Hannibal: The Goriest Love Story of All Time


Once upon a time, there was a one-of-a-kind show on NBC called Hannibal, created by cult TV writer Bryan Fuller. The show was a very loose adaptation of the highly popular book series by Thomas Harris, and also featured a main cast of highly acclaimed actors such as Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, and Gillian Anderson. To further sweeten the pot, Hannibal was an instant success with critics, drawing rave reviews thanks in large part to its bold storytelling and artistic beauty, with each season receiving more acclaim than the last. So it only makes sense the show was cancelled halfway through its run and almost forgotten to time as a lost television masterpiece. 

However, Hannibal has recently gained a massive upswing in popularity after being added to Netflix’s library, and its cult following has only been getting stronger since the six years it’s been off the air. While Hannibal may have been too violently twisted and unabashedly weird for viewers back in 2015, it has found new life as a beautifully gruesome love story for the audience of 2021. 

Hannibal is about FBI profiler Will Graham, a man who starts the series only one bad day away from being a serial killer. Will has an extreme empathy disorder that allows him to place himself in the mindset of some of the most disturbed serial killers ever put on television. FBI director Jack Crawford wants to use Will’s “gift” to save lives, despite the fact that putting Will out in the field poses a great risk to his mental health. Crawford tries to mitigate Will’s growing psychosis by having him meet with Hannibal Lector, a highly respected psychologist. The only problem with this little arrangement is that Hannibal is a cannibalistic serial killer, and his interest in Will goes far beyond a professional curiosity. 

Throughout the show we see Hannibal guide Will down a dark path, and he slowly begins pulling other characters into this dangerous world as well, until everyone on this show is consumed by the evil nature of Dr. Lecter. However, Fuller doesn’t frame this descent into madness as a generic thriller, instead opting to paint the relationship between Hannibal and Will as a horror-tinged romance that proves to be utterly intoxicating. 

Fuller has described Hannibal numerous times as a “gothic romance,” and he isn’t wrong. One of the reasons this show has gained so much popularity is because of the way in which it potrays the homoerotic undertones between Hannibal Lector and Will Graham. What started as a really well-made procedural gradually morphed into a twisted love story, which only made the show more compelling. The relationship between Hannibal and Will is laden with gay subtext. The romance between the two lead characters is evident in both Fuller’s imagery and the chemistry shared between Mads Mikklesen and Hugh Danc. Both of these actors are able to use their eyes and body language to communicate the complicated feelings between Hannibal and Will, and are consistently mesmerizing to watch.

 Fuller’s decision to frame their relationship like a romance adds nuance to the story, and gives the character of Hannibal Lector far more complexity than prior interpretations. Through his feelings for Will, we see Hannibal as someone with a capacity for love, yet he is also a personification of evil, and can therefore only express said love through elegant acts of depravity. The subtext between these two men isn’t just here for fanservice or queerbaiting, it adds a lot of unique narrative heft to this show, and helps differentiate Hannibal from various other serial killer stories. However, the LGBT angle of Hannibal is not the only reason the show has received such strong acclaim, for it’s also a beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted piece of art in its own right. 

What drew me into Hannibal were the exceptional performances from the cast. Hugh Dancy is pitch perfect as Will Graham, portraying the character with a strong sense of vulnerability that makes him sympathetic. That being said, Dancy is also able to provide an air of mystery to Will, making the character an extremely unnerving presence throughout various points in the series. 

Laurence Fishburne is outstanding as well, as he gives the role of Jack Crawford strength and humanity, proving to be the best rendition of the character ever put to screen. Gillian Anderson also proves to be a standout, whispering her lines to chilling effect, making the character of Bedelia Du Maurier an enigmatic presence. 

Last but not least is Mads Mikkelsen, who is having the time of his life as Hannibal Lector. Mikkelsen proves to be elegant, charming, funny, and terrifying all at once, threatening to steal the show if the rest of the cast weren’t up to par. Thankfully, they are, and are supported by memorable guest actors such as Michael Pitt, Joe Anderson, Richard Armitage, Eddie Izzard, Raúl Esparza, Katharine Isabelle, Lara Jean Chorostecki, and Kacey Rohl. 

The filmmaking on Hannibal is also second to none, for this show has proven to be one of the most visually rich pieces of media ever produced during the 21st century. Every shot is gorgeous, even when the cinematographers are showing off some of the most horrific murders ever put on TV. Hannibal is without a doubt one of the goriest shows of all time, but the directing adds a sense of beauty to even the most depraved acts of violence. The show takes clear inspiration from arthouse filmmaking, preferring gorgeous imagery over a fast paced story, albeit one with a subtle sense of humor to offset some of the pretentious writing. Hannibal is a very disturbing show, but the writers are smart enough to wink at the absurdity of their premise, which prevents the dialogue from seeming overwrought. 

It’s an honest-to-God crime that this show was cancelled, but thankfully each episode we got has proven to be a mini-masterpiece. From the beautiful filmmaking and exceptional acting to the unique writing and art house sensibilities, Hannibal was truly too good to last. Perhaps renewed interest will result in a season four, but if not, I implore you to enjoy three seasons of one of the scariest romances ever put to screen.