This past week, critic Matthew Zoller Seitz asked fellow critics to “please write about filmmaking.“ That is, to comment on the specific visual elements that gives a piece its tone, its emotion, its power (or lack thereof). He extended the call to TV criticism, and it’s often an element that’s ignored on the small screen, because it’s not presented as insistently as, say, the serialized plot points. There are some series though that embody and push the boundary of visual art, like the recently departed True Detective. Hannibal, too must be included in the list. What makes it such an exceptional show is the atmosphere and artistic composition that elevates it from more than just a story of murder. Hit the jump for more.
An episode like “Mukozuke” is the perfect time to really talk about the visuals of Hannibal. I like to think I do a fair job of commenting on the cinema of TV when it’s a show, like Hannibal, that is so overt with its sensibilities. But after reading Seitz’s piece, I realize there’s a lot more to be said about these shots and the staging and the set design than just a few bullet points in the Miscellanea. It’s what MAKES Hannibal.
For fans of Bryan Fuller‘s other work (like Pushing Daisies), this kind of artistry brought to Hannibal‘s production is not of any surprise. Fuller’s worlds are cartoonish in that they heighten reality, celebrate colors — patterns and palates — and tell the story in a sweeping, wholly visual way. Dialogue in Hannibal is sparse, but meaningful. Sounds, like in “Mukozuke,” play integral roles. In this hour, it was a primitive drumbeat that coursed in time with Beverly’s blood dripping from the slides, with Freddie’s eyes blinking when she locked them with Will, with Will’s sink while he was in custody and dreaming of Hannibal’s demise, which he ordered. It was tied with death and was, in a way, accusatory. How often can a soundtrack claim that?
As gruesome as Hannibal is, there’s a cold aesthetic to its presentation of its corpses. The horror comes with the living — like in the bee episode, with the eyeless, lobotomized man — and in the second episode of the season, when the “final piece” of the palette puzzle ripped himself free from the human portrait. It’s visceral and disgusting, not only in the creative way it horrifies us (those visuals are hard to forget), but also the role the sound editing and mixing (hearing the flesh rip apart, or the buzz of the bees who now inhabit a human). The dead, though, are cold. Beverly was literally frozen, Will figures out, to allow Hannibal to cut her up and put her in the slides. Anyone who has been to a Bodies exhibit will find the presentation in “Mukozuke” familiar. It was clinical. In fact, Beverly’s corpse may be one of Hannibal’s finest works.
Even later in the episode though, when Hannibal himself is strung up (a weak entry to an otherwise great hour), he’s given a Christ-like silhouette, with the addition of a noose and a bucket, which the orderly (Jonathan Tucker) has created as a copycat to Hannibal (or Will’s, in his mind) crimes. But even that shot that followed the dripping blood — a motif throughout the episode — up from the drain, to the steps, to the bucket, up Hannibal’s legs and finally to his struggling face, was one that incorporated anticipation (of who was at the end — or the state we’d find him in), horror (relating to the gore), and an acknowledgement that this is not an ordinary way to present this information to us. It’s slow and purposeful, but with flare. It’s the signature of Hannibal‘s style.
“Mukozuke” wasn’t as flashy as some episodes this season, and limited its dream sequences mostly to sound and to hallucinations, but there was beauty in its restraint. Despite the hokey “waving of the wand” to denote Will traveling in to the skin of the killer to reconstruct the crime, the motion (and again, the clacking sound) of the slides moving into place to recreate a “whole” Beverly was a wonderful moment. It’s what makes Hannibal different, and it’s what makes it so good.
Now that I’ve spent most of my word count gushing over aesthetics, I’ll give a moment to plot. “Mukozuke” was interesting in the conversations and pairs it created, particularly the reemergence of Freddie in one of her least skin-crawling appearances so far. Revealing the copycat killer (who killed the bailiff) as an orderly who was quickly neutralized (killed off?) wasn’t particularly satisfying, but his monologue to Will was very worthwhile in how Will sees himself and his role moving forward. Hannibal now knows that Will attempted to have him killed, which initially just looked like a ploy to set up Gideon, and possibly the orderly, so Will could prove something. But ultimately, it just seemed like straight-forward revenge. Regardless, it’s clear that Will know what he has to do, and will manipulate whomever (Chilton, Gideon, Alana, the copycat killer) to stop Hannibal. It’s a new side to Will that the show needed him to manifest, so that he became more than a play-toy for Hannibal, but a worthy foe.
Episode Rating: A for aesthetics, B+ for plot
– Loved the juxtaposition at the start of Hannibal’s breakfast with Will’s.
– Chilton is wrong, Alana is not catnip for killers, Will is.
– It looks like Alana ends up in bed with Hannibal next week, which I assume is just a dream sequence. We’ll see.
– “Mukozuke” cleared up the fact that the bailiff’s death was a copycat, but Hannibal killed the judge. Of course he did, the artistry cannot be contested!
– Freddie’s outfits are fantastic.
– Interesting that Hannibal replaced Beverly’s kidney with the one she had found in his fridge, then ate hers to get rid of the evidence. More games. And that look of self-satisfaction …
– Mads Mikkelsen has really nice legs.
– Many soundbites in this hour: “Feed the body, feed the mind.” “Find the kidney, find the killer.” “He’s the devil, he is smoke.”
– How great was it when the sink-face became Will’s face? Hannibal found a way to make out anthropomorphizing of household objects infinitely creepy, of course.
– Ahh, the straight-jacket and mask. Foreshadowing!
– “You’re a great friend, Hannibal”- Jack.