August 30, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Hannibal”


In real life, serial killers are not infrequently foiled by mistakes as mundane as unpaid traffic tickets, and while Hannibal Lecter may be eternal, the NBC television series version of Hannibal–despite an inexpensive license fee and critical adoration–was finally brought down by low ratings, the show’s online streaming deal, and series creator Bryan Fuller’s commitment to run a new show for Starz.  Although there’s been talk of some additional big or small-screen chapter to the story, Fuller himself, in an exhaustive interview with Alan Sepinwall, calls the odds of that less than 50/50.  So tonight’s series finale was probably the last we’ll see of Fuller’s fascinating, infuriating take on the pop culture icon, a series that can legitimately lay claim to being the most avant-garde programming ever aired (for 3 years!) on a broadcast television network.

In truth, you were either on board with Fuller’s approach or you weren’t, drunk as many critics were on his near-abstract imagery, the somnolent pacing and intensely blank performances, or painfully sober.  I was an admirer of the artistry of the effort, but never a fan.  The exercise of taking a thrilling piece of entertainment and turning it into a pretentious art thing didn’t particularly appeal to me–although I say that as a committed fan of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a film about which much the same has often been said, not least by Stephen King himself (and an explicit touchstone for Fuller’s work here).

Oddly enough, with the exception of tonight’s finale, this last run of episodes has been more faithful to Thomas Harris’ original work than anything that came before it, a relatively straightforward adaptation of the novel “Red Dragon,” which is where this all started.  (The TV series exists because Harris’ deal with Dino DeLaurentis for the “Red Dragon” film that became 1986’s Manhunter was broad enough to include the television rights.)  As a result, Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) spent much of this story in the background, as Hannibal Lecter was a supporting character in the original novel and film.  (The first half of the season was a fantasia inspired by sections of the novels “Hannibal” and “Hannibal Rising.”)  As “Red Dragon” adaptations go (this was the third in 29 years), it was only moderately effective, with Richard Armitage a less frightening Francis Dolarhyde than his predecessors, and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) so burdened by the series’ conception of the character that he barely functioned as an investigative hero.

The finale, written by Fuller, Executive Producer Steve Lightfoot and Co-Producer Nick Antosca, and directed by Michael Rymer, brought the Hannibal/Will relationship back to the forefront.  Hannibal has never worried much about logic, and Will, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) decided between them to free the deadliest man in the world so that he could be bait for the Red Dragon, the idea being that the three of them would kill first Dolarhyde and then Hannibal.  Things, of course, did not go as planned, as Dolarhyde suddenly turned into a desperado who killed the entirety of the detail guarding Hannibal, and Hannibal took Will to the house on a towering bluff where he had previously taken the show’s most notable pawn, Abigail Hobbs.

Fuller has been contractually prevented from using any material from “The Silence of the Lambs,” but it’s been clear from the start that one of the elements from the Harris canon that has captivated him most has been the controversial late section of the novel “Hannibal,” where Clarice Starling joins with Hannibal.  Hannibal has always focused on the idea that just about any character, exposed to Hannibal, could find their inner remorseless killer, and in particular it’s insisted on the overlap between Hannibal and Will–Hannibal’s psychiatrist, lover and victim (depending on how one interprets tonight’s post-credit sequence) Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) was very clear earlier in the season about it being a dark romance–and the climactic sequence took that notion to its logical conclusion.  Hannibal and Will hacked Dolarhyde apart together, glorying in their shared savagery, and embraced, and then Will, unwilling to accept that bloody life, pulled them both over the edge of the bluff, where one can decide if either or both of them lived.

As always, the last hour of Hannibal was photographed, scored, designed and edited with a degree of style and an aesthetic commitment that would be notable on the big screen, let alone the small one.  (Among other things, Hannibal is an example to the entire industry on how to make a show look sumptuous on a limited budget.)  It was visionary, whatever one may think about the vision.  Hannibal Lecter is such a powerful figure that he’ll almost certainly be back in some form, whether Fuller and his team are involved or not.  (Thomas Harris himself has published nothing since Hannibal Rising 9 years ago, and who knows if he’s planning anything.)  It’s unlikely, though, that Hannibal and his ensemble will ever be more elegant or more distinctive than they were for 3 years on NBC.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."