or The Verger Family Fun-Time Hour
I promise, we’ll be getting back to episode-by-episode for the Red Dragon arc. Life just derailed things enough for the first half of this season.
In a weird way, though, I’m sort of glad it worked out this way. Because a fair number of the things that struck me about this first half I would likely risk repeating thanks to how thematically solid this first half was.
Earlier this season, amid much of the discussion of Hannibal‘s future (which will likely be a talking point come the season’s end), Fuller had expressed a desire to go more towards seasons akin to how British television does things. In many ways, this third season seems to have gone that way (somewhat to my advantage) and is actually two ‘British’ length seasons put together.
In this first case, we make our first steps into more direct adaptation – sort of. Where the earlier seasons used familiar characters and details to make their own story, this first half of the season had Fuller offering up an alternate take on Thomas Harris’s somewhat contentious third novel, Hannibal, as well as elements from the even more criticized Hannibal Rising.
As someone who was pretty mixed on the third book, I have to admit – this actually improved on it in a lot of ways. But I’m getting ahead of things.
Jumping off from the Hannibal and Bedelia-focused season debut, much of the first half of this arc focused itself on the aftermath of the events of season two. Over the course of several episodes, we caught up with each of the characters and learned who lived and who died, often to some incredibly painful effect.
Which was part of what made for the big theme of a lot of this season – after the incredibly harsh way the second season went down, a lot of this season was coping with the aftermath of Hannibal’s actions. It was actually pretty striking seeing how varied these responses were – Will’s forgiveness of Hannibal, despite the pain and loss he inflicted on him, the desire for revenge by both Alana and Mason Verger, as well as the extents each is willing to go there, and Jack’s taking it on himself to save Will from both Hannibal and himself.
On this last note, I just want to say, this arc really helped reaffirm why Laurence Fishburne has been a great choice for playing Jack Crawford on the show. In the aftermath of last season, his character has had a LOT of deal with – being taken off the force, finally accepting his wife’s desire to end her own life, and trying to deal with the living Hell he has put a friend through by introducing him to a mad man. He’s been on an emotional roller coaster, and Fishburne has done a great job with playing that out without overselling it. Dancy and Mikkelsen have gained a lot of praise for their involvement in this show so far, and it’s very deserved, but it’s also worth again confirming how much Fishburne has given as the ‘normal’ connection to Will and Hannibal’s growing madness.
Actually, even besides this, the cast has been great all around. Alongside the big three, I was quite pleased with how well the show played the dynamic between Caroline Dhavernas as Alana and Katharine Isabelle as Margot. As two relatively lone figures among the madness of the Verger estates, the season did well with building up a kinship between the two that made a lot of sense without feeling overly forced, even when it came to its hand in the big finish.
Which, I suppose, is as good a way as any to segue to the story on this season. Adapting the book for Hannibal was always going to be a hurdle for this show. Between the uncertainty of their future from season to season, the rights shakeups over Silence of the Lambs, and the hurdles that would come from introducing Mason Verger and then putting him away for several seasons before rolling him out again, a straight adaptation was just not in the cards. In a way, I think I prefer the compromise the show has done here. It allowed them to still strike while the iron was hot, both in terms of audience memory as well as Mason’s involvement, and it avoided some of the more questionable leaps the original material took with Clarice Starling in its now infamous finale.
Additionally, this reworking feels like it does a better job of conveying Mason as an antagonist. He was always going to be an odd challenge, given both his personality and his injuries, but the show has managed to find a good way to convey him and his motivations without them feeling either overly cartoonish or too much like shock, for shock’s sake. He’s still an absolutely creepy monster of a human being – and stepping up to the scarred role, Joe Anderson manages to prove himself worthy of – continuing the role in Michael Pitt’s absence after a slightly rocky start – but here he feels grounded, even while preparing all manner of twisted depravities.
At this point, the only things I would really call drawbacks to this section of the show I would almost want to mark with an asterisk, as they’re also not without their merits. The first of these is continuing the show’s somewhat awkward sex scenes from the second season. Now, I give Fuller some considerable points for managing to get NBC’s standards and practices to greenlight a lesbian sex scene (among a number of other things this season’s gotten a pass on) and I have to admit the kaleidoscope effect makes for a great thematic touch to the idea of Alana and Margot’s newfound bond as a result of it. But it was also a scene that, while visually quite nice, also became something of a belabored point.
More prevalent, for both good and ill, was the introduction of Chiyoh (Tao Okamoto) as an element from Lecter’s past. Okamoto played the role well, and her introduction made for an interesting perspective into Lecter and how his mind worked, but after a while, she became sort of a loose end in the story. Mainly it felt like she was just there to provide Lecter himself with outs when needed. Conceptually, she’s a very interesting idea, and the show delivered on that at first, but after those early episodes, she seemed to revert more to a plot device than a character, and by the end of the arc, she felt more like missed opportunity than anything else.
We’re at close to two pages, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on this (possible revisit down the line? I’m game if you guys are). All in all, this first half was a Hell of a ride. Over the first seven episodes, Fuller and his team took one of the more troubled books of Harris’s run and managed to tease out the potential of the book and diminish a lot of the more troublesome elements (personal disclosure, the end of that is one of the few times I’ve actually gone “What the HELL?” finishing a book) while also providing some good thematic closure to many of the elements the show’s original content had set up. In a way, it’s somewhat appropriate that the book that was initially a ‘finale’ was used to put an end to Fuller’s own take on the early years, complete with a last conversation between Will and Hannibal re-establishing the two as not as similar as the latter thought.
With Lecter now in custody, the series begins to officially enter the book territory proper as it makes the second half of its third season into an adaptation of Red Dragon. As promised, we’ll be taking this one back to episode by episode. And honestly, as of the first episode, I’m pretty excited for this one.
Keep an eye out for The Great Red Dragon in the next few days.
-Strong direction and acting all around
-Good way of reworking one of the more divisive chapters of Thomas Harris’s lore
-Chiyoh is an interesting character, but once Will’s off the train she’s more a plot device
-While I really like the idea of Alana and Margot’s quasi-couple, the sex scene did kind of lay it on thick after a point