Dear Mr. Moffat,
I’m not a current viewer of Doctor Who, but I know people who are. People who were excited and happy to see not only an openly queer woman as a companion, but a queer woman of color. People who are now hurt and angry because of your choices.
I admit, I’m not the biggest fan of your work, not since series 6 of Doctor Who and the mess that Sherlock became after the second series. The more I watched your shows, the more I realized that you only knew how to write one kind of female character over and over again, just in different forms. I call her the Sexy Mystery™, the female character who exists to puzzle and delight the endlessly intelligent white male protagonist. She snarks and Kicks Ass™, but at the end of the day, her character revolves around said white male protagonists and exists only for him. As soon as her role in keeping him entertained and/or mystified is over, she gets the boot.
This kind of Faux Feminism™ turned me off even before I knew what to call it. Then you decided that ‘feminism’ meant a man talking over women and explaining their anger to them. I knew I was done then.
But then, you introduced Bill Potts. A proud, out lesbian and a black woman. I was intrigued, because she seemed so different from the string of interchangeable thin, white women you’d been using as companions (and characters on other shows). I watched trailers. She was funny, honest, optimistic, and not afraid to challenge the Doctor. She was a huge ball of sunshine and a delight. The age gap and her lack of romantic interest meant that a new dynamic had to be wrought between the Doctor and Bill. Still wary, I promised myself I’d keep an eye on the season and maybe watch once I’d seen how it ended.
The news I heard was encouraging. Bill seemed well on her way to being a new kind of companion. I let myself hope that you might be learning from your mistakes.
Yet, there were signs not everything was as I hoped. Bill Potts, a queer woman of color, was the first female companion without a romantic interest since the revival. White Feminism would say, “Excellent! This means her character doesn’t revolve around a man or romance. Win!”. Intersectional Feminism reminds us that women of color are frequently sidelined from being a romantic interest if they are the main character on a show. Often with the excuse of “she don’t need no man”. Even if the intentions here were innocent, someone ought to have been consulted to avoid falling prey to this common trap for lead women of color.
Add in that she’s a queer woman of color, and the implications double. Because the other female companion of color, Martha Jones, was given a romantic interest in her tenure on Doctor Who. The implication seems to be not so much her skin color, but her orientation led to her not being given a long-term canonical love interest. Yes, she got to talk about being into women, which is great. She even got two girls to express interest in (one of whom, Heather, died), which was more than I thought to see. I was half expecting her orientation would be brought up in the first episode then never mentioned again.
But, companions on Doctor Who have always had a love interest. Whether the Doctor himself or someone else, and not just a one off guest star in an episode. Rose, Martha, Donna, River, Amy, Clara, they all had one. Not giving your queer woman of color a love interest when it has literally always been a feature of the show? Now that just looks BAD.
It almost ends up looking like you wanted credit for creating a diverse, intersectional character without having to commit to following through on a sensitive portrayal of that character. You want the kudos for creating a black lesbian, but not have to actually write a wlw romance. Now, I can’t say that’s your motive, I’m not in your head. But for those of us on the outside, it sure as hell feels that way.
We feel robbed of the story every other female companion got. Since this is the first canon lesbian female companion on the show, not giving her a romance like every other female companion is a ripoff. It communicates that we matter less to you. Our love stories do not interest you since you can’t make the Doctor the center of it the way you could with the straight romances. Since you can’t make a man the center of a romantic relationship with a lesbian, you don’t care to give her a romance. Again, this is how it feels, not necessarily your intent. But its only fair that you understand the way your story affects us since we’re supposedly your intended audience.
The lack of love interest would have been frustrating enough if you hadn’t have killed her. Well, mostly killed her then turned her into a Cyberman. Yes, you had the ‘decency’ to forewarn us that the Doctor would witness the death of someone he cares about (the best candidates being Bill and Nardole). That’s at least more than many of us got last year when dozens of wlw characters were killed off of our screen. But it won’t win you brownie points.
Not after what we’ve been through. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the Spring Slaughter. That’s the phrase we use to describe the high number of deaths of queer female characters in the 2015-2016 season. That year, queer women made up roughly 1% of all characters on TV, but 10% of all deaths. We were dying at ten times the rate of our representation, so excuse us if we’re angry when another queer female character gets treated this way, especially a queer woman of color. There are precious few of them on our screens.
You know what? No. I take that back. We have every right to be angry. I have trouble believing you didn’t know this was an issue. Even across the pond there’s no excuse not to know given the prominence of this discussion in American media over the past 18 months. When your TV show has a large American following, you can’t not know the problematic trends in American television.
So I can only conclude that despite knowing, you thought this ‘didn’t fit’ the Bury Your Gays trope, as so many other showrunners have claimed in the past year. Maybe because you didn’t technically kill her…yet. So yeah, not buried, but half in the grave doesn’t count for much these days.
Yet, I’m sure you believe it’s fine. You probably had narrative reasons for making this choice. You probably had character reasons, too. The thematic point made about a queer woman of color as a victim of the classism in this society wasn’t lost on me. It’s valid, even interesting. But you know what? I don’t care. We’ve suffered enough.
Having to watch 33 queer female characters die in the 2015-2016 season followed by 20 more in the 2016-2017 season sucks ass. Do you know how much trauma this community has suffered seeing ourselves maimed, murdered, killed, and/or denied happy endings? Add to it the very real violence that the LGBT+ community has witnessed this past year and you can see why we’re Done with being killed off of media. We’re literally being destroyed on screen and killed in real life. We just want to exist and see ourselves represented as people without having to suffer violence and trauma on screen and off of it. The last thing we need is the only queer female companion on this show, the only queer female of color on this show, to suffer a gruesome almost-death and turn into a soulless murder machine.
Because full offense, not even thematic reasons can justify the protracted and macabre manner of Bill Pott’s death and transformation into a Cyberman. She’s shot in cold blood less than 10 minutes into the episode, a melon-sized hole blasted through her chest. Now, you may not realize this, but the death that brought attention to the issue of dead wlw characters last season was Lexa kom Trikru from the TV show, The 100. She was shot in the abdomen and bled out. It was gruesome, senseless, entirely unnecessary, and caused more collective pain than you can imagine. So you can see why a lesbian with a giant hole in her fucking torso would be traumatic for us.
Then you make it worse by giving us flashbacks with Bill hoping against just this eventuality, more lingering shots of the gaping hole in her body, and even make jokes about how mortal and fragile human beings are. I’m glad the death of a queer woc is a joke to you. Because it sure as hell isn’t to us. It’s our lives, not a wisecrack.
We then have to live the rest of the episode in a macabre, twisted parody of a hospital. We’re literally living our worst nightmare. A cross between institutionalization and experimentation, a throwback to the dark days of US history when LGBT+ people were treated as psychologically or physically damaged an in need of ‘repair’ or ‘fixing’.
Once again, other characters make jokes at her expense. And again, the humorous attempt to lampshade the horror happening to Bill fails to ameliorate or undermine what’s happening to her in light of what the queer community has faced the past few years. It doesn’t even matter if you’re going for levity or to lighten the mood. Given the context, it feels like mockery. Especially in hindsight knowing what happens to her at the end and how long she waited for the Doctor to return.
You turned her into a Cyberman. The heartless, emotionless, machines intent on killing all humans. This isn’t even the first time a black woman has been partially or fully upgraded to a Cyberman in the recent Who Universe. Lisa Hallet may not have been your creation, but having two black female characters turn into inhuman murder robots and turn on their friends and loved ones really doesn’t look good. And from what we’ve seen (and you’ve said yourself) in the trailer for next episode, Bill is going to go the way of Lisa, at least for a while.
“Well she’s a Cyberman from now on…she’s one of those ones in the trailer, just killing people. That’s the way it is sometimes.”—Steven Moffat
Yeah, fuck that.
In a perfect world, there would be no problematic implications for blasting a hole through a black lesbian character’s chest and turning her into an unfeeling killing machine. But guess what? We don’t live in that world. We live in a world where wlw characters are killed off at a disproportionately high rate. A world where our community has faced betrayal, hurt, and pain at that hands of showrunners. Some were ignorant of our hurt, some well-intentioned. But guess what? That didn’t change how much it hurt.
“That’s just the way it is sometimes” isn’t going to cut it. Not when we’ve had to watch ourselves die and showrunners excuse or justify the deaths of their queer female characters over and over and over again. Showrunners with great track records with the queer community have not escaped criticism for the deaths of their LGBT+ female characters in the past few years. And lets face it, your record on Doctor Who is pretty thin.
Madame Vastra and Jenny did have a warm, genuine, and lovely relationship from all I’ve heard. They weren’t main characters, but they were a welcome addition and well written. But they aren’t the only LGBT+ female characters. Sticking to the best representation is an unclear picture of your track record. River Song might as well be straight for all that her bisexuality is mentioned, much less given space to inform her character in any meaningful way. Just compare her with Jack Harkness. And speaking of bisexual erasure, Clara Oswald. The character who talks about “going through a phase” in college with a girl. Oh, and of the two women Bill expressed interest in, one of them is dead.
So yeah, you have made an effort to include queer female characters. It is more than other showrunners have done. But, it’s a low fucking bar. Five wlw characters in six years as the showrunner and only two of them get both a happy ending and the space to discuss their sexuality and relationship openly. The two bi characters have their sexuality regularly erased. And the fith, Bill Potts, the show’s first openly lesbian companion and a woc, you just shot through the chest and turned into a Cyberman.
She’s also the companion who has been given the least amount of screentime so far, which just adds insult to injury. Clara was a Dalek before she was a companion, so a comparison between the two doesn’t really count. River, like Clara, got her run as a companion after her ‘death’, so again, not a good comparison.
Clara isn’t even truly dead, just frozen in time, and River may have lost her body, but her consciousness is preserved in the Library, so again, not the same as turned into a murderous robot. The other four companions—Rose, Martha, Donna, and Amy—all got happy endings. If this is how Bill Potts exits the show, it would be unprecedented in terms of both an unhappy ending and a permanent transformation into a villain. That might be meaningful in terms of your ability to write consequences, but given who Bill is and the communities she represents, this wasn’t the right choice of character to prove you’re capable of killing off companions.
Even if she finds a way to become human again, she’s still the only companion to have been both killed(-ish) and turned into a villain during their run as a companion. Her being a queer woc may be a writing coincidence (i.e., you may have written any companion this way at this point in the story), but the queer women and women of color in your audience probably don’t experience it that way.
More to the point, even if you did write a way for her to ‘come back’, the damage has been done to queer communities and communities of color. You reopened old wounds and made some new ones along the way. Because you know what other pattern Bill’s death falls into? The killing off of lead female characters of color. Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow, Poussey Washington from Orange is the New Black, among others, and most recently, Veil from Into the Badlands. There are multiple communities hurting right now from this decision and that can’t be undone.
You already chose to make a traumatic, dramatic experience out of the near-death and de-humanization of a queer woman of color. You prioritized a Shocking™ cliffhanger over sensitivity to marginalized communities. Communities you may not have meant to hurt, but you did regardless. It may not be malicious, but it was insensitive and thoughtless.
Being flippant about it in an interview really isn’t doing you any favors or helping your image, either. You might be able to brush it off as ‘just what happens sometimes’, but you are neither a queer woman nor a woman of color. You don’t get to just be flippant about the way you treat an intersectional character. Maybe it’s your way of communicating it’s no big deal because she’s coming back. Doesn’t make the behavior any less insulting.
This whole thing is just…really, really unfortunate, and that’s being as positive as I can be. Mostly, I’m gobsmacked you and your team decided this was a good direction, that no one said ‘how about not.’
You just touched some very raw, very painful wounds. Bill Potts gave a lot of people hope and joy given the shit year queer women and women of color have had in terms of representation. Finding a way to ‘bring her back’ doesn’t negate the damage. The initial traumatic reaction can’t be erased or undone; it can’t be un-experienced even if the character somehow survives or becomes human again. You sentenced Bill, even if just for a time, to gruesome near death followed by a fate worse than death. That’s horrific and painful for us to see happen to a beloved (and much needed) character.
I can only hope that in the coming days you think long and hard about how to interact with these communities online. Many other showrunners have stumbled in reacting to the pain by justifying or excusing their choices instead of listening. Please listen, please understand. We’re wounded people, hurting people. People who have been scarred, betrayed, and dismissed. Don’t be yet one more name on the list of showrunners who proved their disregard for us and our experience in the aftermath of a problematic choice to kill off (or nearly kill off) a prominent queer female character .
I know that there’s still one episode left and as of Sunday, you hadn’t even finished it yet. Perhaps that means there’s hope you’ll hear how upset people are and make changes. If you had planned to kill off Bill, perhaps this means there’s time to have a different ending.
Whatever happens, though, bear in mind that no matter where the show goes from here, you’ve already hurt people. And that didn’t need to happen.
Images Courtesy of the BBC
Fall 2017’s TV Successes and Disappointments
November is a fun time in television. While shows are winding down for their winter hiatuses and networks are picking up scripts or pilots for next year’s shows, they’re also ordering “back 9s” for new shows premiering each fall. That is, the 9 episodes to bring a 13 episode series order to a full season. (Though the first full season of a show can run as short as 16 episodes these days.) Getting a back 9 generally indicates high renewal chances if the ratings stay good enough for the network. Renewals and new show pickups are announced in May during Upfronts.
Upfronts this year was a weird time. The major broadcast networks picked up the least number of new shows in five years. 19 of the shows cancelled were one season and done. Though we’re only three months into the 2017-2018 TV year, I have a feeling next May will have similar results.
After all, of 19 new shows, only 8 received back 9s/full season orders. Only two of those have received second season pick ups thus far.
ABC’s The Good Doctor received a full season (18 eps) pick up after only two episodes. Its success is unsurprising because last year’s hit was a family feel-good (though very dramatic) show. I can’t speak to the actual content but it’s clear that somewhere, a lot of Nielsen families are loving it; its yet to move below a 1.8 in the 18-49 demo, which is the most important piece of measuring a show’s success.
There’s only been one other success not related to an already existing franchise, and that’s Fox’ The Orville which received a second season renewal halfway through its first season. CBS’ Young Sheldon, a prequel to BBT received a full season pickup after one special premiere airing, and NBC’s Will and Grace revival received a renewal before even airing its first new episode.
Everything else. No, really.
ABC had two “limited season” shows that if successful would have likely seen a second year. Unfortunately, the network pulled Ten Days in the Valley from the schedule, and will air its remaining episodes in December. The much maligned Inhumans just finished its season but with terrible ratings, barely making a 0.5, and on ABC nonetheless.
The network did give a few more episodes to Kevin (Probably) and The Mayor. This likely only indicates the need to fill airtime. Kevin‘s additional episodes give it a full season (16 eps) but The Mayor is finished.
Me Myself and I holds the honor of first cancellation this year, and 9JKL received three more episodes. That really only means the network doesn’t want to open the timeslot up yet. Consider it done, too.
Among the three dramas, two are very slight renewals. Both Seal Team (22 eps) and S.W.A.T (20 eps) received back 9s, but neither have ratings to call home about. CBS expects a 0.9 demo later in a show’s life, but not within six and three episodes respectively.
Wisdom of the Crowd’s ratings were subpar and with the allegations against lead Jeremy Piven, there’s no way the show was going to get a back 9. It didn’t even garner a mention in the first press article from CBS.
Sigh. Valor, one of four military/special ops themed shows premiered to a 0.3 (!) rating. Dynasty (also 0.3) on the other hand did receive a back 9, but the show is part of a deal with Netflix. Its renewal chances are dependent on the rest of the shows.
Ghosted and The Gifted were this network’s only other fall premieres. Though their ratings aren’t as exciting as other shows, both are firmly in the middle of currently airing Fox shows, and The Gifted will finish airing its 13 episode first season in January. Fox has yet to make an announcement on Ghosted so anything could happen. (Likely it’s done.)
Law and Order: True Crime, the lowest rated of NBC’s new shows, and The Brave just above it failed to receive back 9s. The former is a limited season show so a final decision won’t be public until May. A press release for NBC’s mid-season premieres states the same for the latter. However, Brave was always meant to be a back 9 contender.
With only 1 show per Big 4 “winning” the fall, and only 8 receiving back 9s, the network’s mid-season shows must succeed. NBC’s Rise, a mix between Glee and Friday Night Lights, should be an easy ratings win for the network especially airing after This is Us finishes its season. From one feel good story to the next. The CW has Black Lightning starting in January, which should also do well considering the amazing cast and The Flash lead in.
Otherwise we’re still waiting for announcements on the rest of the new shows’ premieres.
It’s also clear that the networks’ attempt at reaching certain audiences via its military/special ops shows fell short. Valor, The Brave, Seal Team, and S.W.A.T. all failed to bring in high ratings. No surprise if only one of the latter two receives a renewal, similar to when last year’s time travel shows all died except a last minute un-cancellation for Timeless.
Of course any one of the shows I marked as done could still conceivably receive a second season. That’s in the case of an across the board failure for spring premieres/shows past their first season. It’s clear live TV watching (what advertisers care about and thus what I care about) has decreased every year since Nielsen has calculated ratings. The 13% overall decrease in the 18-49 demo this year, however, is slightly more than the usual 5-10% decrease per year. So either shows need to be more interesting, Nielsen needs to expand its ratings measurement, or both.
Either way, mid-season shows must succeed or networks will be operating at major losses financially. Without inventive and entertaining pilots, 2018-2019 is just as likely to fail.
Image Courtesy of ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC
The Flash Shows How The Thinker Came To Be
After last week’s horribly boring episode, “Therefore I Am” comes to formally introduces everyone to the mystery that The Thinker is. We learn much more about the villain and his helpful partner, the Mechanic, but we don’t figure out his main goal. Still, a better The Flash episode as the show closes in on its fall finale.
This flashback ridden episode starts with a less than inspired Professor Clifford DeVoe, barely catching anyone’s attention during class. He is joined for lunch by his wife, Marlise, and Clifford whips out a design: a cap that could enhance his own intellect given Mrs. DeVoe can manufacture the device. In the present, we pick up from last week, with Barry and Joe interviewing the DeVoes.
Their first meeting seems to go well, as in nothing quite looked off from the DeVoes, but Barry is suspicious. Iris assigns all of Team Flash their own missions to dig deeper into Clifford just to be thorough. A new peek at four years previously shows Mrs. DeVoe had built Clifford’s thinking cap, but they would need a huge energy source for it. Thankfully — or should I say thinkfully —Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne is right on the verge of launching the particle accelerator.
Barry decides to pay DeVoe’s class a visit to ask him a few other questions and seize the opportunity to grab his mug for a DNA’s test. However, the test comes up empty as his genetic material doesn’t fit what one would expect from meta-DNA.
A new flashback goes straight to a scene from the pilot: the press conference Wells held before the launch. After Barry ran off to retrieve Iris’s bag, Mrs. DeVoe asked Wells questions as she is concerned about the safety of the accelerator. This scene is particularly interesting because Wells’s attitude is a nice throwback to him being a villain from the future. His compliments for DeVoe’s work come across far more as “big fan of yours, hope you wreck the shit out of Barry” than anything else. Nonetheless, despite Marlise’s warning that there will be an explosion, Clifford decides to proceed as planned with the charging of the cap.
As the accelerator goes off, the thinking cap definitely does things to Clifford, but he also happens to be struck by lightning. Marlise arrives and resuscitates him just in time to witness Clifford feeling “enlightened.”
The cringy part of the episode starts as the DeVoes go to Captain Singh to report Barry’s inadequacies as harassment. As this particular form of lowkey gaslighting usually goes, the people around Barry don’t believe his instincts and ask him to stop looking into DeVoe which, spoiler alert, we also know he won’t and it will backfire eventually. Very cringey, very cliché, and not particularly well scripted drama.
So, after Clifford got hit by lightning, he becomes a really fucking smart person. To prove that, the writers ask him to reveal who Jack The Ripper is — call me foolish, but I would have rather they tried to explain who the Zodiac Killer is to see if it is more believable than American Horror Story: Cult’s ill attempt at doing so. Nonetheless, he starts having a seizure on the spot.
At STAR Labs, Barry hears a buzzing from the Samuroid head and finds a camera inside. He goes to perform some late night stalking at the DeVoes and find Marlise leaving the house, which is super convenient. However, she returns literally 45 seconds after with a full load of groceries so Barry has to quit his sleuthing. Flashbacking again, a doctor gives Clifford a grim prognosis, as his mind is feeding off his body.
After Barry reveals he broke into their house, Team Flash fully flips on Barry’s idea that Clifford DeVoe is the actual bad DeVoe. To make matters worse for my enjoyment of television, the part where Barry gets scolded a second time by the police happens as Marlise brings pictures from the invasion to the Captain. Barry gets suspended for two weeks — and somehow is 100% surprised by the Captain’s decision to suspend him after he broke into someone’s house… — and also a restraining order.
Back at it, it’s time for another cliché: Clifford goes all infomercial as he falls from his wheelchair trying to grab a book from the fireplace. Mad at the world, he begs to die, but Marlise won’t let him. In fact, she even developed the machine that DeVoe currently to help him with his fatal disease.
Even with a restraining order, Barry goes to Clifford at his lecture hall and finally something interesting happens: cards on the table, the professor acknowledges everything. He knows Barry is the Flash. He exposes his backstory, how he became a metahuman, and how superior he is in terms of intellect in comparison to Team Flash. In fact, he is only telling him who he is because “he has nothing to fear.”
Now, maybe this is just me, but I feel like this would be the time for Barry to engage and tell DeVoe that he lowkey already knows how to defeat him? I mean, Savitar did tell him the name of the device. But he doesn’t. He mostly brags about defeating speedsters, which are nothing compared to DeVoe’s powers.
Back at STAR Labs, Barry tells everyone that Clifford confessed and NOW everyone believes him even without any additional evidence — silver linings? At least they believe him now. This ‘No One Believes Barry’ nonsense could have carried on for more episodes. Cisco comes up with the Thinker name as Wally arrives to help out with supervillain but, if we’re being honest, he probably won’t because Kid Flash has been utterly useless. I blame it on the writers.
Finally, the DeVoes go back to their secret base and Marlise has her villain attire (slicked back hair and a lab coat instead of natural waves and sundresses) back on. It sort of makes you wonder about the practicality of having a whole villainous wardrobe just for the thrill of it.
As Clifford starts shaking again, it is time for him to return to the device we’ve seen him in before. The coolest part is that I was right about his hair: the Mechanic has to literally rip his scalp off in order to connect him with a machine that feels too tight on his head. As the romantic he is, Clifford is even “allowing” West-Allen to get married because “what is knowledge without love?”.
Not a lot went down again, but better than last week’s by a mile. So now we gotta get ready for the wedding crossover next week and hopefully an interesting fall finale!
Images Courtesy of The CW
The Heart is a Lonely Manhunter (Rewatching Hannibal Season 1)
Spoiler Warning for Hannibal, Season 1
“At night I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields. When I look back, from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.”
—Will Graham, Hannibal 1×04
Confession: I am one of those people who watches a show and can’t quite accept that it’s gone. The show instead lives on for me internally. So, basically, do not tell me The Wire is gone. Nope. Nor Deadwood, The Sopranos, Parks and Rec, Justified, Veronica Mars, and a handful of others, just… for me, they’re not gone. The show’s still out there. Immortal. Ever-present. So, for me, yes, somewhere Tony still watches the exits. Somewhere, Raylan works out his inner demons. Somewhere, Leslie Knope is President. Somewhere, Dan and Casey are still wittily tossing out sports metaphors under Dana’s eagle eye. Somewhere, Veronica’s fighting for justice next to her Dad. And somewhere, Hannibal and Will are still embattled. Or engrossed. But they’re out there, somewhere, somehow. Living on, in a smarter universe.
Fellow fans of Hannibal will no doubt especially feel my pain on this. And as someone still deeply mourning the end of the show all these years later, I thought the best consolation might be to go back and watch the show from the beginning, and it’s been a joy, offering new nuances and moments galore. It’s been especially fascinating to be able to go back to the beginning, and most especially to see how far back Bryan Fuller and his talented team set up the relationships, conflicts, and inspirations on the show, which are present even in the pilot episode.
The Table is Set
The blood splashes in the credits, Brian Reitzell’s superb score surges ominously, and Hannibal begins. Boom. Grossness. Ooky murder victim close-ups. Dating taboos. Ships, ships, and more ships sail into the distant horizon (how were we ever possibly this young?).
Welcome to the world of Hannibal. So let’s drive right in, to episode one, for instance, and that beautiful first meeting of Will (a wonderfully twitchy Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (a chilly, graceful Mads Mikkelsen). Where, if you watch closely, you’ll find extra enjoyment in all the little subtleties to Mads’s and Hugh’s performances—because they’re setting the foundation for every single moment to follow.
It’s all right there, the entire show. Hannibal’s focus and detachment, mixed with that strange fleeting tenderness. Will’s disgust, empathy, and fear that also mask his inevitable fascination and self-loathing. Cue the mental metronome as it sweeps ominously across the frame in red. We begin, and even within 40 short minutes in episode one, as Garret Jacob Hobbs dies, whispering, “See?” to a horrified Will, the table is set.
The finishing touch on this scene (that will echo back so tragically at the end of the season) is the fact that Hannibal, watching Will, seems to decide to save Abigail because it is something that Will wants. So he gives it to him, the gift of Abigail’s life, placing his hands gently on Abigail’s throat in order to save her. He further does this, I think, because for Hannibal everything comes down to power, because he can, and because it will tie both of those people to him in ways he wants to watch play out further.
But perhaps the nastiest trick he plays on Will here is his facade at the episode’s end, as Will enters Abigail’s hospital room to find Hannibal already there, holding Abigail’s hand as if he is not the monster her father was, but as if he is, in fact, the caring savior he pretended to be. Everything that occurs between the two men from here on out, occurs because Will mistakenly uses this image of Hannibal as a baseline. It’s diabolical and tragic.
Cat and Mouse
I think my favorite aspect of the rewatch is that I have changed my opinion slightly when it comes to Hannibal’s reactions and motivations. Upon a second viewing, most of the time, I now do think that Hannibal seems to play out his scenes with others as honestly as he can, at least, to a point.
I remember that I thought Hannibal was smirkier the first time I watched it; I felt like he was playing them. But now I actually think he’s weirdly transparent. I do think he likes and respects the team and genuinely (and quite quickly) grows to care for Jack and Will. It doesn’t mean he won’t torture them, mind you—Hannibal’s so warped that I truly believe he has no concept of how normal, non-psychotic people feel or demonstrate tenderness.
Shoot, for all we know Hannibal considers everything he does to poor Will in Season 1 to be nothing but simple foreplay. (“What are you complaining about?” I can imagine him saying to Will. “I fed you an ear!”)
Speaking of love, however, I most definitely missed how closely Beverly (played with subtle wit and tenderness by Hetienne Park) is involved with Will in many scenes the first time I watched the show. Her shooting range scene with Will in Episode 2 is terrific. Sparky and fun, on rewatch, it’s evident to me that Beverly likes Will. I mean, I think she like likes him. Which just adds to the tragedy of her entire arc.
Every bit as much as Jack and Alana, Beverly seeks Will out, to goad him, to study him, to offer support. She visits him several times (including in “Ceuf”) just to talk to him, for instance. And in the Angel episode (“Coquilles”), Beverly approaches Will again, offering help and asking him to confide in her; they interact closely once more in episode 6 (“Entree”). I’d really missed how close these two are in my first viewing of the show, and this makes Beverly’s devastation at Will’s arrest that much more heartbreaking to witness as season 1 moves toward its close.
The Wolf Visits the Sheep
In Episode 4 (“Oeuf”), in one of the best scenes across the entire show, Hannibal explores Will’s house. And I think upon rewatch this is just an incredibly rich and fascinating scene. Hannibal enters as a guest (and we later learn that Will asked him to feed the dogs for him while he was gone), and absently feeds Will’s beloved dogs, who adore Hannibal instantly. Hannibal, of course, feeds them what we assume is yikeshannibalsoylentsausage. Of course, he then simply wanders through Will’s home, and it is just sort of mind-bogglingly, quietly amazing to watch him do so. I think it’s easily one of the most naked moments for Hannibal in the course of the story. We get this rare opportunity to simply watch him study and react without the need to play the role of the guy in the human-suit that Bedelia calls him out on being.
As he enters Will’s home, Hannibal pats and feeds the dogs, then (in a poignant note for me as a classical musician) notes that Will owns a piano but that it is out of tune.
I found this moment lovely and subversively interesting for what it says about both men. Hannibal is a person who writes and plays music at a superb and virtuosic level, and who listens in the same way. Now he enters Will’s home and sees, unexpectedly, another fraction of his heart. Another realization, piercingly, that Will is like him. He is not alone. So yes, my favorite part of this scene is how Hannibal sees the piano and his glance lingers on it.
And right there, to me, I think is when Hannibal becomes a love story.
The Search for Connection
It’s not really about romance, to me, however, but about something more subtle and fragile—about recognition. Kinship. Fellowship. The pleasant, guilty surprise of bondage. Forget romantic love. Love’s less complex in this universe, and I’m not even sure it’s given anywhere equal weight. What the show is seeking and exploring, ultimately, is a dozen times more complex: the connection of equals, a speaking of souls. The mitigation of loneliness.
Hannibal as a character or person may not believe in love, but I’m certain that he (and the show) believes in soulmates. More casual viewers, I think, may miss that about this show. Hey, ship anything you want, any character combo that floats your boat. Seriously, I get you. I ship Hannibal and Will, at varying moments, with pretty much every adult who shares a scene, not least because Mikkelsen and Dancy both have chemistry with everyone around them.
But what Hannibal is ultimately about, to me, what sets it apart and makes it real genius… is loneliness. And connection. Hannibal seeks it, and is surprised and charmed to find it in Will, even in his home. We already know how much Will desires and fears the same thing.
And everyone else we glimpse, don’t they want that same sense that someone knows and understands them? Jack? Alana? Beverly? Every single cop, medical examiner, or killer we meet?
Of course. Cue drama.
Make Yourself at Home
So back to my point. I mean, Hannibal’s visit to Will’s home is fantastic. And pivotal. To me, it’s the core moment in their evolution as compatriots and friends and, perhaps, lovers. It’s so intimate.
Moving on. In his home visit for Will, Hannibal also notices a full outboard motor evidently in repair in Will’s living room (tellingly, later, in the “therapy” session with Hannibal, Will talks about his father’s work in boatyards from Biloxi to Erie).
Hannibal then checks out Will’s bureau and oh, Lord, gloriously, yes, there are the white tee shirts and socks, neatly stored, although I imagine the filmmakers simply cut out Hannibal’s full-body recoil at the sight. Hannibal then goes over to Will’s desk, looks through the magnifying glass there (nice subtext) then plays with one of Will’s fishing lures, carefully adding one of the feathers from the tray on the desk, before deliberately cutting himself with the hook he has just perfected. Then he licks the wound. And, yeah, it’s weirdly erotic.
This is also the episode when Will confesses to Hannibal, in one of the show’s most beautiful moments, that he only feels safe from a distance: “At night I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields,” he says quietly. “When I look back from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.” It’s yet another in a long line of beautiful boat references that help us to get to know Will that will also come back into play in later seasons.
Hannibal, potential anchor that he is, merely gives the tiniest hint of a smile. Because he is in control. He doesn’t need an anchor… or does he?
But although it’s fun to watch Hannibal become fascinated with Will, I forgot that Hannibal initially befriends Jack much faster than Will. Jack joins him for many more dinners at this point, actually. Jack and Hannibal become good friends, and Hannibal’s friendship visibly means something to both men.
Meanwhile, complicating those waters, is Will, of course. I mean, “Coquilles” is also the episode where Hannibal sniffs Will! And Will notices! It’s weirdly awesome. (Will: “Did you just… smell me?” Hannibal: “Difficult to avoid. I really must introduce you to a finer aftershave. That smells like something with a ship on the bottle.”)
I also love Will’s conversation with Jack here:
Will: This is bad for me.
Jack: I’m not your father, Will. I’m not going to tell you what you ought to do.
Will: Seems like that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.
Jack: You go back to your classroom, when there’s killing going on that you could have prevented, it will sour your classroom forever.
Will: Maybe. And then maybe I’ll find a job as a diesel mechanic in a boatyard.
Jack: You wanna quit? Quit.
Interesting that Jack smiles to himself as he says that. He knows Will can’t quit. When it comes to duplicity and hidden meanings, Jack is every bit as subtle as Hannibal himself. And he’s willing to do it because he’s willing to risk Will’s sanity in order to save lives—and because he’s also confident enough that he can see Will through it without harm.
Onward to therapy!
Episode 7 (“Sorbet”) is pure genius with its series of therapy sessions—Hannibal with Franklyn, Bedelia with Hannibal, Hannibal with Will. In each session there’s this tangible subtext of yearning and loneliness yet again: of Franklyn trying to impress Hannibal, of Hannibal trying to impress Bedelia, and then having a glass of wine with Will. There is something sort of poignant and lonely about Hannibal saying, “I have friends.” And we know who they are and how much he hides from them. (Note: I also think that it’s telling and important that Jack dreams of a mutilated Will in this same episode, as well.)
Episode 8, meanwhile, features one of my favorite exchanges between Hannibal and Will when Will says, “I feel like I dragged you into my world.” And Hannibal quite truthfully replies, “No. I got here on my own. But I appreciate the company.”
What’s interesting as I rounded out Season 1 here is the way Hannibal interweaves that loneliness I mentioned earlier as an almost palpable, touchable aspect of the show’s fabric. I was constantly struck by how solitary everyone seems to be in Hannibal’s world, how disconnected—a fact emphasized in many scenes by the show’s lighting, which is moody and dark, with characters illuminated in stark relief as if trapped onstage. Every major character also seems caught in a dreamworld now and then, as if mute on the most important level—speechless about the things they truly want—yet all are yearning, and all are quietly starved for connection.
Not just Will, but Hannibal himself, and even Jack, Bedelia, Bella, and Beverly. They all seem like characters seeking connection and safety. Alana is the only one who, to me, implies a rich external life elsewhere, and it’s interesting to watch her move in and out of all these other lives with so much ease, especially knowing what lies before her in later seasons.
One thing that really struck me upon my Season 1 rewatch was just how fantastic the actors are. I’ve talked about Will and Hannibal, but let’s just call out Caroline Dhavernas as Alana, for instance. She in particular is just wonderful, much stronger than I remember her being (and it really sucker-punched me when she goes to the car to scream and cry; at that point I realized then how much she did truly love Will). I also loved the chilly, gorgeous Gillian Anderson as Bedelia, and thought Kacey Rohl was amazing as Abigail Hobbs. It’s a performance where she has to walk so many lines in so many conversations, and Rohl was able to do that with a lot of delicacy and hidden nuance.
And then of course there’s Fishburne’s presence and gravitas, Dancy’s vulnerability and anguish, and wonderful Mads and just how much he’s able to communicate in every single graceful movement and microexpression.
While it’s hard to watch Will spiral downward in the final episodes of season 1, I do love the conversation in “Buffet Froid” (1×10) when Will is ill and floundering, and Jack is surprisingly warm and supportive:
Jack: Let me tell you what I think. I think that the work you do here has created a sense of stability for you. Stability is good for you, Will.
Will: Stability requires strong foundations, Jack. My moorings are built on sand.
Jack: I’m not sand. I am bedrock. When you doubt yourself, you don’t have to doubt me too.
Near the end, when Hannibal brings Bedelia the veal, what’s fascinating is that, in an entirely different awareness of context, I’d argue that she is absolutely aware of exactly who Hannibal is and of what (or who) they may actually be consuming. And before she does so, she unexpectedly and blatantly warns Hannibal:
Bedelia: You have to be careful, Hannibal. They’re starting to see your pattern.
Hannibal: What pattern would that be?
Bedelia: You develop relationships with patients who are prone to violence. That pattern. Under scrutiny, Jack Crawford’s beliefs about you might start to unravel.
Hannibal: Tell me, Dr. Du Maurier, have your beliefs about me begun to unravel?
The way she takes the bite, with her eyes on Hannibal, very slowly, implies to me that she is doing this deliberately, perhaps almost as an odd form of answer. Foreplay? Or communion?
The Last Bite
Every meal has a finish. And so we come to Will’s horrified, beautifully gradual realization of Hannibal as the real killer throughout episode 13 (“Savoureaux”), leading to the confrontation in Hobbs’s kitchen, the site of their first connection and mutual recognition:
Hannibal: At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique.
Will: I’m as alone as you are.
Hannibal: If you followed the urges you kept down for so long, cultivated them as the inspirations they are, you would have become someone other than yourself.
Will: I know who I am. I’m not so sure I know who you are anymore.
There’s such symmetry in that final, raw and terrifying confrontation in Hobbs’s kitchen between Will, Hannibal, and Jack. And it’s awful to watch, to see Jack as adversary, to see Will led off as a criminal, to see him processed by the team (and to see their personal, anguished and angry reactions), and to then see Will locked up and facing Hannibal, who is of course still free and confident and smiling. And still there! Just on some level, you know, he’s still so creepily happy to see Will. To be a part of his life and world.
A caged Will is just more accessible, after all… more fun for Hannibal to play with.
Anyway, wow. I really loved taking another look at this first season of Hannibal, and what’s interesting is it’s my least favorite of the three, so I’m looking forward to the chance to rewatch the next two even more. Most of all, I’m so pleased to have found the show even more rewarding upon rewatch, not less. There’s so much detail to Hannibal‘s world that there’s always some new little treasure to notice.
What did you think? And what did I miss? And what do you think Will really smells like? I’m guessing Old Spice, sea salt, engine grease, and warm dog. Want to live on the edge? What does Hannibal smell like? My own guess on this is that he smells absolutely fantastic, like Italian cologne, fresh sage, and the faintest breath of electric wickedness…