After a summer hiatus, I am back to The Fandomentals to review Outlander, and after a ridiculously long hiatus, it’s back too! Thankfully. Just in time, with that other epic fantasy show on TV still fresh in our minds, along comes this juggernaut of quality to remind us that there’s more to this TV game that spectacle—though spectacle can count for a lot.
I will say that the first 10 minutes absolutely gutted me, and they reminded me of the importance of world-building. While you can certainly start watching here, with season 3 episode 1, many of the things that happen, especially in those first few minutes, are a culmination of 2 seasons’ worth of character arcs, and they ran the gamut from satisfying, to humorous, to tragic as hell. It looks like Starz is letting people play catch-up for free, so please, if you haven’t already? Do it.
Content Warning: This review discusses violence, rape, a past miscarriage, and sexist behavior, including forced medication during childbirth, as depicted on the show.
Oh man. Whew, that a first 10 minutes!
We open with long, lingering shots of the dead and wounded in the aftermath of Culloden Moore. It was, as we know from history, a route for our Scottish heroes, and these scenes really bring home the brutality of it. I mean, when that idiot fop Bonnie Prince Charlie is there (in flashback) in his wig drinking his booze proclaiming their certain victory, you wanna punch him in the face. More so than usual.
Their strategy was, to say the least, flawed, and sending starving, sword-armed men into heavy artillery and musket fire seems like a quick path to defeat.
Scenes of Jamie lying near-death are intercut with flashbacks to the battle: the charge, the volleys of English musket fire dropping waves of Scots, and, most important for us Outlander fans, Jamie and Black Jack Randall’s long-awaited showdown.
As I’m sure you remember, Claire promised Black Jack that he would die at Culloden Moore, a fact she knew from her husband Frank’s genealogical research. After Jack spent weeks torturing and raping Jamie, our hero was more than willing to do the deed. He owed him one, you might say.
Their fight was split across several flashbacks. It wasn’t in order (as Jamie himself might remember it in his dazed and wounded state), but the climax of it was spectacular. The English had set parts of the battlefield on fire, so everything was bathed in a hot, flickering light. Smoke curled around them. As they fought, the battle moved on, so it was just the two of them in a sea of dead.
They’re both wounded; Jack bayoneted Jamie in the leg and Jamie stabbed him in the stomach. They can barely stand, but they’re still going at each other. Suddenly Jack’s face changes. He knows he’s dying, and his expression becomes one of longing and compassion, which is kinda gross but also brilliant, and as he falls against Jamie it almost turns into an embrace.
They tumble to the ground, Jack’s body draped over Jamie’s, and it’s probably the dead redcoat on top of him that saved him from the roaming English soldiers finishing off the wounded.
While lying there, snow slowly drifting down onto his upturned face, Jamie has a vision of Claire walking across the field toward him. She’s in full La Dame Blanche mode, and he grips the dragonfly in amber tightly in his hand.
Claire’s face turns into Rupert’s, and he gets Jamie to a hovel where the Scots are collecting their wounded, but it isn’t long before the English find them. An officer arrives with some men and explains that he’s been ordered to execute any traitors to the Crown they find. Are any men here innocent of treason?
Rupert says nope, they’re guilty to a man, so the executions begin. I mean, like, they’re all very gentlemanly about it, but I think it’s a form of psychological torture to make everyone wait while you shoot these guys one by one.
So we lose Rupert, and the rest of the Scottish Gang from seasons 1 and 2, but Murtagh (who Jamie saw on the battlefield) is unaccounted for. Y’all know that ol’ cuss made it through. *fingers crossed*
All of the able-bodied men are executed, so the commander orders stretchers to be brought so the wounded can be carried outside for their executions. Jamie volunteers to be shot next, but when he gives his name, the commander recognizes it. If you remember from last season, Jamie at one point encountered a young English soldier, John Grey. Instead of killing him when he had the chance, he let him go, and the boy vowed to save his life one day.
As luck would have it, the English commander is Lord Hal Melton, the kid’s older brother. He can’t kill Jamie as a point of honor (despite how much Jamie begs), so he has him smuggled out in a hay cart to Lallybroch. He believes Jamie will die on the way (I mean, they’ve never met, so he DOESN’T KNOW JAMES FRASER), but duh of course he survives. Jamie’s arc ends with Jenny bending over him crying and thankful that he’s home.
Okay, so, that was a lot, but it was only half the episode! All the Jamie stuff was intercut with Claire in 1948 Boston. She and Frank moved there when he was offered a position at Harvard. She’s pregnant, of course, with Jamie’s child, but Frank has offered to raise it as his own. He wants a fresh start with his wife, who, after all, he still loves very much.
Claire agrees, but she’s struggling. She doesn’t like the gas stove in their (amazing) house, and instead cooks over the fireplace. Frank’s boss is incredibly rude and condescending to her, basically dismissing her as a “little woman” who should be happy with the domestic life of motherhood and stop trying to actually think!
And, of course, she misses Jamie. Frank grows frustrated because she’s so distant; she won’t let him touch her, and she can’t seem to settle into their life in Boston. They fight, and she throws an ashtray at his head. He tells her she has to make a choice: either stay there with him, or leave, but do what makes her happy.
That night, he’s sleeping on the couch when she comes downstairs to tell him her water’s broken. He rushes her to the hospital where the doctor is (once again) a condescending prig. She admits to having a past miscarriage, which Frank didn’t know about, but when she tries to apologize he tells her not to worry about it. It doesn’t matter.
She’s taken into the delivery room, and despite her protests she’s given ether to knock her out through the delivery process. God that seems so barbaric to me! Especially because the doctor’s attitude was “we can’t have any messy WOMEN involved in this process. Just go to sleep and let us MEN handle it.” Ugh.
Anyway, she’s terrified when she wakes up because clearly she isn’t pregnant anymore, but there’s no baby. Then Frank comes in carrying her, and they have a beautiful moment bonding over their daughter. They agree that this can be a fresh start, and they kiss and cry and fuss over how gorgeous their baby is.
You start to think that maybe this can all work out for them, after all, but then the nurse comes in and asks where the baby got her red hair. Frank’s face falls and the music changes. Just before the credits roll, you get the instant understanding that no, it won’t work. It can’t.
That made it sound like very little happened on Claire’s side, and while it’s true most of the action was in 18th century Scotland, Claire’s arc this episode was about her general “fish out of water” feeling in not only Boston, but also 1948 and her marriage with Frank.
When you look back at how incredibly hard she struggled to get back to him and her time, it makes the rift in their relationship even sadder. She never meant to fall in love with Jamie. She loved Frank deeply, but she did fall for Jamie, and now she has to figure out how to put her life back together after.
At one point her neighbor tells her how lucky she is, because she’ll never find a man like Frank again. That’s true, but she has found a man like Frank before, and now nothing compares to him. Frank loves her, and he’s trying, but how can their marriage work when most of Claire is still back in the 18th century with Jamie?
I feel so awful for Frank. He’s a good man who really never did anything wrong. It’s not his fault he looks exactly like Jamie’s rapist and Claire’s tormentor. It’s not his fault his wife got sucked back in time and fell in love with a strapping Highlander. Obviously Jamie and Claire are the OTP to end all OTPs, but Frank is a good man caught in a bad situation. I can’t help but wish that Claire could find room in her heart for him again.
Don’t think I’m blaming Claire for any of this. Again, she didn’t ask to marry Jamie, and she certainly never planned on loving him. Unfortunately circumstances dictated the marriage had to happen, and well whoops. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Jamie Fraser??
I’ve seen people this season asking what happened to Edmure Tully, and, well, now y’all now: he escaped to a better show! Black Jack Randall is dead, but Frank’s still truckin’ on, being the long-suffering husband with carefully controlled anger issues. Good on you, Tobias. Upgrade.
As I said in the intro, what made this episode so effective (besides the spectacular use of color and lighting, and Bear McCreary’s always exceptional score) was all the payoff. We’d been falling for the ridiculous Scottish gang for 2 seasons; Rupert’s loss hurt, and it brought to mind Angus’s death last season. Rupert’s touching call out to Angus only made it that much more poignant.
Of course we finally got to see Jack Randall meet his fate, and I’m glad it wasn’t done in a super gratuitous way. Jamie is a good man with a strong sense of honor and vengeance, not cruel like Jack; so if he had enjoyed it or reveled in it, it would’ve been gross and out of character. As it was, they were two men with a bloody history meeting on the battlefield, and the better man won. The fact that Jamie probably owes his continued life to Jack’s death is an irony that likely isn’t lost on Jamie.
Claire’s storyline was less about endings and more about beginnings. She floated the idea of becoming an American citizen, but Frank didn’t like it. We see her chafe at the “little woman” role imposed on her by Frank’s colleagues and society in general. She’s clearly bored and annoyed by being a housewife. She also mentions that women have recently been accepted to Harvard Medical School. Hmmm, methinks Mrs. Randall is plotting something.
Isn’t she always?
Outlander is back, dear readers, and if you haven’t watched it before, now is the time. Everything you hate about certain other shows, everything those shows get wrong, Outlander gets right. There is nothing cheap or melodramatic here. Every beat is earned, every character is a real person, and the beauty and the spectacle are just icing on the cake.
Episode Grade: A. Get used to it, because this show is setting the bar.
Images curtesy of Starz
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…