When I write, I try to make sure every word matters. Details of setting or the rhythm of a sentence have multiple meanings, every angle of a character’s smile matters, the color of a gown or polish of a parquet floor matter. I’m building a world with every image, word, smell, sound, and that world points to the purpose of the story I’m trying to tell.
Sometimes this works out better than others, of course.
When I watch an episode of Brian Fuller’s Hannibal I feel distinctly that every detail means something, and beyond that, like what it means is very intentional. The show presents itself as a cohesive whole, even when the narrative is fracturing along with the MC’s mental health. (That whole is lush and dangerous, sexy and filled with taboos, always pushing at my comfort zones where food and sex and murder overlap.
In case you aren’t aware, Hannibal is about the infamous cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lector, and ran three seasons. It begins before he’s been identified as a serial killer and follows his intimate, twisted relationship with the man who catches him (sort of), Will Graham, as well as his relationships with a web of strange, fascinating characters—both fellow monsters and FBI agents, and several steps in between.
Because this show is so fully realized and each episode flows into another, it’s difficult for me to pull a single One With out of the whole. Plus, I don’t care about plot, I care about relationships! So I’ll focus on my favorite relationship: the one between Hannibal and Abigail Hobbs. The third episode, “Potage,” is where they meet face to face for the first time, and where Hannibal begins to reveal his true self to her.
Abigail is the daughter of the very first serial killer Hannibal and Will catch together, and it’s unclear whether Abigail was complicit with her father’s murders or also a victim, or if she’s something more complicated, something in between. In “Potage,” Hannibal and Will bring Abigail home for the first time since her father was caught and killed, and Abigail is confronted with the reality of the hurt and chaos her father left behind. She also has to come to terms with her own culpability. At one point, the brother of a victim tries to talk to her and she kills him. It’s questionable whether it was self defense, but Hannibal offers to hide the body by saying, “I can help you if you ask me to. At great risk of my career and my life.” He puts himself in her hands, by offering to take her secret into his own. It’s a delicate, strange power dynamic, and one that I still find myself thinking about years later, and coming back to. Because it begins with permission. With consent, just like the best deals with the devil.
She accepts, and later tells him that she realizes he’s not just a psychiatrist working with the FBI, but more like her and her father than he lets on. But she says, “I’ll keep your secret.” Hannibal replies, “And I’ll keep yours.”
Hannibal says to her in the following episode, “I want to give you your power back.” That follow up moment solidified my love for the writing and acting in this show, and I can’t tell you how this dynamic plays out because of spoilers, but it did not disappoint! I highly recommend this entire series, if you can embrace the macabre, terrible, and beautiful style and themes.
Additionally, I want to add that early on in my access to Hannibal, I began reading TV/movie reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s meta analysis of the series on her tumblr (). She began with a basic proposition—based on Hannibal’s relationship to serving other people his (people) food—that Hannibal is the Fairy Queen. It adds an amazing layer of storytelling and theme to the show, and the analysis of the Hannibal/Abigail relationship makes it even more powerful, darker, and full of changing (and changeling) potential.
Here’s the list of meta posts if you want to give them a try: