“Hannibal” Brings Classic Villain to Television with Twist

Hannibal Brings Classic Villain to Television with Twist

Emily Massarelli


Throughout the horror genre there have been many notorious and infamous villains. The more gruesome the villain, the more memorable. Hence, it is no surprise that the persona of cannibal Hannibal Lecter has become one of the most unforgettable villains —appearing in films such as Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.  Whether Hannibal wears a mask of his victim’s face or whether he is pontificating about art as he delicately cooks and eats the brains of his dinner guests, Hannibal has remained one of the most cherished serial killers for his ability to disgust his viewers while maintaining interest.

The new TV crime drama Hannibal on NBC puts a twist on this cannibalistic character by portraying him as a cannibal behind closed doors. In Silence of the Lambs as well as Hannibal, Anthony Hopkins stars as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a well sought after murderer and cannibal who helps the FBI solve cases. Ironically in the new drama, Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is not imprisoned and has not committed any murders (as far as the police know).  Rather, he is a psychiatrist who assists the police in their investigations of ghastly serial killers while his own criminal behaviors are unsuspected.

For fans of previous Hannibal-based movies, the new take on Dr. Lecter’s characterization will either entice them or turn them away with the alteration of the murderous villain they once knew.

Hannibal works alongside Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who actually is not a Special Agent at all. In the past, Will Graham attempted to gain entrance into the FBI, but did not pass the mental health exam because he was pronounced as too mentally unstable. Will has an unsettling gift though: he seems to know how each serial killer thinks, for he is somehow able to recreate the most gruesome and intricate murders in his mind to the very last detail. His disturbing genius causes the FBI to see Will as a strong asset and they continue to enlist his help on their most extreme cases.

Dr. Lecter is always there to keep an eye on the “Special Agent,” but with such a diabolical nature, it is unclear as to whether the he will be able to resist the temptations of the murder surrounding him. Often the viewer may catch a glimpse of the Doctor’s criminal nature as he often sides with those killers as demoinac as him.

Similar to Dexter (another show where a secret, serial killer helps detectives find other serial killers), the abundant use of dramatic irony is one aspect of Hannibal that sets it apart from other crime shows like CSI.  As the show progresses and suspense increases, the writers reveal Hannibal’s true maniacal character; however, those around him remain ignorant to his inner villain. The unpredictability of the keen Dr. Lecter as he is with tempted with the scandal and secrecy that comes along with such high-profile cases successfully furthers the dramatic irony and enthralls the audience.

Week after week, Hannibal continues to impress with increasingly gruesome yet unique, intriguing crimes—one killer mounts his victim’s on deer antlers and harvests their organs; another cuts his victims’ skin to resemble angel wings.  As each episode progresses we are introduced to newly intriguing serial killers, but for Will Graham the previous murders are stuck in his mind. Perhaps due to his mental instability, or perhaps just due to the appalling crimes, Will is tortured with nightmares and hallucinations. Slowly but surely, Will becomes too involved with the crimes and loses the one bit of sanity he had, adding an element to the show’s plot that other dramas only use in small doses. The insanity of both Lecter and Graham prevails in adding an odd twist that breaks the mold of the stereotypical crime drama.

 In an odd way, Hannibal creates a relationship between Dr. Lecter and viewers through a somewhat disturbing humanization of Hannibal, making the show even more unique and appealing. Hannibal holds the interest for both those who love crime shows and those who are fans of Dr. Lecter’s classic character. Eliciting both shock and intrigue Hannibal brings a gruesome twist to crime television that sounds disgusting but in the end is just plain entertaining.