[List] - Meals Uneaten: Hannibal's Lost Stories

Before we get to the meat of things, first I want to draw attention to this great mash-up put together by Matthew Morettini. What he's done is taken footage from the three adaptations of Red Dragon - Manhunter, Red Dragon, and Hannibal - and intercut them. One scene in particular, when Will confronts the imprisoned Dr. Lecter for the first time in years, and asks for his help in tracking down the Tooth Fairy. All three versions adapt this scene practically verbatim from the novel and are therefore verbally nearly identical. This was one of my few complaints about season three of Hannibal: the exactness of the adaptation. But this short, if nothing else, makes for a great study in style. In how the same words can be adapted through the creative vision of three different writers, each with a different intent and tone, and produce vastly different outcomes. Personally, I would have done more intercutting, having Will-A talk to Lecter-C, Lecter-B to Will-A and so on. But it's still a fun and educational watch.

And now, to business.

Hannibal is done. The bill has arrived, we have paid, and all we have left is the faint hint of the meal on our breath. But before we brush our teeth and resign the meal to the palaces of our memory, now is the time for digestion and reflection. And, as always seems to be the case with me, thoughts shift to courses unserved. Hannibal was a three course meal, parred down from an intended seven. While that number might now seem indulgent, and despite the completeness of the menu as prepared, there did seem to be noticeable gaps in the offering. Plates the chef has clearly meant to fill, but what the kitchen was ill equipped to cook. The ingredients were there, but have been returned to the pantry. So, as we sit stuffed and docile, I thought it an appropriate time to think back on the meal, and wonder about the courses we missed, and what tastes and fragrances they might have added to the feast.

Hit the jump for the alternate menu, which contains spoilers for the entire run of Hannibal.

Fuller clearly knew the end was near. His initial plan of seven seasons was a fluid one, that he kept whittling away at until he felt he could tell as complete as possible the story he wanted in the time he obviously believed he has. And while the decision to split the latter seasons into two distinct halves allowed for a broader range of storytelling within his time constraints, and prevented inflation, episodic tendencies and decompression, it also meant sacrifice. And the sacrifice that was made was elaboration. While the characters never suffered for the absence of additional stories, there are a thick layer of more that wasn't being told that was evident, especially in season three. From the series as it exists, this is my interpretation of what was most obviously sacrificed so that Fuller could get at least to the end of Red Dragon.

The Courtship of Will Graham

When the series began, Bryan Fuller explained the early "prequel" seasons, before the novel adaptations would take hold, as the bromance and breakup of Will and Hannibal. Now that it's over, we can run that metaphor to it's completion. Season one is the courtship period, when the lovers are getting to know one another. It's fun, episodic, and hints at a larger connection. Season two is the relationship in full. The intimacy, the romance, and the mistrust and betrayal. The first half of season three is the break-up period, where guilt and uncertainty reign, and an unwillingness to let go of the familiar despite the best interests of the concerned parties supersedes logic. The second half of season three is the awkward running into one another at a party years later, and letting a nostalgic passion take control despite, again, anyone's best interests.

The part of the chain that is missing is the rebound period that follows the break-up. When both parties go their separate ways and learn to live as individuals again rather than as parts of a whole. This can manifest as extreme isolationist tendencies, or it can see someone jump right into another relationship, to create a surrogate for the intimacy they still crave. Wonderfully, Will and Hannibal would have served both of these roles. Hannibal, incarcerated, would have been cut off from the world, with only his own self analysis to keep him company. To roll over in his mind where it all went wrong. Will, meanwhile, meets Molly. During Red Dragon, not much attention is paid to Molly herself, and their relationship is only given attention when it is necessary for Will, and through him the audience, to feel something other than what he feels for Hannibal. In the novel, not much is revealed about Molly. She has a son, Willy, from a previous relationship, whom Will adopts. What Molly does for a living goes unmentioned, but her understanding of Will's situation once he returns to the FBI seems far more professional than just a wife supporting her husband.

Personally, I've always imagined her a grief counselor, and I feel like that would have fit well in Hannibal's sequence of events. Hannibal himself inadvertently establishes that Will knew her, and was far enough along in their relationship to have bounded with Willy, before Hannibal's trial. The video above features the line "that's the same atrocious aftershave you wore at my trial," and "it's the sort of aftershave a child would pick out. It has a little boat on the bottle." Given the events of Hannibal's Last Supper, and the cross-Europe shenanigans (including a near lobotomy), it would make sense that Will would seek out some help. Less likely a psychiatrist, given his previous experience, but a support group seems reasonable. One that Molly either participated in herself, or led. I envision her backstory has having come from an abusive relationship with Willy's father, and thus share something with Will. Hence her greater understanding of the delicacy and intricacy of Will and Hannibal's relationship. And the coldness that Will expresses towards Willy's father (assumed from his reaction to Jack's observation that Willy is tall, the flat "his father was").

But the critical thing we missed, as viewers, was learning to care for Molly as Will did. She's a relative none entity in the novel, but in the show we have to care for her before they put her in peril. And the only reason we have to do that is because the show says that Will cares for her. It is an informed condition, rather than an emerged condition. We didn't come into it, it came onto us. We feel for Will, but we don't feel for Molly. We feel for Will feeling for Molly. Had a fourth season been assured, to host Red Dragon, the second half of season three could have been host to this emergence, and allowed Molly to become far more than just another plot point, and become a character in her own right.

The Trial of Hannibal Lecter

In season two, Will Graham stood trial for Hannibal's crimes. Much of what needed to be said about those crimes was said then. but that is not to say that Hannibal's trial wouldn't have been a major turning point in a lot of characters's stories. And it would have allowed the show to examine one thing that it never really had time to do: the larger influence of Hannibal Lecter. In one of the novels, I can't remember which, it is said that after Hannibal's arrest, there was a surge of bulimia and suicides in Baltimore, when it was discovered what he had been feeding his guests at his parties. This, and his professional stature despite his incarceration, are two of the few indications we are given of Hannibal's effect on character beyond the immediate cast. In the series, Hannibal's actions dictate the lives of Will, Jack, Alana, Chilton, Bedelia and Abigail, but little is seen of the wide effect he has on his world. The trial would have been the opportunity to explore that.

It also would have been the opportunity to dramatically shift the positions of several characters. We saw the after effects of this, but to see it happen would have been to allow the characters to react to the change as it happens. Chilton's fame and notoriety as he exalts Hannibal's insanity. Freddie Lounds' national attention from her articles. Jack being offered his position at the FBI again and a certain deification as the man who caught Hannibal Lecter, despite Jack's insistence that he didn't catch him, he turned himself in (which would become something of a refrain), and Alana's promotion to the head of Baltimore State Hospital, and her emerging relationship with Margot. All aspects of characters designed to shunt them from where they were to where they needed to be. Happening off screen is one thing, but watching it unspool as we know Fuller and his writers were capable of would have been entirely different. And a trial would have allowed for a slightly different season three to end with Hannibal taking the stand and making a definitive statement on his own condition; an admission of his truest self to the world.

The Becoming of Hannibal Lecter

In the second half of a different season three, while Will meets Molly and learns to live without Hannibal, Hannibal would slip into deep self analysis in preparation for his trial. Because the series already was happy to exist in the present, in the past and in dreams, this would have been the perfect opportunity to explore Hannibal's own becoming. Hinted at in the first half of season three, while in Europe, and with Chiyoh, this would have been the time to explore the youth of Hannibal Lecter. Not as some hack-eyed origin story, like Hannibal Rising, but as an education. Hannibal has to have learned manners and grace and style and skill from somewhere, and someone. Fuller was not shy about his desire to have David Bowie play Hannibal's Uncle Robert, the man who takes Hannibal under his wing and helps to reveal the man he will become. As part of his analysis of his life, and the events that led him to imprisonment, and especially how his own mentorship of Will went so wrong, examining his own education would have the most logical thing in the world.

It would have been during this period that Hannibal could have looked back in greater detail on his other significant relationships in his life, either as films in his mind, or interactive memories, much as Will often did. This would have provided time to delve into his back story with Bedelia (and given Zachery Quinto something to do), as well as give us more time to live with Abigail and with Miriam Lass during their extended periods in Hannibal's care. While Hannibal insists that "nothing happened to me; I happened," even a hurricane begins as a tropical depression. Will and Hannibal wouldn't have been able to interact during the trial period, for their own mental health but also due to practicality. They would have been isolated, and thus each of their stories would have needed to exist in a vacuum. In Hannibal's case, entirely in his mind. Plus, I can't imagine watching a young Hannibal pick up speed would have been uninteresting to watch.

The Failure of Jack Crawford

Part of me feels that Red Dragon needed more than six episodes. It worked as is, but it could have supported a full season. Dolarhyde's backstory was cut almost entirely from the show, as was much of the length and detail of his relationship with Rita. An entire sub-plot was omitted, concerning Dolarhyde's murder due to jealousy of Ralph Mandy. They left in the tiger scene, and his eating the original Blake, and those meant to show Rita's influence on him and his fight against the dragon. But they felt a bit rushed, and would have worked better if we had been able to see more of their relationship unfold. As it stands, it seems like a few aggressively progressive dates.

But his fight against the dragon is only truly effective if we have a clearer sense of how powerful the dragon is. And serializing the novel should have provided the show the chance to examine the period just before the novel begins, which I feel is just as interesting, because it would have focused on Jack. The show sort of established that Dolarhyde had been active as far back as season one, and that his murders of the Jacobis is only the first murder that begins to conform to a specific pattern. The books also establish that Crawford has been hunting the Tooth Fairy for two months with no luck before he comes to get Will. Those two months I feel would have been a interesting place to start off a season, if only for a couple episodes. Establish the crimes through Jack's perspective, and establish Jack's complete failure to progress in the case. With the honorific of the man who caught Hannibal Lecter hanging over his head, he feels forced to produce result, and the murder of the Leeds pushes him past any sense of guilt, and causes him to reach out to Will.

Extending Red Dragon over a season also would have given them a chance to actually investigate the crime. Rewatch season three and you'll notice that the FBI didn't do any real police work to catch Dolarhyde. That he works at a film lab is never used to track him. They lay the honey trap with Chilton and Lounds but it doesn't lead anywhere informative (in the book, the old wheelchair is a clue in Dolarhyde's direction). They don't even know his name until Rita survives the fire, and at that point they believe he died. In the show, if Jack hadn't brought Will in, nothing would have been different, because it was Rita that caused Dolarhyde to change, not pressure form police. The progression in the case is done without their involvement. More than anything, they just mop up their own mistakes, and fill in the gaps in their own knowledge when something reveals itself. Giving the Dragon more room to spread it's wings would have allowed for greater depth to the story, and depth is never a bad thing.

The Silence of the Lambs

Fuller is still insistent that he wants and will complete his definitive version of the Hannibal Lecter story by adapting Silence with Mads and Hugh, and would like Ellen Paige to play Clarice and Lee Pace to play Buffalo Bill. But once again, I will say that he doesn't really need to. Throughout the three seasons, he managed to tell the most important part of Silence in his own way. The characters of Abigail, Miriam and Bedelia take the place of Clarice at various stages of her life. Abigail is the young girl, clutching a lamb in terror and running from a darkness that has already surrounded her. Miriam is the head strong but inexperienced agent who blunders into a situation she wasn't prepared for. And Bedelia was the world weary professional who is caught in Hannibal's web and succumbs to his influences.

Silence isn't Hannibal's story, it's Clarice's. And Clarice isn't much of a character, if I'm honest. She's a feminist who lacks the confidence to stand up for herself. Hannibal isn't as infatuated with her as people think, he just sees her as a more interesting toy than what he's been able to play with for a while. He provides her with only one piece of genuine information. By the time she's fully involved in the investigation, he's already lying to her and planning his escape. And as an investigator, she relaies on luck more than skill. She happens to stumble upon Jame Gumb, then puts herself in a situation where her survival or death is pretty much exactly fifty/fifty. That she manages to both survive and kill Bill is down to sheer blind luck. the novel Hannibal, which upset many people with the way Clarice was depicted, as actually truer to the state of the character: defined by one mostly random deed, then failing to live up to that for the rest of her career.

I'm not saying that Fuller wouldn't do amazing things with Clarice, and her relationship with Hannibal (which would have to be viewed in an entirely different light, giving his past with Abigail). I completely believe that Fuller would make Clarice the character that her reputation has made her out to be all these years. But I'm also saying that it doesn't need to happen. That getting hung up on this piece of dessert that never arrive should not distract from the full meal we've already been served.

As for the fourth season arc, that Fuller intends to make as a film, he maintains that there is a sub-plot in Red Dragon that has never been adapted in any of the films or the series, and that provides the seeds for where he would take Hannibal and Will after they went over the cliff face. I've read Red Dragon many times, and I have no idea what sub-plot he's hinting at. How about you, readers? Any ideas of where Hannibal might still yet go?

Recovering the Mindset via io9.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. I thought Fuller said the fourth season arc would be based on a subplot from the Hannibal novel.

    I like your ideas of a different third season, at least its second half. I wish they were manifested on the show if it was guaranteed a fourth season earlier.