The Swinging Pendulum: Hannibal, Fannibals, and Bryan Fuller


Hannibal_2_13_13Hannibal Lecter is one of the most well-known fictional characters of all time. Thomas Harris will go down in history for changing crime novels, crime stories, and for creating the popular culture’s need for serial killers. Bryan Fuller will go down in history for creating some of the most beloved television series about death, the after life, and food. All of which were tragically cut short. Hannibal, however, has been renewed for a second season on NBC, something which Bryan Fuller was actually pretty sure about (x).

But what does season two mean for the story of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham? Well, personally, I think we’re going to see the reverse of what happened in the finale. Fuller said that Will Graham is going to be scrappier because now he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’re going to see Will’s dark side. According to Fuller’s timeline (x) season four of Hannibal is going to be the story of The Silence of the Lambs, but that doesn’t mean that Lecter’s going to jail right before that storyline begins. Dr. Lecter was in the institution for a few years before Will Graham goes to visit him about the Tooth Fairy.

Okay. Here’s a timeline of Hannibal Lecter in pop culture for a quick reference:

  • Red Dragon is written in 1981, marking Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s first appearance in popular culture.
  • Fast forward to the 64th Academy Awards (in 1992), where The Silence of the Lambs becomes the third film in movie history to win The Big Five Academy Awards (feature, director, actor, actress, and [adapted] screenplay).
  • And, finally, over thirty years after Dr. Lecter’s first appearance in Thomas Harris’s mind, Bryan Fuller creates Hannibal. A show whose protagonist’s masterful manipulation of characters, actions, and even the audience runs deeper than we could ever imagine.

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So…Red Dragon. The first novel in which Dr. Lecter appears is probably one of the most interesting, particularly in how Fuller chose to adapt it. A lot of things about Will Graham, as a character, were taken from “Forward to a Fatal Interview,” which was the forward that Thomas Harris wrote in 2000, for the reprinting of the novel. The dogs, the image of his home as the lighthouse in the dark, and Harris’s personal annoyance with Dr. Chilton, as a character, bled into who Fuller created in Will Graham. Fuller said that his fascination with Will and Hannibal’s relationship came from Dr. Lecter’s line to Will, when Graham comes to visit him for the first time. “‘The reason you caught me is that we’re just alike‘ was the last thing Graham heard as the steel door closed behind him” (Red Dragon, p. 86). Fuller saw the birth of an entire relationship in that single sentence, and we’re just along for the ride.

One of the most important things, though, is the idea that Dr. Hannibal Lecter is greater than any story of words or images. Harris wrote in the forward for the reprinting that, “I was enjoying my usual immunity while working, my invisibility to Chilton and Graham and the staff, but I was not comfortable in the presence of Dr. Lecter, not sure at all that the doctor could not see me” (Red Dragon; “Forward to a Fatal Interview,” p. xi). HannibalS01E09-2406Hannibal Lecter is a character beyond imagining. His influence is powerful. He is watching us, just as surely as we are watching him. And he wants us to know that – to make us feel that and to make us uncomfortable with that idea. It’s a hard thing to adapt to screen without seeming hokey, but Bryan Fuller does it beautiful. Like Jonathan Demme before him, Fuller understands the fourth wall and how utterly creepy and personal it is when Hannibal Lecter breaks that barrier that we’ve tried to put between him, and his story, and us. In The Silence of the Lambs a lot of characters break the fourth wall, but it isn’t until Clarice breaks the fourth wall to Dr. Lecter, and only to Dr. Lecter, that we know that when Hannibal breaks the wall he can see us – just as well as we can see him. (For more on this, please look to this short piece of meta.)

But it looks like Bryan Fuller has done exactly what television is often missing – he’s planned ahead. He has a plan. He knew where he was going from the moment he sat down to write the pilot. He knew he’d repeat the iconic walk down the hallway and the greeting. He knew which scenes he’d mirror, and that the stag would become a wendigo in the finale – a subconscious image that Will failed to see (and really that’s the whole point of the season – perception). He knew everything, I’d wager, when he was writing the pilot. When you learn about writing television shows, when you learn about creating pilots and pitching them…you pitch the first episode. Then you pitch a few other episodes, to give the show a feel. Then you pitch the arc for the first season, and then you pitch the arc for the first five seasons. That’s it. That’s the golden number. Five seasons. You have to have a show that can go on for, at least, five years. You have to have a five year plan. It’s easy to see that Bryan Fuller has a five year plan, even though the plan, itself, isn’t easy to see. But that’s the point, and it’s going to be painful and beautiful.

So, what about the fans? Oh, I’m sorry, I meant fannibals. Fannibals are people who are part of the Hannibal fandom. There are two, relatively big, sections of fans. You have the analytical fans – the ones who post intelligent meta about the narrative, the characters, and the show’s place in popular culture. And then you have BryanFullerflowercrownthe fans who make macros – screencaps of the characters with ridiculous things, spelled in ridiculous ways, oh…and
flower crowns. (Even Bryan Fuller donned a flower crown on his Twitter image for the finale.) Also there are some humorous comics (x; x) and beautiful fanart (x; x; x) happening in the Hannibal fandom. While those two groups seem to exist in totally different circles, most fannibals actually live in the middle of the venn diagram of intelligent meta and silly comic strips.

It’s a coping mechanism. The fans who provide insight about the show, like Hannibal Lecter subverting the male gaze (x), the monstering of Abigail Hobbs (x; x), and perception as the key theme in the first season of Hannibal (x), also create comics (x) and macros (x) to deal with the affects of understanding such a complex show. Fannibals are one step away from turning Hannibal into a single-camera sitcom – because it’s our coping mechanism for dealing with a show as beautifully complex and well thought out as the one Bryan Fuller and company have put together.

On that note, let’s talk a little bit more about Bryan Fuller. My personal opinion is that Bryan Fuller is a genius. I thought that before I started watching Hannibal, and it’s help cement that idea to everyone else in the world – and I couldn’t be happier. Fuller’s shows are fantastic – he’s a king among mortal men when it comes to showrunning. And, as someone who wants to grow up and be a showrunner when she graduates from film school in a year, Bryan Fuller has been on the top of my list of People to Aspire To and Be Inspired By. Complex is the name of Fuller’s game – and it’s stunning to watch him work. There are hits and misses in the way his shows deal with certain things, of course, but ultimately his shows are some of the best TV series to ever grace our televisions. Bryan Fuller created some of my very favorite characters – characters who embody the idea of creating good characters who aren’t defined by their sexuality, gender, or race. Those things are important, and Fuller damn well knows it, but they’re just facets of who characters are – not the defining traits.

Bryan Fuller isn’t a man who accepts television to be a whitewashed, heterosexual, male world. That’s clear through all of his shows and, with the exception of sexuality (at least thus far), Hannibal is the perfect example of just saying no to gender and racial norms in television. It’s the perfect example of not being tied down to specific details of the source material – while still staying true to the themes and the aesthetics of a story. Hannibal is a glorious adaptation.

HannibalS01E05-1170First, there are the Crawfords. Jack Crawford, play by Laurence Fishburne, and Bella Crawford, played by Fishburne’s real-life wife Gina Torres are both utterly fantastic. This is the first time, in four page-to-screen adaptations that the Crawfords have been played by people of color. The brilliance of the Crawfords, though, is magnanimous and cannot be denied. Jack Crawford is the physical representation of Bryan Fuller and company – the writers’ room in action on the screen. But he’s also an amazingly strong and pragmatic character. He’s doing his job, while also trying to be a friend to Will, Hannibal, and Alana. That’s the Catch-22 of his character. He wants to trust Will, but he also needs to do his job. So, when Will is saying everything that we, as an audience, know is true…we also understand that it sounds totally crazy and paranoid – which is how Jack hears it. He doesn’t know what to do, or who to believe. Jack Crawford is a good man, and a great FBI agent – he just needs to decide where his balance is. Bella Crawford is also a fantastic example of how to treat your female characters (like all of Hannibal‘s female characters, actually). She’s allowed to be selfish about her illness. Jack doesn’t deserve to know about her cancer just because they’re married. And do you know what? Bella isn’t punished because she puts herself first, like most female characters would be.

Beverly Katz has only appeared in three page-to-screen adaptations of Dr. Lecter’s stories, all of them adaptations of Red Dragon – and yet only in Red Dragon (2002) was she played by a white woman. Michele Shay played her in Manhunter and Hettieene Park is currently playing her in Hannibal. So, it’s interesting that in the first truly mainstream version of Red Dragon, the film of the same name, she was intermitted as being a white woman. Either way, in Fuller’s adaptation Beverly is Korean-American and absolutely fantastic. Beverly is the glue, she’s the one who knows

HannibalS01E10-0655 what sane means. When she’s not there, Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller become the physical representation
of Hannibal‘s sense of humor. (x) Hettieene Park is amazing in the role and plays Beverly like the true best friend to Will that she is. There’s nothing romantic about Beverly and Will’s relationship. Beverly cares about Will on a fundamental level – because she sees him for the human being he is and wants to reach out to help him. And it’s amazing to see. Platonic heterosexual male-female relationships generally don’t exist on television, or in films, but here Fuller is, doing what he does best: subverting popular culture.

Alana Bloom, played by the lovely and amazing Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas, who stared in Fuller’s brilliant Wonderfalls, is a gender!bent version of Dr. Alan Bloom. This change in Dr. Bloom’s gender is not one that
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serves to carry a heterosexual romantic through-line between Alana and Will. In fact, it subverts that notion. Yes,
Alana and Will have feelings for each other. Yes, they act upon those feelings. And yes, Alana subverts the romantic genre normalities by putting an end to their relationship before it even begins. Alana Bloom knows that romance isn’t what’s going to help Will Graham. She’s able to see that, to recognize her professional fascination with his brain, and to know that both of those things mean that they would never work together. And they’re still able to be around each other. The world doesn’t crumble because Alana said, “No, never mind, this isn’t a good idea.” She isn’t punished by being taken from the show, either. Which is totally outstanding.

Freddie Lounds is the equally amazing and powerful gender!bent version of Freddy Lounds, and is played by the lovely and talented Lara Jean Chorostecki (also Canadian). Freddie should get more credit than she’s given.

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Her character development was utterly outstanding and I can’t wait to see where Fuller and company take her next. When we first see Freddie she’s just a trashy crime chaser in hideously tacky clothing (a really strong costuming choice, that works, I think) who wants to expose Will Graham as the crazy man she thinks he might be. But then she starts to play into Abigail Hobbs’s story and her character so beautifully. There is something dark inside Freddie Lounds, but she just learned a long time ago to accept the monster inside her, and that’s what she’s trying to teach Abigail: to accept the monster inside herself. Nothing, though, will be as absolutely stunning as her keeping Dr. Chilton alive. Face-to-face and held hostage by a murder, Freddie Lounds was braver than most people could ever hope to be, and don’t you ever forget that.

HannibalS01E03-0508Abigail Hobbs, played by Supernatural alumni Kacey Rohl is complex and masterful. She’s not a POC or a gender!bent character, but I really wanted to talk a little bit about her. There is so very much I could say about Abigail Hobbs, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the time. I took three really huge things away from her character this season. First, Abigail is the second most manipulative character on the show, with Hannibal being the most. She’s a lure, and she knows how to play the hunter and the fisherman on top of that. Second, Hannibal’s connection with Abigail is based in his affection with his younger sister, Mischa, which I think leaves a lot to be explored in their interpersonal relationship. And, finally, Abigail Hobbs is a girl whose entire story arc is about getting back her agency. Her father took her agency away from her, and her struggle for the entire season was finding a way to get that agency back – and I think she did. I think Abigail Hobbs got her agency, she just bet on the wrong horses.

So, where does all that leave us? No closer to understanding the amazing complexity of Hannibal, probably. Bryan Fuller created a show that subverts everything we expect it to do. We expected a typical crime procedural, but if you think that’s what this show is at all, then perhaps you should look at it again. We expected horror on a Dexter sort of level – lots and lots of blood and gore. While Hannibal has it’s fair share of blood, guts, and fucked-up imagery…it’s also a show that subverts the murder porn that we’re expecting. The horror is beautiful, you can’t deny that, but it’s also disturbing. Hannibal doesn’t glorify it’s horror. Yes, it makes it beautiful, but in a way that should make you want to look and not look at it all at the same time. (x)

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Hannibal is complex. Bryan Fuller and company are kings on the mountain top. They’re the collective King Arthur figure while the fannibals are the kid at the end of Camelot. We’re on a journey to explain the magic of the show – the absolute brilliance of it. So, I hope this helped a little bit.

Here are a few people whose Hannibal meta I live and breathe by: elucipher, okayophelia, charlieyouareagenius, albertcalavicci, givingvoicetotheunmentionable, radiokunlun, and if you want more there’s always hannibalmeta on Tumblr.

Emily Frances Maesar

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One response to “The Swinging Pendulum: Hannibal, Fannibals, and Bryan Fuller

  1. Pingback: Yo, Yo, Yo. | screengasm

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