When Academics Attack — A review of the Season 3 premiere of “Hannibal.”

If you catch up with “Hannibal” via DVR or NBC.com, I might actually suggest you begin with the amazing and beautiful second episode, and not the Season 3 premiere.  I enjoyed the season opener, but not quite as much as everyone else did.  (Seriously, guys, if you think I am alone in lauding this program, google a few reviews.)  The first episode falls firmly for me into the “good, but not great” category; I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

We’ve got an interesting basic story that pays very close attention to Thomas Harris’ source novels and Ridley Scott’s 2000 film treatment, and we’ve got great directing, cinematography and acting.  Gillian Anderson shines, outperforming even the terrific Mads Mikkelsen in the title role.

It was creative and different, with dramatic changes in point of view, tone and setting, as Hannibal absconds from Baltimore to Florence with the extorted Bedelia du Maurier.  It held some nice thematic surprises, as the script humanizes Hannibal unexpectedly — and this is helped by flashbacks in which we actually get to see Eddie Izzard’s bad guy from Season 2 get one up on him in some verbal sparring.  (I am entirely unfamiliar with Izzard’s comedy performances, but damn if he doesn’t make a sweet super-villain.  The guy’s got perfect diction and line delivery, and can be damned frightening when he wants to be.)

But, for me, this episode failed in terms of momentum and tension.  It does very little to move the overarching narrative forward — so little that I suggest it could be seen as ancillary material appropriate for a webisode or DVD extra.  (Yes, I do realize that Hannibal “missing” Will Graham is important in setting up themes and character relationships for the rest of the season, but … whatever.)  This is really a kind of … “milieu” episode that establishes his arrival in Europe and the means to arrive at his cover identity.  The fates of the victims of the Baltimore massacre?  They’re unknown to us.

We can’t feel too much tension — of Hannibal’s two murder victims, one is hardly known to us, and the other is flat out unlikable.  We can’t identify with them.  Nor can we take any pathological satisfaction in Hannibal’s modus operandi.  He kinda shows up and says “Bonsoir” a bit undramatically, and we cut to another scene.

I had the occasional nitpick as well.

1)  The viewer is asked to identify with Bedelia.  For some reason this character has never worked for me.  It certainly isn’t Anderson’s fault.  She’s fantastic.  Maybe the problem is me.

2)  I actually do really like Mikkelsen.  But his stoical approach to the character is nowhere near as satisfying as Anthony Hopkins’ iconic, nuanced, expressive, darkly charming take on the character.

3)  We live in an age of Google image search.  Does no one in Florence notice that “Dr. Fell” looks nothing like an online photograph?

4)  After the climax of Season 2, shouldn’t Hannibal be easily recognized as the world’s most infamous fugitive and alleged serial killer?  Is his image nowhere on CNN.com?

5)  What about facial recognition software?  If a photo of Faux Fell is ever uploaded, might Interpol or the FBI locate him at once?

6)  Seeing Dana Scully (sorry — BEDELIA) sexually harassed at the dinner table just makes me angry.  Fox Mulder needs to appear and kick some ass.  Actually … scratch that.  Send John Dogget.

7)  I don’t like seeing Hannibal appear with even a putative “spouse.”  He’s a lone wolf, to me, anyway.

8)  The dialogue, yet again, is occasionally too overly stylized for me.  Even ingenious people communicate prosaically in their everyday lives.  Do these people sound like Shakespeare when they say “Pass the salt,” or ask what time to set the alarm clock for the next day?

9)  Once or twice, the dialogue is just … bad.  Bedelia:  “Your peace is without morality.”  Hannibal:  “There is no morality — only morale.”  (You can’t call it Shakespeare if it’s trying too hard.)

10)  The symbolism and the references to the feature films are maybe a little too heavy-handed.  I’m talking the hand-on-the-shoulder during the lecture, and seeing one character bashed over the head with a bust of Aristotle.  (“When Academics Attack.”)

Don’t let my compulsive griping get to you if you are a fan of the show, however.  This wasn’t a bad episode, just not the best.  And the second episode of Season 3 is goddam PHENOMENAL.


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