Will Graham has the gift of ‘pure empathy’ – he is able to empathize and understand anyone, even the most twisted sociopaths that walk among us. He works for the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU) as a teacher. The head of the BAU, Jack Crawford, needs Will’s help with catching a serial killer.
The victim that Will was brought to was returned to the home she was abducted from. The killer had attempted to eat her liver after killing her but had realized the deceased had liver cancer and as an apology (or so Will believes) returned the body to the family. There is a short scene of a sophisticated seeming gentleman preparing liver.
Dr. Anna Bloom, is a psychologist who is studying Will and his pure empathy out of ‘professional curiosity’. She warns Crawford not to let Will get too close to the killer. Crawford says he’ll try his best. Will is shown repeatedly to not be very stable himself and upon Bloom’s recommendation, Crawford consults a Dr. Hannibal Lector to get a psychological profile of Will.
There is another murder; another young girl, very much resembling the previous victim, is found mounted on deer antlers in the middle of a field. Will believes that this is the work of a copycat killer, not the original. The newest victims lungs are missing – and the next shot shows Dr. Lector preparing lungs. Meanwhile, forensics has discovered a few new leads that help to narrow the field of suspects. One especially suspicious potential culprit is identified – Garret Jacob Hobbs.
Before Will can find the address from old files, Hannibal sneaks away to make a private call – to Hobbs. Hannibal tells Hobbs that ‘they know’. Will is about to enter the Hobb’s residence when Hobb’s throws a bleeding woman on to the porch – he has slit his wife’s throat and is about to do the same to his daughter. He begins the cut across her neck but is stopped when Will shoots him. Hannibal arrives moments later to stem the bleeding from the daughter’s wound.
I take it all back. Every doubt that I had regarding this show, I openly and in full presence of my mental faculties, recant. I was absolutely wrong. As far as pilot episodes go, this had everything necessary to ensure that I would come back for episode 2. Let’s take a quick look at everything that happened here – we’re set up with a Broken Bird Will Graham who’s ability to empathize with literally anyone is pretty damn cool, even though the side effects it has on his psyche are frightening to say the least. We’re also quickly introduced to the other major characters – Jack Crawford and specifically, the great Dr. Hannibal Lector.
Plot-wise I’m not sure if it was a good idea to reveal that Hannibal is a cannibal right off the bat. Yes, the popularity of the films means that almost everyone who watches Hannibal knows how this story ends, but there’s a part of me that wonders whether it would make more sense to leave that question open ended for a little longer. They don’t show Lector eating anyone per se this episode yet the insinuations are obvious – the FBI mentioning the missing lungs and the camera cutting right to Hannibal preparing lungs. I’m not a big meat person myself so I wasn’t sure whether animal lungs are eaten anywhere (I figured there was a decent chance that some culture somewhere would have them as a delicacy) so my first instinct, biased obviously by forehand knowledge of Dr. Lector, was to assume that the lungs he was preparing were in fact human lungs. Having mulled the issue around in my head, I think I do agree with Fuller’s decision to reveal Hannibal’s nature right from the get go. It’s not like it was a big secret to begin with and it means that there is that much additional tension everything Hannibal is alone in a room with another character.
I absolutely love how they’re showing the difference between Graham and Lector so early in the show. Both characters do not quite fit into the settings that this series seems to take place in – if you see any scene in which Hannibal, Will and Jack are together, it’s clear that Hannibal and Will share a certain connection and Jack is poor guy being left out. The effect is only exacerbated with you bring in other characters like Dr. Bloom and the forensics experts into the scene. These characters (Bloom, Crawford, et al) are much more colloquial and sometimes (mind you, this is just an impression from a first episode) they seem to be there just to drive the plot and keep us from listening to the psychological ramblings of Graham and Lector for forty minutes (not that I’d mind all that much, honestly). Coming back to my initial point though, both Hannibal and Will stand out but obviously in different ways – Will is a social recluse (perhaps understandably), shy, quiet and submissive whereas Hannibal has an enormous presence, not loud in any conceivable way, yet he successfully demands your attention as a viewer. I can’t tell if this is because of the mythology behind the character of Hannibal Lector or just Mikkelsen’s mighty acting chops but it is extremely effective in creating this sinister aura around the character. The differences don’t just end there of course. Will is nervous, twitchy and prone to sweating whereas Hannibal is always immaculate, there is no unnecessary gesture or word and he moves with an exact precision all the time. There is a predatory vibe around Lector that I can’t wait to see more of in future episodes.
My single favourite moment of the entire episode consists solely of the following:
Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbs? You don’t know me and I suspect we’ll never meet. This is a courtesy call. Listen very carefully. […] Are you listening?
It was pretty much at that moment that I realized exactly how good this show would be. For most of the episode I was trying my hardest (unwisely, really) to piece together how Hannibal would fit into this particular universe. Will he be the BAU’s consultant? No, Will occupies that role. Is he egging on the murderers or are they his past patients (like in the books)? No, he seems to never have met Mr. Hobbs. I still don’t have an answer to the question really, except to say that Hannibal’s presence in the show is to make life hell for everyone in it. And I love it – Dr. Lector in any medium he’s portrayed is a force of nature that is almost impossible to deal with head on and I love that they’re unleashing him so early in the show.
On a related note, I have to Mads Mikkelsen the highest of commendations for his turn as Dr. Lector. I won’t argue about whether he has outperformed Hopkins’ Lector but I will say this: throughout the episode, I did not think of Hopkins’ Lector even once. There was no moment where I stopped and thought “No way, Hannibal Lector would never do that”. That said, I did wonder whether it was in character for Dr. Lector to involve himself so directly in these events – the impression I had of Dr. Lector was that he would stay on the sidelines and pull the strings from there. For instance, it felt a little strange to me that the phone call that changed the course of this episode was made by Hannibal himself. I can’t think of a better way to have done it, and I will be the first to concede that his little speech should absolutely not have been delivered by anyone else, yet something about it felt off. Will Graham on the other hand, I have significantly less concrete memories off and so I can enjoy Dancy’s interpretation of the character without that hanging over my head. Dancy does a great job of portraying Will’s vulnerabilities, his sensitivity and his instability. The way the character is written, along with Dancy’s acting, makes the audience instinctively protective of Will, especially given his increasingly troubling proximity to Dr. Lector. I can’t help but wonder whether Dancy’s version of the character feels a little too fragile to survive in such a monstrous environment, though perhaps that was the point in the first place.
All in all, this was an excellent episode and I can’t wait to watch the next one next week (I would do it sooner, but I have finals L )