This review contains spoilers.
3.11 And The Beast From The Sea
The incomparable Laura Akers is off on vacation this week and asked if I might write something about this past week’s Hannibal, And The Beast From The Sea in her stead. So prepare yourselves for something nowhere near as insightful and entertaining as Laura’s regular work.
I’ve been a Hannibal obsessive since the series premiered in 2013. I’ve followed the trials and tribulations of Fuller and company as they struggled to stay on the air despite abysmal ratings, and while Season One had its weaknesses, I found Season Two to be remarkable from start to finish. The contentious nature of Season Three hasn’t been an issue for me either, as I found the meandering time spent in Italy to be gloriously beautiful and disturbing. The first half of this season has been an exercise in pure cinema with little to no regard for audience (or network) expectations.
I loved how free-form it became and politely disagree with those fans who gave up on the show or cried loudly for some plot movement. The more distanced from traditional television narrative Hannibal went, the better it truly became in my eyes. This became especially true when various elements of all the Thomas Harris works (as well as the film adaptations) would be reimagined or juxtaposed, presented in entirely new lights that allowed the development of Fuller’s singular vision of the Hannibal Lecter saga. In doing so, Fuller has been able to turn some of the books’ weaknesses into newfound strengths with his retelling. But he has also occasionally tossed out some of the books’ strengths in order to repurpose plot points.
Which brings us to Hannibal‘s adaptation of Red Dragon.
The past three episodes (four now with And The Beast From The Sea) have not wavered stylistically from anything that’s come before; at least not so much so that one should be concerned. However, the narrative approach has altered somewhat, as Fuller and Company have tried to craft an accurate but original adaptation of Harris’s novel. This is the third time around for adaptations of Red Dragon, though, and honestly it’s been done to death. At its heart, Red Dragon was simply a more-clever-than-most crime thriller. It’s not great literature, but Harris knew how to construct a tight story and keep the suspense building right up until the end.
The true brilliance of Fuller’s interpretation of Hannibal to this point is that the novels and films aren’t there for strict adaptation, but for inspiration. By digging into the psyche of Hannibal (and playing off the psyche of Will to do so), Fuller and Mikkelsen have created the most complexly layered and singular interpretation of Hannibal that has ever been possible. Mikkelsen is Hannibal now, moreso than Brian Cox or Anthony Hopkins were ever able to become, thanks mainly to the fact that Fuller and Mikkelsen haven’t been restricted by Harris’s novels; they’ve been building toward them.
But now, with Hannibal caged and Francis Dolarhyde the hot new item on the menu, I’m finding myself becoming distanced. In large part this is because despite Richard Armitage’s enthusiastic performance as the tortured serial killer, after four episodes we still know nothing about him or his motivations. We don’t know what drives him. We don’t know where the obsession with Blake’s painting came from. We don’t know why he’s on a lunar cycle. We don’t even know why he puts in those false teeth and bites his victims.
Unless we’ve read the novel, that is.
It feels as though we’ve been spinning our wheels without the benefit of exploring the relationship between Hannibal and Will or the benefit of Will’s attempts to profile the killer. While the show is still a treat for the eyes, it’s been caged as much as Hannibal has, now that we’re not wrapped up in the free exploration of the psycho-sexual relationship of our main characters. It’s very normal now – traditional almost – and in an attempt to recreate the visual exuberance of the last season and a half we’re being fed the meagre gruel of Armitage writhing around and grimacing with CG dragon wings and tail.
At the same time, as is made especially clear with this episode, when Hannibal no longer has to hide his true nature, he’s really just kind of a dick.
His “Save yourself, kill them all” message to Dolarhyde, is faithful to the novel, but doesn’t quite ring true to the Hannibal we’ve grown to know; the Hannibal who gave himself up so Will would know where to find him when he needed him, despite having nearly cut open Will’s head and fed him his own brains. And while Fuller has stated on Twitter that he didn’t want Will’s wife “to be more than a sidelined wife, but a hero in her own story,” having her get Walter out of the house and then take a bullet (after an innocent bystander dies in her place), isn’t really all that empowering. Honestly, I found the idea that she didn’t have a gun in the house to be remarkably off-key. I’d much rather have seen her force Dolarhyde to retreat rather than how that scene played out.
Dolarhyde’s mask was a nice visual reference to Manhunter, though.
I’ve been curious all along about how they would end up adapting Dolarhyde’s method of hunting, and now that we know, I’m also finding it lacking. In the novel and both film adaptations, Dolarhyde chooses his victims after developing their home movies. That’s how he knows the layout of the homes and whether or not they have pets. But living in the digital age, I wondered how they’d reinterpret this.
Well, they apparently aren’t. He seems to choose his victims via social media (in a way that is not explained or even inferred beyond magically mentioning “social media”) and the actual film that he runs while sitting on the couch snuggling with Reba is film he shot himself while staking out Will’s home rather than film his next victims shot to celebrate moving into their new home. Not only does this fail to quite match the emotional horror of the novel (and films), it also fails to truly match the sense of personal violation in the originals. It’s one thing to be watched, but another to have your own private memories stolen and used against you.
While this change may not seem all that significant, Dolarhyde’s method of selecting his victims – and by extension, the way Will and Jack figure out who he is and how to find him – are central plot elements of Red Dragon. That “tight story construction that builds tension” that I mentioned earlier is wound up in this plot. Jettisoning that without replacing it with something at least similarly inventive, changes what made the original story something that stood out in a field of serial killer novels.
It’s lost some of the personality and distinctiveness that made it Red Dragon.
So essentially what I’m saying is that a production that has historically chosen the right story elements to adapt, rework, and alter, has so far with their Red Dragon adaptation chosen the wrong elements to adapt, rework, and alter. The things to which they are choosing to stay faithful don’t ring true with the work they’ve already done over two and a half prior seasons, and the things they are changing don’t capture the spirit of the source.
It’s still lovely to look at, and honestly is still better than most everything on television (the exception being Mr Robot), but this isn’t really Red Dragon and that’s extremely disappointing to me. It’s barely even Hannibal any more.
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