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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal: Side Effects May Include Reduced Spoilerphobia

Posted by Bobby Roberts on Sat, Mar 22, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Hannibal.jpg

Hannibal is one of the best television shows - network, cable, or otherwise – of the last 10 years. It’s certainly the most beautifully shot, and yes, that's counting True Detective. In fact, standing Hannibal next to True Detective seems to be an unfair comparison in multiple ways, not the least of which being Hannibal's storytelling doesn’t lend itself to the sort of TV-as-Puzzle-Game phenomenon that was forced by its viewers and pop-culture media onto HBO’s gothic yellow nightmare. Or Breaking Bad. Or basically any other show that’s come on the air since LOST happened to ABC. People don’t just watch TV anymore. They play Plot Tetris with it. Until they start to lose. And then they play Plot Jenga.

This doesn’t happen with Hannibal, and not just because viewership is too small to properly play the game. The show is a brilliant-but-bitter pill, delivering doses of psychological drama, mind-melting cinematography, and powerhouse acting unlike anything else currently airing. One of the nice little side-effects of this delicious, twisted nightmare fuel is Hannibal also reduces any lingering, annoying Spoilerphobia you might have in your system.

Of the recurring complaints about the show (How many ridiculous serial killers can the FBI trip over in a single month, why doesn’t Will carry a towel and a speed stick with him at all times damn) one of the more frequent regards Bryan Fuller himself, and the choices he makes when crafting next week's previews, or answering questions during his fascinating walk-throughs over at the AV Club. Specifically, people are confused/hurt as to why he thinks he needs to spoil so darn much.

It’s a weird complaint, because Hannibal is not that show to be watching if you’re a Spoilerphobe. Spoilers: Will Graham gets out of jail. Will catches Hannibal Lecter. Will and Jack Crawford then go on to catch Francis Dolarhyde, with the help of an imprisoned Hannibal. Surprise is an important part of storytelling, but also a pretty superficial one. Hannibal has a pretty surface, but Fuller’s story is all about the shifting, turbulent madness roiling underneath that smirking plaid veneer. It’s less about the “what,” and much more about the “why” and the “how.” It's a great way to sidestep the problems that cause most prequels to splat-pack, and in fact, Hannibal is the only prequel I can think of that surpasses the material its preceding.

Think of the killers seen thus far in the show’s run. The guy who makes mushrooms out of people, the guy who builds totem poles out of bodies, the guy who turns people into stringed instruments; none of them were “surprises.” Most of them weren’t really characters at all, but a means to a metaphor. In the most recent episode, there wasn’t even a mystery: A guy gets his eyes poked out, his brain chopped up, and is turned into a beehive. Within 20 minutes and a minimum of chin scratching from one of the Kids in the Hall, we’re hanging out in Amanda Plummer’s crib because of course we are. Anyone watching knew she was the killer of the week the instant the words “Amanda” and “Plummer” came up in the lower third after the opening credits. Jack Crawford merely rolls his eyes at her confession. Because Hannibal is a show that assumes its viewers aren't dipshits.

Hannibal shares a strange similarity with - of all the shows in television history - Columbo. That was a show that frequently began with the murder of the week right up front, killer’s face and motives clearly on display. It subverted the whodunit beautifully, focusing more on the battle of wits and wills between our rumpled gumshoe and the polo-shirted asshole who buried his wife beneath a pier for the life insurance.

And that’s exactly how Fuller started Season Two. Jack Crawford is going to visit Hannibal’s house, they’re going to get in a scrap, Hannibal is going to stab Jack in the neck, and Jack is going to stumble into Jack’s wine cellar. Is this a spoiler? Nope. Because what’s important to Fuller is how we get there, much in the same way Breaking Bad wasn’t spoiled when Vince Gilligan opened his final season with a visit to the abandoned White household.

Was it a spoiler when Fuller told us Abigail and Bella were coming back for this week’s episode? No. Because merely knowing they appear doesn’t spoil the "why" of their being there, or the "how" of their effect on the story. Now, if he’d said “Hannibal feeds Bella's suicidal impulses as a means to keep Jack under his thumb,” that’s a spoiler. Abigail appearing again isn’t a spoiler. Abigail returning in a dream sequence as personification of the metaphor powering the entire episode? That's a spoiler.

Fuller may not be intending to do this, and if he is, it’s definitely a concern way down the list, if not an asterisked footnote at the bottom; but he is teaching the audience with every episode that knowing what happens before it happens doesn’t always kneecap the story being told. Granted, if a show’s story is some thin, weak shit, substituting substance for surprise, then yeah, simple details like “This actor is in the show this week” might be swinging a bat at an IKEA bookshelf that’s missing a few dowels.

But that’s not Hannibal. And week after week, the show proves that the only way to actually “spoil” the show is to watch it, because the punch the it packs cannot be distilled into a preview, or contained in a plot synopsis. The plot is merely a skeleton made to hold the horrible weight of that drama, and the succulent meat of that character interaction. Gnawing on dry bones is no substitute for the twisted feast Fuller offers up in 42 minute servings every week. This week’s preview essentially solves the “mystery” behind the courtroom murders. Which means that “mystery” probably ain’t shit compared to whatever else is going to happen next week.

Don’t wring your hands over the things Fuller is choosing to show you ahead of time. It’s whatever he’s still hiding behind his back you should be scared of.

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