While it seems like very few people were watching it, at least by traditional means, Hannibal was nothing if not loved by nearly everyone who watched it. Given the fact that it was the third time that Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon had been adapted, there was really no reason to expect it to be anything special. This says nothing about the quality of the source material, nor does it say anything about the previous iterations of the story. Still, there was no reason to expect this series to be good, let alone transcendent.
The only reason I ever gave it a chance in the first place was its creator, Bryan Fuller. Cutting his teeth on staff at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Voyager alongside a slew of other future showrunners--Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Ira Steven Behr to name a few--Fuller came to prominence as the creator of Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Pushing Daisies, all of which were critical darlings thanks in large part to their lush visual palettes and genuinely whimsical take on subject matter with darker undertones.
His vision, an established strength, was enough to pique my curiosity. The universal acclaim got me to watch.
For its three seasons, Hannibal pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved on network television. Its baroque settings and staging of violence was breathtaking. Its performances were otherworldly. While operating in part as a function of keeping costs low (fewer locations for shooting meant the less time needed for set-up and accordingly less money spent), scenes were driven by brilliant dialogue with so many layers that the subtext had its own subtext that would run for two or three pages/minutes. Other shows shooting on location fit three or four locations into this span of time, but Hannibal lived in these moments, thriving on how each character played with and against each other when put face to face.
This third season saw perhaps its highest and lowest points. The first half of the season was a brilliant departure, an experiment in what could be accomplished in the medium. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, Fuller & Co. picked up and dropped characters for episodes at a time, making the most of their locations while employing some of its most surprisingly fun moments--one dinner scene early in the season sticking out in particular.
The second half of the season finally included the integration of the source material, which meant going away from the enthralling dynamic upon which the show built its successful run.
This actually gets to the crux of what set this show apart from the rest.
When tasked to adapt the material, Fuller basically built the show's premise upon on line from the novel uttered by Dr. Lecter to Will Graham. He completely reinvented the material, building one of the most complex relationships ever seen anywhere made all the better by the incredible turns by the titular actor Mads Mikkelsen (who frankly puts Anthony Hopkins, who won an Oscar for his performance in the same role, to shame with his consistent brilliance for understatement) and Hugh Dancy as the broken Will Graham. Honestly reinvention does not do what he did to the material justice. Given the source material of Red Dragon, Fuller took a full 33 episodes before ever touching upon the story that he was adapting.
En route, he created one of the most visually arresting television programs in memory and loaded it with some of the most carefully crafted, brilliant dialogue the small screen has ever seen, all of which shockingly transpired on network television. That an episode could not pass without wondering how the hell they got [insert any number of jaw-dropping acts of violent] past standards and practices is a marvel in and of itself.
Given its unique financial backing (half of its already low production costs are from its European production company) and rabid fanbase, there is still a chance that another entity picks up Hannibal for a fourth season despite its poor ratings. Amazon has already turned down the offer, but there is still hope in this age of second chances that has seen Longmire (Season Four now on Netflix), The Mindy Project (Season Four coming to Hulu next week), Arrested Development, Damages, Friday Night Lights, Community, and many, many more shows get reprieves from platforms trying to make names for themselves by acquiring known properties with built-in fanbases to establish themselves in a crowded field of alternative programming choices.
If this third season was its last, its ending will absolutely satisfy the viewer, so there is no need for the uninitiated to worry about a Deadwood-style anticlimax. Fuller fans will also get to look forward to his adaptation of the fantastic Neil Gaiman (who is writing on the show) novel American Gods, which kicked around in development at HBO for years before getting kicked back into the world and picked up by Starz, who has it slated for a 2017 premiere.
While I sit here hoping for a fourth season or a movie with these characters, what show in recent memory would you give a second life? Any other Hannibal fans in the house?