There are few television shows that have managed to so thoroughly explore humanity's fascination with love and death as NBC's Hannibal. Cable dramas like The Sopranos and Mad Men have touched on the Freudian notions of a 'death wish', of a sort of siren's call that exists in everyone's unconscious. Its a captivating subject for many people, it's the only experience we'll all share but none of us will have the chance to reflect on. On the other hand, we are able to reflect on love; and reflect on it we do. Volumes upon volumes have been devoted to the understanding of its many facets. And yet, love remains something of a mystery. As with death, we each comprehend love in our own unique way and can never fully understand another's experience. HBO's absolutely beautiful series Six Feet Under, set around a family owned funeral parlor, delved deep into the fragility of life, love, relationships and the importance of finding yourself while you have the chance. While Alan Ball's Six Feet Under focused on the beauty of life in the face of the inevitable, Bryan Fuller's Hannibal goes a step further. Hannibal was able to demonstrate the beauty in it all.
Hannibal's art direction allowed viewers to see the everyday world through the eyes of Dr Hannibal Lecter, a behavioral psychologist, surgeon, artist, master chef and cannibal. From the painfully tasteful suit ensembles to the downright pornographic food preparation scenes, every detail was given a meticulous and luxurious elegance. Even when depicting some of the most macabre crime scenes ever on film (cable, network or otherwise), the show's creative team always managed to complete the Herculean task of infusing them with an undeniable beauty.
While many of the show's killers possessed sad backstories of psychosis, trauma and intense feelings of alienation, Hannibal was treated as something far more. Something akin to a lion, taking majestic strides across the Serengeti, at peace with an ancient instinct. Dangerous and lethal to be sure, but commanding an air of respect and dignity. Hannibal was, like nature itself, capable of both great cruelty and great love. His humanity caused him to seek companionship and understanding. He hopes to find it in Will Graham, a somber FBI consultant. Will serves as an anchor for the audience as we watch him struggle to reconcile the contradictory impulse, that exists in every human unconscious, to both create and destroy. Hannibal, like Mephistopheles in Faust, is utterly captivated by Will's internal struggle. Will, a ball of anxiety and doubt, is mesmerized by Hannibal's proclivity for indulgence. This mutual fascination provides the show's emotional core. Like everything else, it's presented with grace and nuance, challenging the viewer to realize the beauty in all aspects of love and death.
While it would be all too easy to ramble on endlessly about Hannibal's many layers of brilliance, to delve into its incredibly well researched psychology, the layered pathologies of each and every character, fully explore its adaptation of Faust or endlessly praise Brian Reitzell's unnerving, atmospheric score, I happen to be a designer. A picture is absolutely worth a thousand words. Especially when it comes with a soundtrack.
Below is a collection of images from the show and optional musical accompaniment. If you were along for the ride all along, enjoy this journey of reflection. If you're new to the series or haven't seen it yet, this may or may not make you want to watch. But I can only offer my sincere hope that you do. Hannibal is a truly singular experience that is unlikely to find a worthy successor any time soon