Saturday, 31 May 2014

i regret to inform you i must decline your dinner invitation, dr lecter: on hannibal season two

(this post, obviously, contains spoilers for season two of Hannibal, as well as discussion, albeit fairly brief, of topics covered in the show, mainly cannibalism, abuse, violence, and misogyny)

Last week, I deleted every episode of Hannibal from my computer. It's usually very difficult for me to cut ties with a television show, especially as quickly as this; for example, I watched nearly three more seasons of Supernatural than I enjoyed. I haven't regretted removing this show from my life for a single moment, and it's looking like I never will.
Season one of Hannibal of course had its problems, but overall it wasn't much worse than any other Crime Show on the air, and in some ways it was better-- much of the violence was off-screen, and the cinematography, coloring, backing music, and pacing worked together to create a tense, anxious, captivating, and ultimately gorgeous (though gory) environment. And season two was just. Off. Bad. Untasty.
One of the more effective things about the first season of Hannibal is similar to one of the more effective things about Lecter's cooking: the viewers (along with Hannibal's dinner guests) are being enticed into something unappetizing by an appetizing appearance. The food is people, but it also looks delicious; the show is gory and disgusting, but it looks wonderful.
Season two was more gory and more disgusting than season one and with none of the enticing elements of it. Most episodes were more like watching the details of hot dog manufacturing than watching Lecter prepare a gourmet meal, and the treatment of its characters felt like they (and we) were being served by slopping down ladlefuls into a trough.
To speak very quickly about slop and flinging and troughs and confused mixtures, why did season two take so many plot cues from Hannibal (the book)? From what I was given to understand the show was going to follow roughly the order of the books, starting pre-Red Dragon and continuing through Clarice, and yet here we are dealing with Mason and his pigs, already. Maybe I'm misremembering horribly, or maybe Fuller said this just to appease the people clamoring for Clarice, but it almost feels a bit like we're going too fast-- the gore ramps up, characters make baffling choices to account for a sped-up pace, Hannibal becomes a "louder faster brighter more more more" show instead of keeping its build-up slower (and better). I don't know. I had heard about a seven-season plan for those three books (I am pretty sure we don't really talk about Hannibal Rising) but we have also been told that season three would follow the plot of Hannibal. Basically the story structure is a mess, it's a month's worth of potato peels and mush sloshed around in a bucket. That wasn't as quick an aside as I intended; I probably should have taken more cues from Fuller's writing this season.
Apart from the absolutely baffling finale (like, what???), what most angered, annoyed, and upset me about this season, more than the weirdly unnecessary ramping up in degree and type of gore, was how violent and hateful it was toward its female characters. Zero of the eight major female characters made it through the season without experiencing violence, being manipulated, or being denied her autonomy. While it is not unusual for a show, especially a crime show, to insufficiently utilize the potential of its female characters and to mistreat them, this season of Hannibal was particularly bad. We have a character finally being written to her full potential, and then the next time we see her she has been gruesomely disassembled (don't worry, we got to see that process too). A character is physically and emotionally abused on screen, and then in a voyeuristic and unnecessary sex scene (only to be all for naught when she is operated on against her will the next episode). Multiple women are attacked, denied their autonomy, abused either implicitly or explicitly, killed-- if they are on screen much at all.
Season two of Hannibal was promoted in language of bigger, better, more. But misogyny and violence toward women aren't groundbreaking television. Especially in a genre filled with it, it's derivative and disappointing to see something like this, something not only offensive but unoriginal. I can't say I am genuinely surprised to see more and more misogyny in a show I used to enjoy; I have seen it far too often to ever be surprised by it again. I am disappointed, I am upset, I am hurt; but I am not even remotely surprised.
As well as that (far larger and more important!) laziness, we have the ''''intricacies'''' of this season's plot, by which I mean "what in the world did I spend thirteen hours of my life watching." I was confused about what was happening almost the entire season. And, talking with others, I know that my confusion was not based in poor viewing comprehension or an inability to follow the twists and turns of a complicated plot, but in poor writing that jumped around far more than it should have, leading to confusing character choices and unclear motives and pacing that was just wrong enough to not quite place your finger on. While some confusion on the part of the audience is often the mark of a good story, there is always the "a-ha" moment, where everything pays off, and without that pay off, the story is mediocre at best. Storytelling 101 over here. And nothing paid off in Hannibal-- we're left with questions unanswered and questions raised and answers we don't care about. And I have never cared less about having my questions answered than I do about Hannibal.

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