You may recall, long ago in my "Secret Hiding Place" days, a confession involving my fondness for the character of Hannibal Lecter.
Well, it's been rather a long time since Anthony Hopkins stepped in front of the camera with a hockey mask, a fedora, a Harpy or a copper fait-tout. Since Sir Anthony moved on to other pursuits, my friends and I have contented ourselves with reading and writing fanfiction (a great deal of which can be accessed here). We, too, have moved on. We sometimes keep in touch via Facebook and email, but for the most part, our whole obsession has become part of our past. One thing that characterized us was our unwavering devotion to both the Hopkins version of Lecter and Thomas Harris's writerly instincts. Many readers of the novel Hannibal took great exception to the way Harris transformed the Lecter-Starling narrative from a "decent police procedural," as one critic termed it, to a "twisted love story." But we were entirely on board with it. After those fingers touched through the bars near the end of The Silence of the Lambs (film version), those of us who "got it" were content to wait as patiently as we had to for Mr. Harris to give us exactly what we craved. The fanfic websites started cropping up shortly after the novel was published in the spring of 1999. For our group, it began to lose momentum about four years later. By that time, Red Dragon the movie had premiered, and a certain amount of infighting and "Munchhausen by internet" had taken much of the fun out of our writing community. We kept it up for awhile, but it was probably inevitable that this particular sorority (I recall only one, possibly two guys who ever contributed a story) would disband.
Now, ten years later (just as with the original story), Dr. Lecter has reappeared!
I was first incredulous, then nervous, to learn that someone had dared to put "our Hannibal" on television.As far as we knew, our Lithuanian hero deigned to view the boob tube only to catch Clarice Starling on a newscast or to play a Stephen Hawking video that he hoped would give him guidance in resurrecting his tragically dead little sister Mischa.
But of course I tuned in on Thursday, April 4th. And have continued to do so every Thursday thereafter.
This show is, in a word, amazing.
Hugh Dancy as Will Graham
This time around, I don't think Dr. Lecter is wonderful. I do think Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the title role, is. I believe he does a far better job of personifying the "monster" that Thomas Harris envisioned back in the 1980s when he gave us our first guided tour of the dungeon level of Baltimore's Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
It's hard now to watch Anthony Hopkins stroll smilingly through the streets of Florence and label his character "insane." Especially after learning about Lecter's childhood and then watching him cultivate his long-distance relationship with Agent Starling. No, the Hopkins version of Lecter gives us more "method" than madness.
The TV Lecter, by contrast, is one troubled puppy. That courtly charm that lured a dedicated law-enforcement officer away from her career to a decadent life in Buenos Aires is nowhere to be seen here. The writing is fascinating. Characters we remember from the books show up, in different storylines, and even different genders. Anna Chlumsky (who starred with Macauley Culkin in the movie My Girl) makes a cameo appearance as a fresh-faced, eager young FBI trainee. Ah-ha! we think. It's Starling! She'll get him! But this Hannibal doesn't even bother to steal her heart. Instead, he steals her right arm, which he uses to dial her cell phone and taunt Jack Crawford. And the best part is Mikkelsen's acting. One critic noted that Mikkelsen's face is so blank and immobile, we can't tell whether he's plotting his next murder or trying to remember where he parked his car. He does so much more with less -- now that we're actually seeing him in the act of dispatching his victims, we get a mere hint of the inner torment that drives him. Little more than a tremor, a jerk of the head, a twitch of the lip -- but the message gets through. There's something in there, inside the "well-tailored person suit," as his own psychiatrist (Gillian Anderson) describes it. But she can't see it clearly enough, though her intuition makes her extremely nervous in its presence. She freely imbibes wine during working hours, and we know why, even if she doesn't. Yet.
Mads Mikkelsen hails from Denmark, and that's a lot more geographically compatible with Lithuania, accent-wise. His voice is heavily inflected and soft in tone, which is why I am in the habit of using the closed-caption feature to watch this show.
This week, we will see the season finale -- the show was recently renewed for another dozen episodes. I can only imagine we will be subject to a major cliffhanger. Lecter knows that only Will Graham can catch him. Crawford very much wants to, but his wife is terminally ill and that's a distraction. This is another area where the storyline fascinates: Lecter seems to genuinely want Will as a friend. Will's astuteness and extraordinary empathy with serial killers draw Lecter, who serves him coffee in the wee hours of the morning after Will sleepwalks, and then violates every rule in the Ethics manual by failing to tell him that it is encephalitis, not psychopathology, that is causing his fevered hallucinations.
Thomas Harris gives us a clue to Lecter's motives and fatal flaw, as voiced by Clarice Starling: "It's whimsy, and it's what got him caught last time."
We fans will be waiting for whatever is to come. To dream, perchance to write.