In 2014, when Hannibal was in its second season, four different publications listed it as the best show of the year. It made many other Top 10 lists. The first season had made some Top 10 lists as well. In 2015, it was again declared the best show of the year by at least three publications. Two publications claim it is the best show of the decade and a few others put it on their Top 10 list of the decade. The accolades are extensive.
So my question is, what the fuck is wrong with all of these critics? Did they watch the same show I did?
I mostly enjoyed the first season of this show. I definitely had a few issues – such as how bad the FBI were at keeping out a certain reporter (and anybody else who wants to come) from getting into every crime scene, and how the pathologists also appear to be cops. But once Jenn convinced me to suspend my disbelief a little I mostly enjoyed it. This feeling continued into the second season before everything went off the rails.
Before I get to that, I will deal with the good stuff: This is an extraordinarily pretty show, certainly one of the most attractive TV shows I’ve ever seen. Much of the staging is extraordinarily creative. Some of that is necessitated by the fact that this is a network TV show but that might have helped it be more creative in terms of hiding the gore (at least initially). The soundtrack is mostly great (like, kind of stupendous) ranging from less well known baroque (Bach mostly) and classical music to some modernist stuff and horror movie soundtrack stuff, as well as more percussive music. The cast is mostly excellent and the deep problems with the show are not because of the actors.
So, up to episode 20, I enjoyed it enough. I definitely did not think it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, but I understand thinking it was “really good for a network show”. And I understand being kind of blown away by the production values, again especially for a network show. It was fine. It might have been better than that. I was leaning to a 7/10, I think.
And then shit went off the rails. Shit had already gone off the rails before, and people who value realism as much as I thought I did would have given up long ago. (That’s not the point of this show, of course. From nearly the first episode realism was out the window.) There are already hints that things were going to make less and less sense, but it’s with Chilton getting shot that I started to lose patience. (Remember, he was already disemboweled.) I have given up on shows for (a lot) less.
The list of things wrong with this show, particularly between episode 20 and episode 33, is so long that I don’t thing I can remember everything. I should have taken notes. The craziest part of all this for me is that it’s the second and third seasons that are the best reviewed. People liked the first season – the one that makes sense!!! – the least! What is going on?!?!
Here are just some of the things that I disliked:
- Every season we’re told Will Graham might actually be a killer but we know he’s not. This is the plot of the first season, it’s part of the plot of the second season, it’s part of the plot of the third season.
- At the beginning of the second season, they show the initial stages of the confrontation between Hannibal and Jack and then spend the entire season trying to convince us that Jack doesn’t believe Hannibal is the Ripper. That is just terrible from a narrative point of view.
- Character development – if you can call what happens to Will Graham “development” – is limited to Hannibal, Will and Jack. Basically everyone else is not given much to work with.
- Far more time is spent on the elaborate killings – the raison d’etre for the show, but which disappear by the end of the show, by the way – than on worrying about why people do things. Will is the worst example of this. If anyone can explain to me what he’s doing sailing – sailing!!! – to Italy and teasing Italian cops that he might be actually be a serial killer, please do tell me.
- The pseudo-philosophical discussions are not compelling and they get really tiresome the more they occur. Psychiatrists are not the smartest people in the world. (This is silly idea is on Harris, but it’s also on this show.) If you want to actually see what psychiatry is really like, watch In Treatment.
- Chilton is killed three times and never dies. Most other characters are killed once and only one actually dies. As Jenn says, this is “consequence-free” serial killer entertainment. One major character dies in the first two seasons. Only a few with speaking roles ever die. (That doesn’t mean they aren’t injured, though!) This persists until the finale. Remember, this is a show about a serial killer who is killing more people than anyone in US history.
- When the show was tackling generic serial killer investigations, it was reasonable entertainment. Every time it strayed from that, it became incoherent.
- Red Dragon is parachuted into the narrative halfway through the third season. It feels like they got instructions from on high to wrap up. (This is actually a blessing but it’s nearly as clunky as when this happened in Rome. It feels like season 3 is really season 3 and 4, stuck together. Season 4 is better than season 3.)
- Is Hannibal so charismatic you’d let him convince you to cut off your own leg and prepare it for him to eat? No, no he isn’t.
- There’s much more but, honestly, I didn’t take notes.
The complete disregard for coherence and character – in the case of Will and Bedelia, in particular, but also in Alana’s case – would be fine, perhaps even enjoyable, if the show had a sense of humour. But the humour is sprinkled throughout the show, mostly confined to Scott Thompson and the other Canadian’s little quips and their bickering – and those guys disappear for many episodes – and only occasionally popping up in the odd other place. This is a show that takes itself very seriously, as far as I can tell. And it’s utterly ridiculous.
There are many worse shows than Hannibal. And I must admit that I have given up on better shows than Hannibal because a) I knew Hannibal was only 3 seasons and b) Hannibal is on Netflix. But I’m not sure I’ve watched a recent TV show this critically celebrated that was this much of a mess. (Again, mostly for about 13 episodes in the middle.)
5 feels charitable but I’m going with it because I enjoyed the first season well enough and because I enjoyed parts of the second season (though not much) and some of the third season before the dumb climax.