Fuller, well known for his brilliant but cancelled far-too-soon shows like Dead Like Me. Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls has always felt comfortable with the subject of death. He has found ways to diminish it down to a simple inevitability of life with heavy doses of humor mixed in. A dash of the surreal and downright absurd here and there made for very non-formulaic shows with terrific casts and, sadly, a lack of ratings. Fuller, who is credited with writing credit on numerous episodes as well, has taken his focus for comedy mixed with the macabre and honed into a look at his favorite subject matter that is often horrific, dread-filled and quiet in many ways. There are lines slipped in for comedic effect, no doubt, but then they are juxtaposed by these elegant soliloquies on the nature of life and death. It is poetic at times, and a joy to hear in a genre that sorely needs some brilliance.
Mads Mikkelsen takes up the mantle of the titular serial killer though here is not the notorious "Hannibal the Cannibal" but just a psychologist who consults with the FBI on specific cases. Those who watch the show will, no doubt, make comparisons to Hopkins turn and find he is far from campy or hammy. He is much more reserved and lines that would normally be much more humorous uttered by Hopkins come out as terrifying when uttered by Mikkelsen. He, with his Danish accent, gives Lecter a much more foreign feel and an edge that is welcome. His performance is measured and understated and recalls the brilliance of Brian Cox's turn as the good Dr. Lecter.
Perhaps, however, the most interesting revelation of the series thus far is Will Graham. The FBI agent with the terrible gift of "perfect empathy", as Dr. Lecter so puts it, is so easily able to put himself within the headspace of the killers he pursues that it takes a toll. It is in the pursuit of these dealers of death that we get to see just how it affects Agent Graham. Hugh Dancy imbibes Will with a fragility and determination that is uplifting and also tough to watch at times. These pursuits, this ability to put himself in the shoes of serial killers to determine their motivations, their rituals and the like, is affecting him immensely. We see the toll of this relentless police work in visual cues of his sanity starting to fray but also in sterling dialogue and exchanges between himself and Hannibal. Much of the content thus far has an odd dream-like quality to it that gives us pause to wonder just how much more this man can take.
The show is frequently beautiful. Dinner parties at Lecter's house, in particular, were true visual delights to behold. Food was portrayed with such rampant glee and a near pornographic lens that I found myself salivating at times. Though all the while we know that much of what we're seeing is not just beef, not just fois gras but, the liver of Dr. Lecter's latest victim. I found myself pausing at times to take a look at particular scenes and rewinding to catch stunning visual cues. The color red, in particular, is used very well throughout the show thus far. One scene in particular stands out as the two are having breakfast and talking shop. There is a thin shaft of light that cascades down between them, offering but the faintest of light for Hannibal's face. That veil of shadow stands in stark contrast to the openness of Agent Graham's visage. thing that is striking, however, is just how much anatomy and gore we're allowed to see. This is network television remember? This seems like its REALLY stretching the bounds of what the FCC will allow on over the air broadcast television. It's strange, though, that for all that it doesn't feel gory. The violence shown isn't the worst part about it but just how all of this death affects those around it. The psychological toll of this constant cat and mouse game and the lives snuffed out elevate this beyond just a mere police procedural with Hannibal Lecter tossed in. The basis is, indeed, a bit CSI-esque but there is so much more going on here than that.
Lecter is such an interesting monster. He commits such atrocities yet we do not root against him. He helps catch killers while, in fact, committing such evil himself. If you caught the original Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon or Hannibal. We know his secret already. Here, though, we see him before he's been captured. Long before he helped catch Buffalo Bob or started globe-trotting. Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade Report refers to him as a superhero. His powers include the ability to see through people, to see to their core. It is there he can further manipulate as necessary or keep those that hold his interest close to him. Graham has his own extraordinary ability in his "perfect empathy" and it is an interesting take on not only what is a police drama but is also a psycho-drama that gets so many things right for the minor missteps here and there.
The plotting suffers, at times, from lapses in logic and sometimes it is far too serious for its own good. I found myself waiting for more humor to work its way in thus far as this is a Bryan Fuller show. He's known for weaving it in so well in past works but then again those weren't serious serial killer fare such as this is. This is scripting that is, honestly, unparalleled in this type of horrific genre show. We get the grizzly mixed with the sublime and it is wonderful.
The problems are, honestly, minor and what we are given, instead, is a brilliant and bloody entry into the serial killer genre that is so very worthy of the moniker it displays in the title card. I worry that, perhaps, this will go the same way as other Fuller properties but I hope not. I hope we get at least a full season out of this show perhaps two because the dance of predator and prey that Lecter and Graham engage in is enthralling. This is what television can be. It can be phenomenal. I, for one, can't wait for the next episode.