I could have cheated here and called this ranking Hannibal Season 3.5. Like with Heroes it’s another case where a single season is clearly broken up into halves, but unlike some past and future picks there was no kind of production or airdate hiatus between them. But it doesn’t make much difference. The second arc by itself would have ranked probably in the teens or even the Top 10, but even with the Italy arc the season is overall good enough come in here at 39th place. That said, I’m here mainly to talk about Red Dragon.
It’s the third screen adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, and the best of them by far. That’s impressive but unsurprising, because this is a show unlike the book, unlike Manhunter, unlike Silence of the Lambs. Unlike anything at all. Bryan Fuller striped away the fairy tale visuals and tone of his previous shows and created a heavily stylized, deeply macabre world of gothic sets, discordant music, and sickly green colour palettes. You don’t watch Hannibal, you sink into it languorously like it’s a cream bath in a cavernous room full of gnarled marble columns stretching up into the darkness. And there’s a guy with a beehive for a head standing there watching you. It’s a tough show to describe, is what I’m getting at.
Fuller gained more and more control over his world as time went on and by the third season, Hannibal is more Hannibal than it’s ever been before. Characters talk in philosophical circles. The title character is depicted and spoken about like he’s a mythical, omniscient demon. Every shot is soaked in darkness. Entire episodes drift by you like decadent, stylish nightmares. The beginning of the season, which amounted to Hannibal going on an overseas murder spree, was a surreal mix of elegance, camp, and horror.
And I was on board to the bitter end, but still, there was that damn cancelation. It’s too bad, I had thought. I’d remembered hearing Fuller on an episode of the Nerdist Writer’s Panel, discussing his plan for the show. It was to be three seasons of prequel, culminating in a fourth season adaptation of Red Dragon. What a shame for a series to die just one season short of its goal.
To my great surprise, the European storyline of Hannibal’s third season came to a sudden, visceral end in the seventh episode. Then Episode 8 jumped ahead three years into Red Dragon and the story was wrapped up in Episode 13, “The Wrath of the Lamb.” It’s the best thing that could have happened. Six episodes, not thirteen, is the perfect length for an adaptation of this book. It’s well paced but never rushed.
There’s an A-List cast in place, the series already boasts Mads Mikkelsen (who’d long managed the impossible task of making Hannibal his own), Hugh Dancy, Lawrence Fishburne, and Gillian Anderson as series regulars. Richard Armitage, fresh off the Hobbit trilogy, is a legitimate get for the role of Francis Dolarhyde. And Rutina Wesley is perfect as the Red Dragon’s blind girlfriend Reba; vulnerable but quietly courageous in equal parts.
With the cast looked after, Bryan Fuller faced a number of challenges. For one, how do you reconcile the very literal, very down to earth novel with the hallucinogenic world he had created? Somehow Fuller successfully managed to tailor the book’s story to the show’s style, resulting in maybe the most mainstream possible version of NBC’s Hannibal we were going to get. In a sly line, one character notes that Hannibal only has niche appeal but the Red Dragon is a four quadrant killer. This more accessible spin on what the show had become was too little too late, but fun to see.
Most of all, the series at this point had somehow turned into the canonical story of the torrid love affair between Hannibal and Will Graham. So how do you deal with the fact that Hannibal only appears in two scenes of the book, both of which are set behind bars? As it turns out the story manages to keep Hannibal vital. Like Anthony Hopkins before him, Mad Mikkelsen is compelling without leaving his cage.
I’ve been known to hunker down and watch the six Red Dragon episodes in a row every now and then. It’s four hours of thrilling sequences, wonderful characters, beautiful imagery and black comedy.
If I Had to Nitpick…: Hmmm. I got nothing for Red Dragon. Talking about the whole season though, the first couple episodes drag like hell.
Notable Episodes: “Digestivo,” the climax to the opening arc. “The Great Red Dragon,” a moody piece told largely without dialogue. ”The Number of the Beast Is 666″ and “The Wrath of the Lamb,” which between them contain some of the show’s most memorable moments.