Telewitterings: Hannibal, a.k.a. When Crafters Attack!

Posted on March 10, 2014 by

imageSeason Two of Hannibal has begun and I am so happy to have it back. It’s stylish, gory, well-cast, and, as a weird bonus, filmed around here. Kelly walks past the building that plays Hannibal’s home and office on her way to work–it tickles us every time we see it on screen.
But geography aside, the show is about things that are dear to my heart: art, arts communities, and artistic critique.
The always-interesting serial killers in Hannibal are demented and horrifying artists. Or possibly, artistes. Hannibal is, of course, making food of his victims. In S1, we see killers making use out of human remains, over and over again, either sculpting the corpses directly or staging crime scenes around them. One makes throw pillows out of leather and hair; another prepares strings for musical instruments using his victim’s guts. There are body collages and mushroom farms.
Will Graham’s oft-repeated line as he assumes their point of view: this is my design.
There is an intense aesthetic sensibility to this show that pervades Hannibal the character and spreads outward, from him, to every element of the show.
Other crime dramas, of course, have put significant effort into creating disturbingly pretty crime scenes. Even some murder-of-the-week shows, like Life, did this. But Life would have been the same show, more or less, if the set dressers hadn’t bothered to take the occasional pre-Raphaelite extra, dress her in angel wings and crumple her beautifully all over the hood of a car. In Hannibal, this improbable design sensibility is integral to nearly every murder.
There is a degree to which these people are scrapbookers on a homicidal materials-collecting spree.
Within this entirely bent community, this fantasy circle of destructive creative spirits, artistic dialogs take place. Will Graham functions as a sort of critic, trying to understand what the killers are working to achieve and communicate. Interestingly, he’s an instructor when we first see him. It’s an interesting riff on that old saw: “Those who can’t do, teach.”
Killers imitate each other on this show, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. They embroider on each other’s themes. When they get called out for plagiarism, heads can literally roll.
The process begins in the very first episode of S1. When Hannibal takes on the role of copycat killer to the Minnesota Shrike, he stages a crime scene whose explicit intent is to show Will the Shrike… by demonstrating all the things he isn’t. He creates a corpse-sculpture that is a reverse image of the Shrike’s work.
It is the beginning of Hannibal’s obsessive fascination with Will Graham. As the person who is both an expert in the field and who stands apart from its practitioners, it is Will whose understanding Hannibal craves. He wants to hear what Will thinks about his “work.” He wants to draw him into participating more actively. He wants to be seen, even though courting Will’s comprehension is an immense risk.
It is a strange and compelling portrayal of monster as aesthete, demon as artist. It’s gruesome and scary and weird, and I don’t know, yet, what the show will ultimately say about the practice of art. I am incredibly excited, though, to see where they go next.

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