cry; at that point I realized then how much she did truly love Will). I also loved the chilly, gorgeous Gillian Anderson as Bedelia, and thought Kacey Rohl was amazing as Abigail Hobbs. It’s a performance where she has to walk so many lines in so many conversations, and Rohl was able to do that with a lot of delicacy and hidden nuance.
And then of course there’s Fishburne’s presence and gravitas, Dancy’s vulnerability and anguish, and wonderful Mads and just how much he’s able to communicate in every single graceful movement and microexpression.
While it’s hard to watch Will spiral downward in the final episodes of season 1, I do love the conversation in “Buffet Froid” (1×10) when Will is ill and floundering, and Jack is surprisingly warm and supportive:
Jack: Let me tell you what I think. I think that the work you do here has created a sense of stability for you. Stability is good for you, Will.
Will: Stability requires strong foundations, Jack. My moorings are built on sand.
Jack: I’m not sand. I am bedrock. When you doubt yourself, you don’t have to doubt me too.
Near the end, when Hannibal brings Bedelia the veal, what’s fascinating is that, in an entirely different awareness of context, I’d argue that she is absolutely aware of exactly who Hannibal is and of what (or who) they may actually be consuming. And before she does so, she unexpectedly and blatantly warns Hannibal:
Bedelia: You have to be careful, Hannibal. They’re starting to see your pattern.
Hannibal: What pattern would that be?
Bedelia: You develop relationships with patients who are prone to violence. That pattern. Under scrutiny, Jack Crawford’s beliefs about you might start to unravel.
Hannibal: Tell me, Dr. Du Maurier, have your beliefs about me begun to unravel?
The way she takes the bite, with her eyes on Hannibal, very slowly, implies to me that she is doing this deliberately, perhaps almost as an odd form of answer. Foreplay? Or communion?
The Last Bite
Every meal has a finish. And so we come to Will’s horrified, beautifully gradual realization of Hannibal as the real killer throughout episode 13 (“Savoureaux”), leading to the confrontation in Hobbs’s kitchen, the site of their first connection and mutual recognition:
Hannibal: At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique.
Will: I’m as alone as you are.
Hannibal: If you followed the urges you kept down for so long, cultivated them as the inspirations they are, you would have become someone other than yourself.
Will: I know who I am. I’m not so sure I know who you are anymore.
There’s such symmetry in that final, raw and terrifying confrontation in Hobbs’s kitchen between Will, Hannibal, and Jack. And it’s awful to watch, to see Jack as adversary, to see Will led off as a criminal, to see him processed by the team (and to see their personal, anguished and angry reactions), and to then see Will locked up and facing Hannibal, who is of course still free and confident and smiling. And still there! Just on some level, you know, he’s still so creepily happy to see Will. To be a part of his life and world.
A caged Will is just more accessible, after all… more fun for Hannibal to play with.
Anyway, wow. I really loved taking another look at this first season of Hannibal, and what’s interesting is it’s my least favorite of the three, so I’m looking forward to the chance to rewatch the next two even more. Most of all, I’m so pleased to have found the show even more rewarding upon rewatch, not less. There’s so much detail to Hannibal‘s world that there’s always some new little treasure to notice.
What did you think? And what did I miss? And what do you think Will really smells like? I’m guessing Old Spice, sea salt, engine grease, and warm dog. Want to live on the edge? What does Hannibal smell like? My own guess on this is that he smells absolutely fantastic, like Italian cologne, fresh sage, and the faintest breath of electric wickedness…