A few weeks ago, NBC announced that they were cancelling Hannibal at the end of its current season. I love the show and have made it my Pick of the Week twice, but I have to say that I’m honestly okay with the cancelation. Part of me is amazed that we got three seasons of a show that was so very different than anything else on television. Those 39 episodes are a remarkable achievement as far as I’m concerned. Also, while showrunner Bryan Fuller has many times said that he has a plan for the show, this third and final season has made me worry about what the series would have been like had it continued.
Spoilers lurk ahead. Be warned.
Hannibal the series began in the time before Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s capture and incarceration. He worked with the FBI and Will Graham to profile and capture killers while at the same time occasionally working against them and engaging in his own extra-curricular activities. By the end of the first season, Will knew what Hannibal really was. By the end of the second season, everyone else did, too, and Hannibal fled in a spectacularly bloody fashion.
The third season can really be split into two halves. The first half follows the hunt for Hannibal as he begins a new life in Italy. At the end of episode seven, he is captured, and episode eight jumps three years ahead to the events of Red Dragon, Thomas Harris’ first novel to include Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.
And there lies the problem. In the novel, the focus is very much on Graham and his efforts to track a killer known as the “Tooth Fairy.” Hannibal Lecter is important, but he is very much a side character only appearing in a couple of scenes. His presence is felt more than seen. The show has tried to keep him more involved by creatively staging scenes to put characters physically together on screen with Hannibal when their interactions are actually occurring via phone or with the clear wall of Hannibal’s cell separating them.
Even with these efforts, Hannibal’s involvement was greatly reduced in the third episode of the Red Dragon arc, and it remains to be seen how they will be able to keep the character at the forefront of his own series for the rest of its run.
If the show were to have continued, the problems for the show’s creative team would have intensified. Based on the novels, Hannibal remains imprisoned at the mental hospital, and the next time he shows up is in The Silence of the Lambs. From the show’s perspective, this causes two major problems: Will Graham, the show’s other main character, is not in The Silence of the Lambs, and, at last report, the series did not have the rights to use the novel or its characters, particularly Clarice Starling.
And even if Fuller and company did get the rights, aside from the absence of Will Graham, they would need to find a way to keep Hannibal front and center. For all the acclaim Anthony Hopkins rightly receives for his performance as Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 film of The Silence of the Lambs, he is only on screen for 16 minutes of its 118 minute run time.
In interviews before the beginning of the third season, Fuller indicated that he had plans for the fourth season that didn’t involve the events of Silence. Now we’ll never know what those would look like. Maybe they would have been wonderful. Perhaps not.
As I said at the beginning, though, I’m ok with not knowing. I’ve loved this version of the Hannibal Lecter story, but now that he’s in custody, I’m finding my interest waning. I’ve seen two other filmed versions of Red Dragon (The 1986 film titled Manhunter and the 2002 version) and read the novel. The television series adaptation has been well done, and, at its conclusion, I think I’ll be satisfied.
Not every show needs to run for seven years. I am very happy with the three incredible seasons of Hannibal that we got.
- Alan Decker
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