Sunday, February 23, 2014

It Came in the Night, Night, Night: Rabbit's Moon

All of the talk this past month about the Chinese lunar rover Jade Rabbit has been making me think about Rabbit's Moon, a brief avant-garde film from boundary-pushing filmmaker Kenneth Anger. I first came across this short several years ago at an "Art After Hours" event at the Zimmerli Art Museum, which featured a screening of several of Anger's films as part of the evening's showcase. The other two films (Fireworks and Scorpio Rising) were so full of sadomasochism that it's difficult for me to say I "enjoyed" them, and I also think they took these dark elements a bit too far to be truly good films. But Rabbit's Moon has stuck with me over the years, with its punchy yet haunting soundtrack and cheesy but effective visuals. Filmed under a blue filter, the other worldly quality of the images also leave a lasting impression.

From the outset of this post, I should note that Kenneth Anger played around with Rabbit's Moon several times over a nearly 30-year period, editing it for length and changing the background music. The version which I prefer over all others is the final cut from 1979, and that is the one I will focus on here. It happens to be the shortest of all the versions (boiled down from 16 minutes with the original 1950 version to just under seven minutes); I think the reduction of the source material to its core elements makes it more emotionally resonating. Sometimes less really is more. The 1950 and 1972 versions boast a soundtrack consisting mostly of 1950s popular love ballads such as "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "Oh, What a Night." In contrast, the 1979 version features the more obscure 1976 glam rock song "It Came in the Night" by A Raincoat, which plays twice in a row in order to accompany the entirety of the film. This song is addictively catchy, and I also thinks it mirrors the film's content in a supplementary way rather than some of the too obvious choices in the original version (i.e., "There's a Moon Out Tonight"). Also, it appears that Anger sped up some of the character's actions to fit the faster paced music; I'm thinking particularly of the final dance sequence on the makeshift stage but it's apparent in other scenes as well.

With Rabbit's Moon, Kenneth Anger plays around with common myths that continue to permeate over the years as well as elements of various cultures, choosing a mix of Western and Eastern influences to populate his film. For starters, he uses a combination of Italian commedia dell'arte, French mime, and Japanese kabuki theater techniques in the staging and choreography of his short. The title itself refers to a legend about a rabbit that lives in the moon - a mythical creature that appears in both East Asian folklore and tribal North American storytelling. In Rabbit's Moon, we see images of both a beautiful white rabbit and a glowing white full moon, with Anger perhaps over handedly ensuring that we make the connection between the two. The main character's repeatedly reaching for and missing the moon symbolizes the illusory nature of chasing after such myths and fairy tales.

Speaking of the characters, Anger draws his characters from the classic rotation of archetypes found in commedia dell'arte. In Rabbit's Moon, Anger features Pierrot as the main character with strong supporting roles from Harlequin and Columbine. In traditional commedia dell'arte, Pierrot is a pitiable, foolish character who loves Columbine, who in turn will almost always leave him eventually for Harlequin. Anger gives us the traditional Pierrot with a twist - he never seems to have Columbine from the outset, although of course he remains in his role of pining for her once he sets eyes on her. Nevertheless, Pierrot is still the "sad clown" stereotype here that he usually is, with his yearning and grasping for a moon that is never in his reach anymore than Columbine is. Harlequin is typically known as the prankster who is willing to go to any lengths to dupe Pierrot and win Columbine's affections, and that's basically the role he plays here as well. And Columbine ... well, she's pretty much just the eye candy in this case. Unlike her traditional role of cheating on Pierrot with Harlequin, she doesn't work here to actively deceive Pierrot being as she isn't committed to him at any point. It is perhaps worth noting that the famous characters from commedia dell'arte, especially Pierrot, have been elevated to the level of myth themselves. (One of my favorite Pierrot-based tidbits is that Charlie Chaplin's own famous character of the Little Tramp is modeled on the Pierrot and was declared by fellow actor Harry Baur to be "the brother of Pierrot.") The characters being legendary ones themselves serves this film by further solidifying its place in playing with the role of myths in our lives.

When discussing the history of the commedia dell'arte, Wikipedia declares that "Audiences came to see the performers, with plot lines becoming secondary to the performance." The same can arguably be said of Rabbit's Moon, which is light in terms of plotting. The first half of the short shows a particularly down and out Pierrot, who is literally mooning over the moon as he tries to jump up and reach it but repeatedly misses. Nothing seems to make him happy and on repeated occasions, he simply lays himself down on the ground in the fetal position, signifying his unhappiness and seeming despair. As the soundtrack circles back to "It Came in the Night" for the second time with its ghoulish opening laugh, Harlequin appears on the scene attempting to entertain Pierrot with various antics, showing off his traditional attributes of agility and energy. Harlequin's finale includes showing the beautiful and ethereal Columbine to Pierrot, but then he steps in the way of Pierrot contacting Columbine. Harlequin and Columbine disappear, a lunar eclipse occurs, and Pierrot is once again left reaching for the moon unsuccessfully, eventually collapsing prostrate once more as the entire sequence ends.

But what happens - or doesn't happen as the case may be - in Rabbit's Moon is less important than the film's ability to broadcast universal emotions and touch upon important themes. Who amongst us cannot see ourselves in Pierrot's melancholic state at some point in our lives? Our fears and concerns may seem as foolish to an outsider as Pierrot reaching for the moon only to be disappointed over and over again. Pierrot may be pitiable but he is also identifiable in his grief. In the first half of the short, the main character's penchant for hanging his head despondently while holding his arms straight out horizontally creates a visual image reminiscent of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Here again Kenneth Anger shows that he's willing to play with iconic cultural references and is once more touching on the inability of myths to create fulfillment for certain people. This imagery has a historical root as well; the Wikipedia entry for Pierrot notes that in the late 19th century, "the Symbolists saw him as a lonely fellow-sufferer, crucified upon the rood of soulful sensitivity, his only friend the distant moon" and that this interpretation of the character led to a portrayal of a "Christ-like victim of the martyrdom that is Art." Indeed, the Symbolist movement seem to adopt Pierrot as their mascot, "[seeing] him as an emblem of suffering, with only the moon for a friend. Naturally, as Pierrot’s association with the moon (and thus, the night) deepened, it was easy to emphasize his darker qualities; eventually artists gave him a literally bleeding heart ... Since his sadness often caused his words to fail him, Pierrot is seen as the father of mime." These aspects of Pierrot's nature and legendary status are all - with the exception of the bloody heart - ones that Anger touches upon and tweaks as he presents the Pierrot of Rabbit's Moon.

In the second half of Rabbit's Moon it seems that with myths being unable to cause joy, Pierrot (and the viewer with him) turns to entertainment as a source of temporary happiness. Pierrot is indeed at least momentarily distracted by the show put on by Harlequin. But this is also seen to be illusory and unfulfilling. Harlequin has only two physical props - a lamp projector and a slapstick. (According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance, Harlequin's slapstick is a kind of magic wand that allows him to change the scenery so that the characters appear in a new locale as well as providing a way for him to make objects into different ones.) His other entertainments are pantomimed, with Harlequin hypnotizing and delighting Pierrot using an imaginary balance beam, juggling with nothing, and other parlor tricks reenacted out of thin air. The pantomime can be seen literally, for the vast majority of Rabbit's Moon action is done in exaggerated choreography, but I think it can also be viewed metaphorically. Harlequin's antics are empty actions, simple illusions used to pull the wool over Pierrot's eyes yet again, as these two characters are destined to fulfill their roles of prankster/cheat and fool/cuckold respectively over and over throughout time.

The lamp projector also serves to metaphorically bring these characters forward into the modern day (or at least the modern day of the 1950s-70s). Harlequin uses the projector to shine a light onto Columbine as she dances on a makeshift stage, performing a simple ballet for Pierrot's enjoyment. In a way, the lamp projector can be seen as a stand-in for the movie projector and thus becomes a way to use the film to comment on films themselves. Pierrot approaches the stage and stands just at its brink, dancing as he watches Columbine dance, but his movements do not exactly mimic hers nor do the two ever physically interact. They literally dance around each other rather than with one another. Pierrot also tries once more to get the moon and to show off its wonders to Columbine, but she does not seem to quite grasp the significance of his interest in the full moon. Pierrot seemingly worships Columbine, literally falling to his knees before her, while she views him with disdain, waving a nonchalant hand at him and putting her nose up in the air. To me, this scene seems to comment on how no matter how much we as viewers may get amazed by and invested in our favorite characters on the stage/screen (and in some cases, the actors who portray them), we will always be just outside the realm of their world - perhaps thinking that we are interacting with them as we shadow their movements but never actually engaging with them. Once again, the theme of illusions - and their subsequent disappointments - emerges through the imagery of Rabbit's Moon.

The lamp projector spotlighting Columbine, with Pierrot gasping in delighted wonder as he views her for the first time. I love his expression in this scene and the fact that he literally gets bowled over with amazement seconds after this.
As I mentioned earlier, in this film it doesn't seem that Pierrot and Columbine are the ones to have the prior relationship with Harlequin coming in to steal her away, as is typical in the traditional story of these three characters. Pierrot seems to be viewing Columbine for the first time ever and his joy and wonder at that first glimpse are uncontainable. But as Pierrot becomes more and more fascinated with Columbine and her dance, Harlequin becomes like a strip club owner protective of his employees - you can look but you can't touch being the refrain. A popular theme for the commedia dell'arte stories is jealousy and it seems that Harlequin is the one to catch the green-eyed monster here, rather than Pierrot for a change. He goes from laughing at Pierrot's sad attempts to catch Columbine's affections to jumping in between the two of them to stake his claim on Columbine once again, guarding her from Pierrot's influence, and then whisking her away just before the lunar eclipse begins. The lunar eclipse can be seen as symbolic of Pierrot's further despair as the one bright spot in his life so far (Columbine) is taken away from him. Entertainment and distractions such as physical attraction are but brief flashes of momentary joys that end far too soon. They are bound to disappoint and depending on them for lasting happiness is as fruitless as trying to pull the moon down from the sky.

An interesting thought to consider is how several versions of the traditional legend of the moon rabbit note that the creature's immortalization upon the lunar surface is due to its self sacrifice. Love is a concept rooted in sacrificing one's self to another, of sublimating one's desires in order to promote the well-being of the loved one, of indeed subsuming one's very identity to become one with another human being. Thus, the moon that Pierrot is so desperately trying to reach can symbolize how this lonely person in the forest is seeking an all-fulfilling connection, an all-consuming loving relationship with another human being. The presence of Columbine further reinforces this, as she is the one meant to be Pierrot's partner in the traditional commedia dell'arte lore. Of course, as I've already mentioned several times, she is the one who will ultimately betray Pierrot's affections by leaving him for another man. Again, disappointment abounds in the landscape of Rabbit's Moon, and love is just one more thing that appears to disillusion Pierrot. To pull from Wikipedia's fountain of information on the Pierrot character again, that entry notes that in late 19th century pantomimes, Pierrot incarnations "would appear [as] sensitive moon-mad souls duped into criminality—usually by love of a fickle Columbine—and so inevitably marked for destruction." The self-sacrificing character aligned with the rabbit moon legend is Pierrot, but this sacrifice is not reciprocated nor does it gain him any reward as it does for the mythic rabbit. For a character who is seen almost always as a naïve fool, Pierrot is perhaps a warning to all of us when we view how myth, religion, entertainment, and love ultimately leave him abandoned to a wooded glen, once again alone in the world.

One thing I haven't touched upon yet is the appearance of the wood's children. Two small children emerge from the forest and onto the clearing twice during the film. I'm not quite sure what to make of the children or their place in the film. They appear from behind and underneath Pierrot's outstretched arms, suggesting that he somehow "births" them, but they are not recognizable characters to me. The first time they appear is during the first half of the film when Pierrot is flopping about sadly and all alone. One child holds a mirror to Pierrot and he turns away in disgust. The other child holds a shiny stringed instrument, which neither he nor Pierrot makes any attempt to play. Later when Columbine dances on the stage, the two children make a second appearance with the same props. They kneel where the footlights of the stage would be if it had any, and Columbine briefly admires herself in the mirror; the instrument again remains unused by anyone. The next cut back to the stage finds the children gone. Like I said earlier, I'm unsure of the significance of the children's appearance beyond that they indicate further in the first half how Pierrot won't be made happy by just anything and that in the second half they bolster Columbine's self-preening and vanity. It's also worth noting that in the longer original version, they appear a third time to entice Pierrot into a mystical place that becomes his ultimate undoing.

A final thing that I've neglected to mention up until this point is the introduction to the film. It opens with Pierrot lying on the ground in the forest's clearing as though sleeping. Indeed, it appears at first as though he is waking up and is unsure as to where he is and/or what is going on around him. As he arises and steps about gingerly, he seems to notice the moon for the first time and hence his fascination begins. Again, I'm not quite sure what to make of Pierrot seemingly dumped off in the woods by unknown forces and awakening to confusion followed by longing for the unattainable. It almost seems more explainable that Pierrot would go out seeking a way to get closer to the moon, but it could be argued that he is brought here by forces outside his control, symbolizing how life often brings us to unexpected places. Then again, it could also be argued that Pierrot picking himself up off the ground (where he lays at the end of the film after exhausting himself with his attempts to grasp illusions) is simply a cycle beginning all over again. We may think we are seeing Pierrot set his gaze upon the moon for the first time, but he may have simply been through this whole pantomime (literally and metaphorically) once or even many times before. Again, I think this is also symbolic of film itself. Anyone viewing a movie (well, a well-done movie) for the first time has fresh insights and feels like they are stumbling upon something raw and real; however, all they are seeing is something that was rehashed over and over again as the cast/crew made the finish product and as other audiences watched it in the past.

At any rate, those are my interpretations of the film's characters and scenes. Of course, as with all works of art, there can be many different schools of thought on the meaning. Indeed, one of the things I love about Rabbit's Moon is that despite its short length, I always catch something new in it upon re-viewing. To borrow from Wikipedia again in regards to the myriad interpretations of the Pierrot character over the years, one incarnation is "the narcissistic dreamer clutching at the moon, which could symbolize many things, from spiritual perfection to death." Perhaps my interpretation is completely off base and instead the moral takeaway of Rabbit's Moon is not a solemn dirge to make note of all life's disappointments but a celebratory melody of a character awakening to spiritual perfection by casting away previous distractions. Take a gander at Rabbit's Moon. Mull it over. What do you think Kenneth Anger is trying to say? Is your interpretation as bleak as mine?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Marty Quietly Steals Hearts ... and Lots of Awards

At a recent civic meeting, someone brought up the movie Marty (I forget the context) with the comment, "Everybody knows Marty," and everyone there did nod their heads in agreement. That is, everyone there except me. Not only had I never seen Marty, I had never even heard of it prior to this local meeting. Normally I would brush that off as a different generations type thing, but I actually happen to be a fan of old movies so it's surprising that I wouldn't have at least heard something about this movie in the past. Naturally then, I had to go look up this movie and when  I heard that it had won the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture, I was even more intrigued (and additionally stunned that this movie hadn't been on my radar previously). I was delighted to find that a copy of the movie was in my library and immediately checked it out.

Marty is the story of a 34-year-old Italian-American butcher living a quiet life with his mother in the Bronx. He goes to work and then meets up a with a handful of other bachelors at their favorite watering hole. Simple enough. But everyone - from his family to his random customers at the butcher shop - is hounding him about why he isn't married yet. Even his younger brothers and sisters are already married, so what's wrong with him? Pestered with all these questions daily, Marty decides to take his married cousin's advice and go to the Stardust Ballroom to look for women. While there, he comes across Clara, a chemistry teacher whose has just been stood up by her blind date when he saw another woman he found more attractive. Marty and Clara find in each other kindred lonely spirits and have a delightful evening together.

As (mis)fortune would have it though, on that very same evening, Marty's mother Theresa visits her sister Caterina who is going through a rough patch. Caterina's daughter-in-law is beyond frustrated with her meddling and has asked Marty and his mother to take in Caterina. Theresa must break the news to her sister that she is no longer wanted as a live-in companion to her son and his family. Caterina moans about how it's so difficult to be a mother after all of your children have flown the coop and no longer need you. She plants a seed in Theresa's mind about how terrible her life will be if Marty gets married and leaves her, and thus for the first time in her life, Theresa is completely against the idea of Marty finding someone. Meanwhile, Marty's friends look down their noses at Clara because she is a "dog" - aka an unattractive woman (it doesn't seem to matter that Marty isn't particularly leading man handsome himself) - and try to convince Marty to stay away from her.

After watching Marty, I am rather surprised that it won for best picture - especially considering that it came out at the same time as several movies that have become a larger part of the popular culture and/or tackled tougher topics, such as East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, The Seven Year Itch, Lady and the Tramp, Picnic, The Man with the Golden Arm, and even Blackboard Jungle. Still, Marty is atypical Hollywood - especially 1950s Hollywood - so I could see how the Academy might have wanted to give a nod to something out of the ordinary. Neither of the leads are Hollywood glamorous nor are they particularly suave or charming. The story is albeit a love one, but it's a nontraditional one with a slow buildup. Indeed, this movie is far more focused on constructing characters than it is on an action-filled plot. The majority of the movie is made up of various conversations held between the characters. In fact, the whole movie takes place over only one weekend, meaning that there isn't a whole lot of time for much of anything to happen. And yet the movie shows how just a couple of days can do a lot to change one's perspective and life.

One of the things that I appreciate about the movie is that while it is ultimately about setting up a conventional marriage, it raises important questions. Marty notes in the beginning that if you're going to be spending 40 or 50 years in a marriage with someone (this being before today's staggeringly high divorce rates), that person had better be more than just a pretty face. It's certainly a smart idea, but not one that his girl-chasing friends - or those who just want to push him into marriage already - seem to be interested in considering. As I noted earlier, Marty is 34 years old at the movie's open and Clara is ::shock:: 29 years old already! While his age is perhaps less damning, she's heading dangerously close to spinsterhood. But the movie doesn't condemn either of them too much for waiting to get married beyond the expected age. What I can't stand is the final scene of the movie when Marty gets on his best friend's case, telling him he should be ashamed of himself for not being married yet when all his younger siblings have already found someone to wed. Doesn't Marty recall the hurt and rejection he felt when people said the same thing to him literally the day before?

Whether the movie intended to do this or not, for all it's talk of getting married and settling down, it doesn't paint a rosy picture of wedded bliss. Marty's cousin Tommy and his wife Virginia start out the movie miserable because of Caterina's presence in their tiny apartment and her constant nagging of how Virginia runs the household and cares for the baby. But when they drop off Caterina to live with Marty and his mother, Tommy and Virginia instantly turn on one another, fighting about everything from being a mama's boy to not preparing a decent dinner. Meanwhile, Caterina's laments about old age exceed just aches and pains - she says it's a terrible time of life because with grown children out of the house, there's no longer anyone to cook for or clean up after. With a woman's whole life expected to be wrapped up in caring for her husband and children, she has nothing left to do with herself when she's widowed and her children are married. When Clara suggests a hobby might help, her advice is pooh-poohed as though it's crazy talk; there simply is no hobby for a woman beyond cooking and cleaning. The movie may try to paint a warm and fuzzy picture with Marty and Clara meeting after years of loneliness but around the corner it promises nagging arguments and eventual despair when this so carefully crafted life no longer has meaning. It's not exactly uplifting. But that may all be me simply reading too much into this short black-and-white film about an aging bachelor. And given that Marty and Clara are going about things in slightly less traditional way (and knowing that Clara is college educated with a career of her own), perhaps they will have a much happier fate.

One thing I can definitely say is that this movie is finely acted with characters that felt realistic. Tommy turning on a dime from relieved that his mother is moving out of his home to guilt that manifests itself as anger toward his wife feels very true to life. Even though he's a side character, Tommy comes across as having complex emotions and motivations. His wife Virginia likewise shows a multitude of emotions in the few scenes in which she appears. Marty is the nominal hero and you're mostly rooting for him, even he is so socially awkward at times that he comes across saying rather rude things to Clara when he means to be complimenting. For instance, more than once he basically says she isn't pretty but that's not the most important thing for a relationship. This is not exactly the line to woo most women over. Clara is similarly nervous and shy but has her own moments of honesty and surprising spunk (i.e., when she refutes Theresa's lament that Caterina is placed in an unfair position because of Virginia). Marty's single male friends are kind of lame and borderline misogynistic, but they are sadly all too recognizable.

My absolute favorite characters in the movie had to be Theresa and Caterina. With their old world sensibilities, their complaints about old age, their personal triumphs as seen through their children's lives, their talk of who's passed away now, and their desire to feed people no matter their protest, I felt like I was eavesdropping in on conversations between my late grandmother and her sister. Indeed, the whole movie with its close-knit Italian-American multi-generational extended family living together in tiny New York apartments felt like I was given a glimpse into the early married life that my grandparents had together and always talked about when they reminisced. It made me feel happy, sad, and nostalgic all at once.

The efforts of all these fine actors did not go unnoticed by the Academy. In addition to the nomination and win for best picture, this movie was nominated for best actor (Ernest Borgnine as Marty), best supporting actor (Joe Mantell as Marty's best friend), and best supporting actress (Betsy Blair as Clara, though it's a mystery to me why she's considered supporting when she's one of the movie's leads). However, only Ernest Borgnine took home the golden statuette for his acting in this movie. The movie was also up for best cinematography, art direction/set decoration, director, and screenplay, winning the last two. Marty was also the first movie to win both the Best Picture award and the Cannes Film Festival's highest award. So this was definitely a movie that made a big splash at the time of its arrival, although I'm not sure that it continues to stand the test of time with its portrayal of old world values and gender stereotypes. However, that's just my opinion - 20 years ago it was still considered significant enough to warrant a place in the National Film Registry.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Feast Continues with the Characters of TV's Hannibal

With my last entry, I began to discuss the television show Hannibal created by Bryan Fuller, addressing the mood of the show as well as the basic plot with as few spoilers as I could. (Beware, however, that I am not promising this post will be spoiler free. In fact, expect spoilers if you do read this post.) Therefore, in this post it's time to move on to discussing the characters that populate Hannibal, starting with the titular character.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter is the eponymous character and therefore the nominal center of the show, although I personally find Will Graham the far more compelling character, at least during this first season. That being said, Dr. Lecter is certainly an interesting person and, as usual for this character, is an intriguing study in opposites. Dr. Lecter has a calm, arguably cold, exterior regardless of circumstances - probably something which serves him well in his day job as a psychiatrist. He is part of the Baltimore elite, a debonair bachelor living in a pristine house with a professional-grade kitchen (of course) and working out of a beautifully furnished office that looks more like a palatial study (think of the Beast's library in the Disney version of The Beauty and the Beast) than a workplace. Dr. Lecter is knowledgeable on many subjects, uses his words sparingly and precisely, is always impeccably dressed (down to the matching handkerchief in his suit pocket), has acquaintances amongst the upper crust, listens to classical music, and attends the opera. In fact, one of the most fascinating scenes with insight into Hannibal's mind is the one in which he weeps during the opera - this from a man who is completely stoic at the sight of a gruesome murder. Which brings us to the opposite side of this man - for all his carefully maintained exterior, he is at heart a cold and calculating murderer. When it suits his needs, he changes the style of his murders, but it is nearly always brutal and almost always for the purposes of cannibalism. And this Hannibal isn't satisfied with just feeding himself from human flesh; he loves to share his culinary masterpieces with unsuspecting guests. Whenever Hannibal makes a meal on the show, I am both impressed by the presentation of his five-star-restaurant-grade dishes and repulsed by the idea of ever eating meat again because god knows what people have been serving me under the pretense of pork loin and lamb's tongue. In all seriousness, this show has been making me consider vegetarianism more so than any other argument for it ever has.

One of the things I appreciate the most about the actor Mads Mikkelsen and his expert portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is that he isn't trying to imitate anyone else's previous version of the character. In fact, Fuller noted in an interview the exact source of Mikkelsen's Lecter: "He talked about the character ... as Satan - this fallen angel who's enamoured with mankind and had an affinity for who we are as people, but was definitely not among us - he was other. I thought that was a really cool, interesting approach, because ... not that we'd ever do anything deliberately to suggest this - but having it subtextually play as him being Lucifer felt like a really interesting kink to the series. It was slightly different than anything that's been done before and it also gives it a slightly more epic quality if you watch the show through the prism of, 'This is Satan at work, tempting someone with the apple of their psyche.'" Once I read this interview, I couldn't help seeing Mikkelsen's interpretation of Hannibal Lecter through this lens. His cold exterior doesn't just protect his secret identity as serial killer; it is who he is. He simply does not care about human life because it is something so detached from himself. Lecter is the puppet master who loves to pull the strings and watch where the marionettes go; it doesn't matter if they fall or break for he will simply change the story of the puppet theater and/or incorporate new dolls into his cast. But this interpretation of Hannibal Lecter also makes that weeping at the opera scene even more poignant - is that a moment when Lecter stops being "other" and actually feels a connection with human emotion? Or is he simply putting on his own performance for the watching Franklin and Tobias?

Dr. Lecter also seems to be finally making a human connection of some sort when he begins to admit that he is feeling a friendship for Will Graham. But, of course, because this is Dr. Lecter's twisted psyche we are talking about, his being a friend to Graham is anything but helpful. Lecter is happy to hide a serious brain condition from Will just to see what will happen if he lets it run its course and wreak havoc on Graham's mental health and life. And, of course, as we know by the end of the season, Dr. Lecter has absolutely no problem with pinning his crimes on Will Graham rather than allowing Graham to come too close to solving the mystery on his own - or perhaps he does it with the exact purpose of guiding Graham toward his secret identity. Lecter-as-Satan is interested in seeing where the chips will fall when he throws a monkey wrench in to any given situation (sorry for the mixed metaphor but it says it best), even if it means that he could be compromising his own secrets. Then again, this latter supposition may be entirely off, as we've seen Lecter throughout the first season doing whatever it takes to cover up anything that might even remotely point in his direction where crimes are involved.

Lecter-as-Satan also seems to have an unworldly quality in which he is able to discern other serial killers from thin air. Tobias follows Lecter one night and sees him murder, but Dr. Lecter seems to simply intuit from a very brief encounter with the man that Tobias is a fellow serial killer. We still don't know how Hannibal and the Minnesota Shrike relate, but something tells me that Lecter may have spotted the latter's evil tendencies in a way similar to how he determined Tobias's proclivities: He simply knew by looking at the man. I could be wrong, but it just seems like the sort of thing Dr. Lecter would do.

At any rate, I definitely appreciate Mikkelsen's approach and think it adds so much depth and personality to the character. When I first saw The Silence of the Lambs more than a decade ago, I found it psychologically terrifying. In retrospect though, Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of the cannibalistic serial killer as a creepy, bone-chilling person was perhaps over the top. It's hard to imagine Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter eluding detection from a brilliant FBI profiler when he's right in front of him. But the way Mikkelsen plays Lecter, with all his cards held close to his vest as he displays an elegant and stoic exterior, it's easy to see how even Will Graham doesn't realize one of his closest confidantes is the serial killer he's seeking. Of course, since the two actors are playing the character at very different stages in his life, perhaps it's fitting that Hopkins's Hannibal uses his crimes as taunts while Mikkelsen's Lecter instead subtly plants hints to drive people away from suspecting his role in any wrongdoing.

Will Graham

As I mentioned earlier, Will Graham is the real focal point of the show for me, especially in the earliest episodes when we were still seeing so little insight into Hannibal's actions, let alone learning any of his motivations. Hugh Dancy hasn't let me down in past roles, and he doesn't disappoint here. He completely embodies the role of a character who has so much empathy that he sometimes has difficulty distinguishing himself from the killers he profiles. The flip side of that coin is he also has a well-spring of sympathy for the victims of these crimes and therefore wants very much to help them by bringing their killers to justice. Graham also feels an inordinate amount of guilt, protectiveness, and blind idealistic faith where Abigail Hobbs is concerned. Meanwhile, he can't shake the feeling of being connected to her cannibalistic murdering father, who continues to haunt him throughout the season despite being killed by Graham in the first episode. Graham also feels a deep and sympathetic connection with murderer Georgia Madchen, which is somewhat understandable given her sad fate.

As season one progressed, the nightmares Graham had after visiting particularly blood-curdling crime scenes began to turn into waking hallucinations. Other symptoms appeared that made Graham question his own mental sanity, and Dr. Lecter's not-so-subtle hints did nothing to ease his concerns. Graham's fear of becoming mental unstable is stoked by the constant stress of a new vicious murder that he must dissect in order to find the killer, and he spirals further downward. Dancy plays all of this believably, and the viewer feels increasingly concerned for him. When the viewer begins to know more than Graham does (i.e., the brain encephalitis that Dr. Lecter hides from him), the feeling is less of concern than simply great sadness. The viewer is constantly rooting for Graham because he's the good guy of the show. It's not simply that he's the hero (albeit, a somewhat unconventional one) of the show; he's just genuinely a good guy. Graham has shown his compassion and humanity over and over again as he works the various cases of cold-blooded killing. It's heartbreaking to see him feeling so alone and repeatedly turning for help to Dr. Lecter, the one person least likely to actually provide it (although he certainly maintains a good pretense of pretending to care for Will's wellbeing).

Despite all this (or perhaps because of this), Graham's background is the one I'd most like to have fleshed out in the upcoming season. Through little hints dropped here and there, we know that Graham used to be a cop before becoming an FBI lecturer. But it had been some time since Graham had been in the field before Jack Crawford came knocking at his door. Other than that, we don't know many details of Graham's past professional life and his personal life is pretty slim on details as well. We know that he's currently single, has a plethora of stray dogs he's adopted, likes to fish, used to fix boat engines back in Louisiana as a teen, and is arguably on the autistic spectrum toward the Asperger's side. Whether he has any living family is debatable - certainly no one ever appears for him and his support system seems virtually nonexistent, which is all the more lamentable when he feels himself beginning to crack.

In addition to getting more backstory, which is my hope, I feel certain that season two will bring more forward character development for Will Graham. And he sits imprisoned for crimes he now knows were committed by Dr. Lecter, Will is going to have to prove himself as being able to convince others of his sanity and by finding the evidence to condemn Hannibal, thereby exonerating himself. Of course, I want to see Will cleared of all false charges, but I'm also a bit concerned as to where the story will go if we already see Dr. Lecter in prison this early in the game. Fuller apparently has an ambitious seven season arc planned in his mind, which will eventually - by season four, in fact - get to the source material we've already seen on the silver screen, so I trust that he knows what he's doing. In the meantime, I'm definitely curious to see where this roller coaster is going to take us next. Within a teaser video, Fuller notes that while the first season was a game of cat (Hannibal) and mouse (Will), the second season will be a game of cat and cat. I for one am interested to see how that will play out.

Jack Crawford (and to a lesser extent, Phyllis "Bella" Crawford)

Jack is the linchpin of the series in many respects for making Will Graham and Dr. Lecter come together as well as for taking Graham out of the classroom and exposing him to horrific crimes firsthand. Some time is given to developing Crawford as a character, but I think still more could be done. Crawford is clearly a sympathetic man who tells Will from the outset that he will be there for him. But when push comes to shove, he's nowhere around when Will needs him. His locker room style speech, in which he provokes Will to be a quitter but says it will haunt him, is arguably the opposite of supporting Will. In fact, by the end of season one Crawford seems to be actively working against Graham (of course, fueled with false information given by Hannibal). Given his own potential guilt in the situation as well as his position as head honcho in his department (and therefore first to be blamed by the even higher ups), it's not absurd for him to have this reaction. Nonetheless, it's disappointing to see someone who claimed to be there for Will to turn around so quickly to be against him. However, Crawford keeps his emotions far from his sleeve, so what he's feeling at this time still remains to be seen. I have hope that we'll see more of him - both physically obviously but also a deeper look into his character - in season two.

That all being said, there were two situations in season one where we really got insight into Crawford's mentality. The first came when we learned that there was some marital trouble between Jack and his wife, whom he calls Bella for her beauty. Bella reveals in a secret session with Dr. Lecter that she has terminal lung cancer but hasn't been able to tell Jack yet. Jack knows something is wrong but doesn't suspect anything close to the truth. As Crawford and Will question a serial killer's wife and she describes how his cancer caused him to drift away from the family, we see the light bulb go off for Jack. It's such a wonderful moment of acting from Laurence Fishburne - we see Crawford come to a stunning and horrifying realization, thinking through its ramifications, and then having to put on a professional face to finish up his job but not before he starts to tear up a little. This moment also highlights an important aspect of Crawford - he's a profiler himself and one who has done remarkably well for himself. This fact is often eclipsed when Will Graham arrives on a crime scene and imagines much more about the killer than anyone else there has reasoned out yet. Unfortunately, the cancer subplot is one that gets left along the wayside as the rest of the season speeds along toward its tragic conclusion. We really don't hear of Bella's cancer again let alone see her on screen. However, knowing that Crawford has this personal crises lurking in the background makes it more understandable that he is not as available to support Will as he thought he would be back when he promised Graham to be by his side should the going get tough.

The second situation that shows off Crawford's personality is when the Chesapeake Ripper case resurfaces. We learn that this was one of Crawford's cases that went cold and the killer eluded him; worse still, a young cadet who Crawford pulled out of training to work on this case was murdered by the Ripper as a result. Thus, we see Crawford struggling with his own guilt and becoming obsessed with finding the Chesapeake Ripper once and for all. The Ripper - who we know is Dr. Lecter, a man even closer to Crawford than ever - plays on the harp strings of Crawford's conscience, sending him messages of the trainee's dying words to get under his skin. It certainly does and in moments of weakness, we see Crawford having nightmares that rival Will's nighttime fears.

One last side note on Jack Crawford: as the show progressed into the winter months, Crawford began walking around more often in a trench coat and fedora-style hat. He looked the very picture of a film noir detective and also reminded me of Pushing Daisies's private eye Emerson Cod, which just made me happy. With that silly note aside, let's move on to the "lesser extent" of this part. Crawford's wife Bella is an interesting character of whom the viewer unfortunately sees little. She's a NATO worker who has been married to Jack for some time, presumably happily all that time. When she gets her cancer diagnoses, she shuts down and refuses to talk to her husband, deciding instead to confide in Dr. Lecter - albeit a psychiatrist but also one who works with her husband. But perhaps telling such a burdensome secret to a person she's only met once is less emotionally upsetting to her than talking to someone who cares for her and for whom she loves very much. I think it would be telling to see what Bella was like before her cancer diagnosis for the present Bella is very cold and is actively trying to emotionally stonewall those who love her. And here's one more Pushing Daisies connection before moving on to the next character: Bella Crawford is played by Gina Torres, who also played the role of Emerson's former love interest Lila Robinson.

Dr. Alana Bloom

Dr. Bloom is another character I'd like to see more fully developed in the coming season. Although she is member of the regular cast and shows up in most episodes, she often seems more like a vehicle to move the show in one direction or another than a character in her own right. Dr. Bloom is an FBI psychiatrist who works on cases and in the classroom, thus having a history with Will Graham previous to the pilot episode. She is the one who first recommends Dr. Lecter to Jack Crawford as someone to act as the unofficial psychiatrist to Will Graham; she also serves as a potential love interest. These two facts seem to be her biggest functions in the show, but Dr. Bloom has other important roles to play. Despite obviously respecting Dr. Lecter so much, she is not afraid to disagree with him when Jack asks for their help on a particular case. Dr. Bloom worked on the original Dr. Gideon case (more on this later), which heightens her role (and threatens her safety) in the episodes where he appears.

She is also the closest thing Will has to a friend, although he clearly feels more for her than just friendship, which is perhaps why the Dr. Alan Bloom of the books became the Dr. Alana Bloom of the TV show. As the season progresses, it's clear that she also feels more for him although she's not ready for a relationship with him (or anyone else for that matter). Although I'm not usually much of one for romances, the scene in which they kiss for the first time made me feel all gushy and "aww" for them, even if nothing came out of it. Nonetheless, I was rooting for them to get together then and I'm still hoping it's something that can come to pass later on in their lives. For a show with so much darkness and depravity, it would be nice to have some relief for that. Likewise, for characters who have such sadness around them always, the viewer wants them to have a happy ending in there somewhere, somehow.

Incidentally, there's also an earlier scene in which Dr. Lecter makes some wry comment toward Dr. Bloom and she responds that he's being just like Will by trying to "flirtatiously change the subject." As this occurs before the episode with the on-screen kiss between Dr. Bloom and Graham, it's a moment that allows you to realize that Dr. Bloom is intuitive enough to read Will's feelings for her even if she hasn't otherwise let on to this fact at this point in the series. It's also a very telling moment for Dr. Lecter and his personality. Whenever Will would make flirty comments towards Dr. Bloom, you could tell that underneath the grin he puts on as a front, he really means this stuff - perhaps he's even secretly hoping that Dr. Bloom will call his bluff and agree with him wholeheartedly. But when Dr. Lecter makes his supposedly flirtatious remark, he comes across then as more asexual than in any other moment in the show. It's as though he's simply reading a line that he thinks he should say at this moment, as though he's been studying humans from a distance and now tries - and fails - to recreate their speech patterns.

Like with Will Graham and Jack Crawford, we don't get a ton of backstory on Dr. Bloom. There's little information given on her personal life or what she does outside of the FBI. This is something I'd like to see more of in the next season, especially if she and Graham do eventually get together as a couple. Despite not a lot of depth in the source material, I give lots of props to Caroline Dhavernas for filling this role with so much passion. The scene in the series finale in which she sits in her car alone and mutely screams over and over again was one of the most poignant moments in a very emotional episode. In fact, I'm embarrassed to say that she so fully entered this character that I didn't even realize I was watching the same actor who portrayed the main character in Wonderfalls.

Abigail Hobbs

Abigail Hobbs is an incredibly complicated character who adds so much depth to the show. The daughter of a serial killer who was nearly killed by that same man, she is emotionally damaged as well as physically injured by the evil acts her father committed. It is perhaps because of this that she is so lost and willing to cling on to anyone, even Hannibal Lecter. Despite realizing that her father's last phone call came from Lecter, Abigail trusts Hannibal completely - far more than she trusts Will, who is actually the one interested in her wellbeing rather than protecting his own interests. Abigail also latches on to Dr. Bloom, but it's only to Dr. Lecter that she will confess her darkest secrets. Abigail's troubled soul really amped up the emotional impact of Hannibal, and it's sad that her character will most likely not be appearing again in the second season.

Freddie Lounds

Another complicated character, Freddie Lounds is a crime reporter working for the blog TattleCrime. In the beginning of the series, she is especially antagonistic toward Will Graham, calling him insane and writing that he can catch psychopaths because he is one himself. As the first season proceeds forward, Lounds becomes closer to Abigail and intends to help her write a book about being the daughter of an infamous serial killer. Freddie's dubious information-collecting methods and tabloid writing mean that sometimes she is hampering police investigations while other times she is actually helping out the FBI. Meanwhile, her motivations are never entirely clear: Is she doing this just for money and infamy? Or does she also believe that her actions will help to take down criminals and thus bring justice? Usually, it seems like the former but at times the latter seems to prevail. For instance, she seems more sincerely concerned with Abigail's finding closure than Dr. Lecter does. Actor Lara Jean Chorostecki does a great job with this character; the scene that she really nails on the head is when Dr. Gideon kidnaps Lounds and forces her to be his assistant as he dissects the still living Dr. Chilton. She appears cool, calm, and collected yet you can still read the fear and concern underneath the facade she puts on to make it through the situation.

An interesting thing about this character is how Hannibal creators decided once again to play with the cannon. In the original novels and movies, Freddy Lounds is a male reporter who is described as unattractive and slovenly. Here Freddie is a beautiful woman with good taste and perfect grooming. As the world of Hannibal is already very male-centric with Will and Hannibal taking up most of the screen time, it feels right to inject another woman into the story. In fact, Fuller says as much in an interview: "I wanted to have more of a [gender] balance. In the last six episodes, I was so happy with the richness of the female characters and how they were representing many different points of view of the world’s stories." It's not the 1970s anymore; women are crime reporters as often as men are and are just as determined to get to the story no matter what cost, so this was a brilliant move on Fuller's part. In an interview, Chorostecki notes how Fuller told her the newly imagined Freddie Lounds was based on Rebekah Brooks, the real-life tabloid news editor who scandalized a nation when accusations emerged that she hacked victims' voicemails to get the scoop. Chorosteck goes on to explain: "I went home after this meeting and read a great Vanity Fair article about Rebekah Brooks ... and it was a great kind of insight into who Freddie might be. She’s a younger version and I call her spirited. She’s unflappable and she ignores the rules at every point possible, if she needs to. And she’s really good at her job, so I think that’s something. She sometimes fails, but she always manages to find her way around things." Freddie Lounds is such a rich character, with a whole depth of motivations and history to explore yet, that I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her in season two as well.

Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier

Dr. Du Maurier is a new addition to the characters of the novels and thus a way to play with the cannon, keeping viewers on their toes. She is yet another complex character whose motivations are murky at best. Dr. Du Maurier serves as Dr. Lecter's own personal psychiatrist, and indeed is his very own all alone, for after being attacked by a patient, Dr. Du Maurier went into retirement. Dr. Lecter refused to take a referral for another psychiatrist and now goes to Dr. Du Maurier's house to continue his sessions as her one remaining patient. This is a mystery that continues to simmer; there is clearly a lot more going on with this backstory of the attacking patient who knew both Drs. Du Maurier and Lecter. What role Hannibal played in either orchestrating or stopping the attack (or in all likelihood, given Hannibal's nature, both) remains to be seen. The relationship here is tense: Dr. Du Maurier is clearly comfortable enough to continue seeing Lecter as a patient even in her own home but in the very first episode in which she appears, she says in no uncertain terms that they are not friends - despite Lecter noting that they are friendly. Dr. Du Maurier seems to know or at least sense that Hannibal is dangerous, but she does not seem to be concerned that he is a threat to herself. Of course, we know that Hannibal has no concern when it comes to hurting or killing someone close to him if it will suit his purposes, so Dr. Du Maurier might want to take notice.

Again, I thought it was a good move to add some more female members to the cast to help round it out. Dr. Du Maurier is a compelling character because she appears equally fragile and tough all at once, as though this attack on her both rattled and strengthened her at the same time. This seems like a very true-to-life response, although we'll have to know more of the attack details to see if this supposition of mine is correct. Dr. Du Maurier has only shown up in a handful of episodes so far, though I suspect we will see more of her as we delve into this secret shared by her and Hannibal. (Indeed, a very brief teaser for the second season has Dr. Du Maurier popping up several times.) She is expertly portrayed by Gillian Anderson, who plays Du Maurier as almost emotionless so placid is her face and calmly evenly her voice, thus hiding anything that might betray this secret history. It was actually a headline about Gillian Anderson taking on this role that first alerted me to the existence of this show and made me a bit curious to find out what it was all about, although it was discovering that Fuller was at the creative helm that made me decide to start watching it.

Beverly Katz

Perhaps the influence of CSI has been so great that no crime procedural show in the modern era can exist without someone somewhere analyzing to death every scrap of anything left behind at a crime scene. Hannibal seems to be no exception to this trend. This is all well and good, but there are already enough shows out there that do this and the introduction of the next three characters I'm about to discuss do little to add to the complexity of Hannibal's world. Beverly Katz is one of three FBI crime scene investigators who interact with Will Graham when he's on a case. She's the one who is the most interested in Graham's ability to get into the minds of serial killers, provides helpful advice to him when she can, and seems occasionally to get through his emotional barriers to act as a friend. But for the most part, she's a pretty blasé character with no real depth of her own. Nevertheless, she is a series regular, and I struggle with determining why she was considered as an essential character on the show. The times when she acts as a sounding board for Graham could just have easily been times he turned to Dr. Bloom if Beverly were not a character on the show. At times, I think she was meant to serve as the "comic relief" of the show as she frequently has a snarky comment to make at a crime scene. But generally the dark humor she spouts comes across more as a sad testimony to how hardened the crime scene investigators are to the horror they see than as something actually humorous. By the final episodes of season one when Will is spiraling further down his personal descent, this character finally felt useful for me because her former almost permanent smirk is replaced by deep-seated worry about Graham becoming mentally unstable. Portrayed by Asian-American actor Hettienne Park, Beverly also brings some much-needed racial diversity to a show that is largely populated by Caucasians.

Z and Jimmy

Tweedledum and Tweedledee here round out the trio of crime scene investigators who interact with Will regularly on cases. For some reason, despite appearing in nearly every single episode of the show thus far, these two actors are listed as "guest stars" every week rather than series regulars like Hettienne Park. Portrayed by Aaron Abrams and Scott Thompson respectively, Z and Jimmy also seem like they are there to serve as the comic relief (especially given that Scott Thompson is known more as a comedian than an actor). However, just like with Beverly Katz, I don't necessarily find them that entertaining. Take a snippet of conversation between the trio and Will as they discuss the bodies left behind by the Angel Maker serial killer:

Beverly Katz: "Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven's claws."
Brian Zeller: Robert Frost.
Will Graham: Jim Morrison.
Beverly Katz: Even a drunk with a flair for the dramatic can convince himself he's God. Or the Lizard King.
Jimmy Price: God makes angels. Jesus was fond of fishermen. Are we talking hardcore Judeo Christian upsetting, or just upsetting in general?
Will Graham: This is a very specific upsetting.
Brian Zeller: Increased serotonin in the wounds is much higher than the free histamines, so, uh... she lived for about fifteen minutes after she was skinned.
Jimmy Price: Powder residue on the neck of the soda bottle shows Vecuronium - scotch and soda and a paralytic agent.
Brian Zeller: Kneeling in supplication at the feet of G-dash-D.
Jimmy Price: Supplication is the most common form of prayer. "Gimme, gimme, gimme."

This quick exchange is no doubt meant to be funny but it mostly came across as callous, with only Will's doubly meaningful line of "This is a very specific upsetting" reminding us that these are people who have been horribly treated both in the manner of their murder and the desecration of their bodies after death. Like I said earlier, Will is always the one to provide the context and the human compassion in every case.

But I do have to admit that the two of them finally being stunned into silence by the revelation that Will might be a serial killer within their midst made that moment even more hard hitting. If they hadn't been goofing around at previous crime scenes, their reactions wouldn't have been so priceless. Nonetheless, their roles are so limited that I didn't know Z's full name was Brian Zeller or even have any idea with Jimmy's name was at all until I looked up the show's cast. In an early episode, Z remarked something to Freddie Lounds about her using him for information, which gave the impression that we might learn more about him outside the crime scene/crime lab, but so far that has not been true. Maybe these characters will get larger roles with deeper characterizations in the future; if not, I don't see much of a point of them being around and would be fine with them slowly fading away into the background.

Dr. Abel Gideon

Portrayed by the always wonderful Eddie Izzard, Dr. Abel Gideon is a patient at a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, where he ended up after murdering his wife and her entire family. While there, Dr. Gideon becomes convinced that he is the Chesapeake Ripper, opening up a Pandora's box of mayhem after he kills a hospital nurse using the modus operandi of the Ripper. The real Chesapeake Ripper (aka Hannibal Lecter) can't stand by idly and let an imposter tarnish his good name so he is compelled after years of (seemingly) inactivity to kill again. Dr. Gideon is a horribly wicked character who it's just so hard to hate despite his evil acts. His genuine confusion as to whether he is the Chesapeake Ripper or not makes it abundantly clear just how mentally ill he really is. His hatred of the psychiatrists who did little to help him is perhaps understandable; his desire to brutally kill them as a result is not. His witty repartee belies his true intelligence hidden under the haze of mental illness. Izzard did wonders with this character, making him at turns laughable, pitiable, and horrifying. Although he's mostly served his purpose on this show, I wouldn't mind if Dr. Gideon popped up again on Hannibal in the future.

Dr. Frederick Chilton

Dr. Chilton is an important character in the Hannibal Lecter cannon, but here he has only shown up in a couple of episodes so far. Nonetheless, he played an instrumental role in Lecter's life by being the psychiatrist to convince Dr. Gideon that he was really the Chesapeake Ripper and thus resulting in Lecter's subsequent rampage to show the world that the real Ripper was still at large. Dr. Chilton is a very unlikeable character not only for driving a patient to believe himself to be an even worse murderer than he is, but also for antagonistically taunting Will about his ability to see through the eyes of a serial killer. Nevertheless, he doesn't deserve the fate he got of being nearly eviscerated to death at the hands of Dr. Gideon. And despite being a character so easy to dislike, I did enjoy the interactions between him, Dr. Lecter, and Dr. Bloom in which they discussed various aspects of psychotherapy and criminal psychology. I doubt that we've seen the last of Dr. Chilton in this series, so I hope than when we see him again, we'll get more of the psychological talks and less of the cruelty. After nearly being murdered, perhaps Dr. Chilton will have toned down his haughty attitude. Pushing Daisies fans will be recognize Raul Esparza, the actor who plays Dr. Chilton, as Alfredo from season one of that show. Kudos to him for displaying his acting chops with a character so very different from the sweet door-to-door salesman of homeopathic mood-enhancers with a secret hankering for Olive Snook.

Georgia Madchen

Georgia Madchen was both one of the creepiest and most pathetic of the killers to appear on the show so far. Unlike the others, she is not a serial killer but a mentally ill woman who murdered one person so viciously that Will was called in on that case. Still, she's the one who is the most spine-chilling and haunting, perhaps because of her disheveled appearance and inability to see clearly, even if in a warped way. Although she only showed up in a couple of episodes and won't appear in future ones, Georgia Madchen was such an engaging character that I feel it wouldn't be right to walk away from this post without mentioning her briefly. Georgia has a very rare psychological disorder that affects her perception. For starters, she doesn't even realize that she's still alive. Georgia also can't see the faces of others, which is what caused her to rip apart the face of her friend when she murdered her. She has been/feels abandoned by her mother and the professionals who can't find a cure for the mental illness she's had since childhood. When Will is able to see into her mind clearly and figure out her motives for killing a childhood friend, she becomes obsessed with Will and stalks him, not with the intention of hurting him but so that she can find out if she really is still alive. This ends up being her undoing as she stumbles across Dr. Lecter in the process of murdering someone in order to frame Graham. He doesn't realize - or at least not right away - that she couldn't see his face so he kills her as well, pinning that murder on Will also. Besides her rare mental illness, one of the other interesting things about Georgia Madchen is that she is played by Ellen Muth, star of Bryan Fuller's show Dead Like Me, in which she played a character also named Georgia who was actually dead.

In addition to Ellen Muth and those I've mentioned above, three other actors who made appearances in Hannibal also had roles in Fuller's past TV shows: Ellen Greene (Aunt Vivian in Pushing Daisies) made a brief appearance as one of Hannibal's socialite acquaintances, Molly Shannon (a guest star on Pushing Daisies) guest starred in an episode where she coached young children to kill their biological families (one of those episodes where the killer's motivations were never fully explained to my satisfaction), and Chelan Simmons reprised her Wonderfalls role of Gretchen Speck in episode two of the first season of Hannibal. My personal favorite crossover tidbit is that there's talk of an upcoming guest star who will play the role of an acupuncturist named "Katherine Pimms" - the pseudonym used by Chuck's character in Pushing Daisies whenever she went undercover.

All of these appearances suggest that we'll see other fan favorites from the "Fullerverse" in Hannibal's season two. Personally, I think I'd love to see Lee Pace make a guest appearance on a future episode; with his acting prowess, he'd be sure to do great in any role given to him. But then again, given that his likely choice of roles would either be serial killer or victim, I'm not sure I want to see "Ned" tainted in that way. In all likelihood though, we'll be seeing him as Fuller has already noted that he originally intended to find a place for Lee Pace in season one.

How about you, dear reader? Is this anyone you'd like to see guest star on Hannibal in the upcoming season(s)? What characters would you like to see further developed? Where do you want the plotlines to go? Pray, do tell!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Feast for the Mind: Hannibal on the Small Screen

As some of you loyal long-time readers may recall, some time back I was on a quest to watch all the shows developed by Bryan Fuller, making my way through the charmingly surreal Pushing Daisies, the puzzlingly bizarre Dead Like Me, and the quirkily comic Wonderfalls. Having thought I had exhausted all that Fuller's creative mind had come up with so far, imagine my delight when I discovered that a new show I had heard some buzz about was another of Fuller's creations. Fuller's latest venture is in many ways starkly different from the others, although there are certainly some similarities as well.

But just what is that venture, you ask? It's none other than a television show based on everyone's favorite villain, Hannibal Lecter. The latest Hannibal delves into the mind of the psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer in the years before he is caught. Hannibal begins with Jack Crawford, the head of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences unit, seeking help from Will Graham, cop-turned-instructor in profiling at the FBI academy, in catching a serial killer known as the Minnesota Shrike. Graham is highly effective because he doesn't just think through what a killer would do; he reconstructs the events of the murder casting himself in the role of the killer. He so completely identifies with the killer that the lines between him and the killer are beyond blurred - they no longer exist as Graham wholly takes on the identity of the murderer. Concerned for Graham's mental wellbeing, Crawford consults with Graham's friend and FBI psychiatrist Dr. Alana Bloom, who recommends that Will be paired up with her colleague Dr. Hannibal Lecter to keep an eye on Graham's mental health. Thus, Dr. Lecter becomes privy to the inner workings of Will Graham's mind while also learning a great deal of detail about FBI cases involving grizzly murders, usually at the hands of serial killers.

Hannibal is such a multi-layered show that it's hard to know where to begin when discussing it. One of the things I very much enjoy about the show is that it is, as the credits put it, "based on the characters" from author Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, rather than based on his novels themselves, which have already been treated in Hollywood movies. Because of that, Hannibal plays with the characters and plotlines of the story already well known by fans of the novels and/or movies. It does not stray from the characterizations (for instance, Hannibal Lecter is not suddenly a great guy who would never dream of killing and eating other people), but it can play around with the timing of certain events as well as add or take away interactions between Graham and Lecter as needed/desired to make new emotional impacts and plot twists. Creator Bryan Fuller speaks to this in an interview, in which he said: "I felt that there was an opportunity to tell a chapter of [Lecter's] story that hadn't been told before. We've see him incarcerated, we've seen him post-incarceration having escaped, and we saw him as a young man, but we haven't seen him as a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal. That's the most interesting part of his life and for some reason, it hadn't been the subject of any of the stories. The backstory was the only indication that we got of what he was like when he was out in the world. It just seemed like it was rich, unexplored territory - so it seemed like that was valid. ... As a fan of the books, I wanted to be true to the novels and yet be able to go to new and different places with the characters. But you have to honor the source material, you have to respect it, because… it's great!" Being such an avid fan of the original novels and movies, Fuller is clearly happy to embrace them but to also do so while adding his own dramatic flair. And while the show is in some ways trying to find a place in the canon (several interviews with cast and crew have indicated that the events in the show are occurring four or five years before Red Dragon), it is not a period piece. Fuller made the bold choice not to have this set in the late 1970s, which would be the correct time period for these events if they are occurring just before the events of Red Dragon, but has it set instead in the present day. Thus, all the conveniences of modern-day life - including and perhaps most importantly, all the fancy equipment in today's crime labs - are seen throughout the show.

This means that Hannibal's fresh new insights allow for uninitiated audiences to the Lecter cannon to be able to watch the show without feeling lost. If you've never read or seen The Silence of the Lambs, you can still watch this show from the beginning without missing any major plot points. What's especially fun (if anything about this incredibly dark show can be called fun) about that is there was almost an air of mystery to the first few episodes of the show. Viewers in the know are aware that Lecter is a cannibal, that he is the Chesapeake Ripper, and other such facts, but these points are only very vaguely hinted at in the show's introduction. It's only later that Hannibal's crimes begin to be revealed without a doubt. But before then, all bets are on. For instance, when the Minnesota Shrike was introduced in the pilot episode and Graham is the first one to deduce that he is eating his victims, my gut reaction was that this serial killer would turn out to be Dr. Lecter. I was of course wrong, although the show did allude to a connection between the actual killer and Lecter - a connection that continues to remain a bit of mystery as the show approaches its second season.

Another thing the show does very well is open a Pandora's box of mystery and mayhem with plotlines that hold significance beyond a single episode, unlike the typical cop procedural show in which each murder(s) grips the viewer for one episode only and then disappears. There is some of the latter in Hannibal, and I found it unfortunate that the larger (and certainly more important) stories sometimes crowded out the full fleshing out of other storylines. But let me step back and try to explain my meaning here a little better. As I mentioned, the first episode introduced a serial killer known as the Minnesota Shrike, who had purportedly kidnapped and murdered eight college girls in his state, although their bodies were never found. Graham's insights caught the murderer, but not before he killed his own wife and attempted to kill his daughter Abigail (who just happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to the missing girls) and not before his crimes inspire a copycat killer. In a typical procedural show, that would be the end of the story. But here, this story continues on. Both Graham and Lecter take on the role of guardian to the newly orphaned Abigail, although they each have their own motives for doing so, and she shows up several more times throughout season one. Throughout the rest of the thirteen episodes of season one, Graham is haunted by visions of a giant elk, which symbolizes the Minnesota Shrike and the disturbing antler room where he mounted his victims. The copycat killer, who we deduce almost immediately is Dr. Lecter, remains at large and thus is someone whose existence is constantly lurking in the back of Graham's and Crawford's minds. The other major ongoing plotline is the search for the Chesapeake Ripper, a serial killer who has eluded Crawford in the past and left a heavy emotional impact on him as a result of his actions. Now that Graham is on the case, there's perhaps hope of finding him at last ... but, of course, we know the Chesapeake Ripper is Dr. Lecter, and even Graham cannot imagine (at least not at this point in his life) that his confidante is the evil person for whom he is seeking. Thus, the Chesapeake Ripper is a recurrent concern for all the major characters.

Still, like I said, there are some serial killers introduced that I feel get the short treatment. For instance, the second episode introduces a pharmacist who is putting diabetic people into comas so that he can bury them alive and use them as a plant food for his mushroom garden. When he learns that Graham can get inside his mindset, he decides to do Graham a "favor" by kidnapping the then-comatose Abigail to add to his mushroom garden. When Graham stops him before he gets out of the hospital with Abigail, the pharmacist tells him that Graham is missing out on the opportunity to communicate freely with Abigail via the mushrooms. This serial killer and his very bizarre theories were never fully explained to my satisfaction. What exactly is his obsession with mushrooms? Why does he think they can help people communicate? And most importantly, if he thought Graham needed to communicate with Abigail, who was he himself trying to communicate with via his garden? It certainly didn't seem like the random patients he saw in his practice were the goal audience. This particular storyline dropped away as quickly as it appeared and seemed all along only to be a vehicle to further show off Will's prowess of getting into the serial killer's mind as well as a reminder of his deep connection with Abigail. This is only one example; there were other serial killers, such as the Angel Maker, who came along and committed horrific crimes that were never mentioned again outside of their set episode.

Speaking of such horrible things, an important disclaimer is that this show is not for the faint of heart. The crimes concocted by the serial killers here and displayed in all their gory detail make shows like Criminal Minds seem like tales for kids. As one of the actors from the show explained in an interview: "Quite frankly, I don't think that there's anything on network TV that can compare with Hannibal and I think that's really exciting. It’s very smart of NBC to be picking up a show that has so much of a cable feel to it. ... If the networks really want to keep audiences, [dark shows are] what they're going to have to cater to in a good way because it's good TV. We need more Breaking Bads, Mad Men, Walking Deads and Homelands on NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX." While I agree with her in general, there were actually times I had to put a hand out to cover up what was shown on the screen because it was just too unsettling. Over time, Graham begins to have nightmares and hallucinations regarding the things he's seen in the field, and I can certainly sympathize. Having watched a bunch of episodes in one day, I found myself that night having a hard time falling asleep with all those creepy images in my head. In Fuller's other shows Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies where, yes, death was a thing - and with murder being the subject in the latter - the victim's bodies weren't gruesome per se. Indeed, on Pushing Daisies, the strange deaths that met these victims often gave a comic look to their corpses, allowing for the dark humor that show excelled at achieving. Here there really is little humor beyond the occasional witty line to lighten the very bleak mood of the show, although I think perhaps that's for the best as it's fitting with the show's mood.

Speaking of mood, the show's plot is enhanced by an appropriate atmosphere that covers every aspect of the show. Each episode of the show is given the French name of a course in a five-star meal, quietly reminding the viewer each week of the cannibalistic nature of one of the show's main characters while also gently evoking the elegant lifestyle he fronts. The music is subtle but always fits any given moment perfectly whether it's a light-hearted piece of classical music for a dinner party or an eerie tone for one of Will's darker moments.  Largely set in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. as well as Minnesota but filmed on location in Ontario, Canada, the backdrop reminds me of the early seasons of The X-Files, which were filmed in Vancouver, Canada. The landscapes are largely rural areas where it's cold, it's rainy, it's snowy, and/or it's grey. These landscapes serve to perfectly capture the bleak outlook of a show about a finely tuned but heartless serial killer matching wits with a mentally unstable but righteous FBI profiler. To quote again from one of the show's actors, she notes that "Hannibal is filmic -- there are a lot of surreal elements in it. It’s very psychologically-based. Hannibal’s tone is so different than anything I’m seeing on network television right now. ... Hannibal is very film-like with high production values and great actors." Indeed, there were a lot of times - especially with Will's crime re-constructions, nightmares, and hallucinations - when I would think to myself that the special effects were visually stunning and most of have cost a boatload to create, both in money and time. But the finished product is worth it, with a result that does indeed feel more cinematic than the usual fare on TV. The fine directing also pushes toward this finished masterpiece; several of the episodes were directed by the excellent David Slade, who also directed the pilot for NBC's one-season cop drama Awake (ah, but what a season!). And the icing on the cake with Hannibal is that the viewer is in a special place of almost omniscience throughout the show. While we don't know every single thing going on here (we are certainly kept in the dark about the characters' past lives and many of Hannibal's actions as well as his motivations), we get to see a lot more than any other single character knows at any given time (with the exception maybe of Hannibal himself, who can probably surmise a lot of what he doesn't physically see himself).

This post is a bit rambling, but I think I've covered a decent amount of the basic plotlines for newbies without giving away too much in terms of spoilers as well as discussed some of the thematic mood. As it's already a lengthy post, I've decided to break this down into a two-part post to spare you a very long read. In the next entry, I'll dig deeper into the character development and acting as those components are a huge part of what makes this show so successful.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

All Good Stories Start with "Once Upon a Time ... "

After finishing up my blog series on comedic podcasts, I'd be remiss if I didn't also write up something about the fourth and final podcast to which I've been listening. (This one is not a comedy-based podcast so I did not include it in the four-part series I wrote.) That podcast is titled Storybrooke Ending and is the result of a collaboration between a friend of mine and her cousin. The duo began this podcast to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the ABC television show Once Upon a Time.

Full confession: I don't actually watch Once Upon a Time nor do I intend to start doing so at any point. (I do have to admit to being slightly intrigued by its spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, but that's mostly only because I'm obsessed with all things Alice in Wonderland-inspired.) While I find the idea of playing around with various traditional fairy tales and mixing them up an interesting concept, I've never really been a huge fan of fairy tales and hence am neither a fan of fractured fairy tales. So I give kudos to the creators of the show for having a clever premise, but I'm not giving them my viewing time.

That being said, I wanted to give the Storybrooke Ending podcast a listen to be a supportive friend, and I found myself oddly compelled to keep listening on for thoughts and comments about a show I don't watch. Nicole and Sam dedicate one podcast episode to each television episode, and they start each podcast episode with a recap of what happened on the latest TV episode. For that reason, I don't really feel lost about the particulars of what they discuss, although the podcast did begin with season three so any references to what occurred in the previous two seasons are over my head. The duo provide commentary on the show's convoluted plot and rich characters while also making predictions of what else might occur in future storylines on Once Upon a Time. The two often make references to Buffy and Lost as they discuss various elements of the show, which are probably logical comparisons but I've never watch either of those shows to know any better. All of this is done in an easy conversational tone, making it sound both like you are sitting down with a friend to discuss your new favorite show and like a fun podcast to work on.

On the podcast, Nicole and Sam also rate each Once Upon a Time episode on a scale of one to five, using a five-part metric. The key elements they choose to focus on rating for each episode are important ones: plot, storyline continuity, emotional impact, character development, and their own personal enjoyment (to capture that je ne sais quoi that encapsulates each episode). Their website for the podcast includes a page for each episode, which provides the highlights of the TV episode and some of the questions that remain for them about the future of the storylines and character backstories/interactions introduced in that episode. If you're a fan of Once Upon a Time and can't get enough of the show, this is a good podcast for you to listen to and recap some of your favorite moments of each episode, perhaps gaining new perspective and insight as you do so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Podcast's the Thing Wherein I'll Catch a Laugh ... (Part 4)

My last few blog posts have been about my year or so long adventure in the world of comedic podcasts. I started by discussing The Thrilling Adventure Hour in the first part and ended the most recent post with the discovery of and delight in The Dead Authors Podcast. As I mentioned in the first post in this blog series, The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast has been including a number of behind-the-scenes interviews in which they discuss things like the writing process and the history of the show. With the latter, the cast and creative team frequently mentioned Paul F. Tompkins's show/podcast as a means of introducing them to various other actors or even their current location for the live show. At first, I thought they were referencing Paul F. Tompkins's work with The Dead Authors Podcast but over time I realized they were not. I searched for other podcasts that Tompkins worked on and thus stumbled upon The Pod F. Tompkast.

The Pod F. Tompkast is one of the stranger things I've heard "on the air," so to speak, with the show being introduced as full of "comedy-type ramblings and bitlets." The podcast features comedian Paul F. Tompkins narrating in a stream-of-consciousness way and composer/musician Eban Schletter providing musical accompaniment to these ramblings. In addition to this odd introduction (which, trust me, could get really odd sometimes as Tompkins would go down the proverbial rabbit hole with his thoughts ending up in unlikely places), the show offers a handful of other segments. These consist of:
  • "A Phone Call with Jen Kirkman." During this part of the show, Tompkins literally calls his friend and fellow comedian Jen Kirkman and the two talk about random things, often Kirkman's phobias or other humorous real-life ancedotes she might have to share. Despite the concept sounding rather blasé, Kirkman's funny-because-they're-true/sad-because-they're-true stories make this segment very engaging.
  • 'Trapped in the Internet' interviews. [This segment doesn't have an actual name as far as I know of, and this is the best descriptive name I could think up.] Presumably due to scheduling conflicts, the phone calls with Jen Kirkman stopped at some point; the comedic conceit is that Kirkman got "trapped in the Internet" and neither she nor Tompkins know how to get her out. As a result, Kirkman (or sometimes the "sleepy voice of the Internet," one of the side characters on the show) sends another person to help with the situation. Of course, this person also never knows how to get Kirkman out but instead ends up sitting down for another strange conversation with Tompkins. Guests on this segment have included Paget Brewster, Justin Kirk, and Dave (Gruber) Allen, amongst others. This segment seems to be more interesting if you know of the guest/have an interest in said guest; however, most of the guests are pretty funny and/or Tompkins will come up with some silly/strange scenario to make this part as compelling as the rest.
  • "The Great Undiscovered Project." This was an ongoing story that Tompkins wrote and for which he did all the impressions. The absurd story involved a plan for a movie written/produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ice-T to be directed by Garry Marshall. The movie would star Ice-T as well as John Lithgow, John C. Reilly, and the artist Mr. Brainwash. Cake Boss also played an essential role in this bit as he brought together several of the creative types and had the gift of seeing the future. Other notable Hollywood types made an occasional appearance over the course of this story. The vast majority of "The Great Undiscovered Project" was revealed through recordings of phone conversations held between various pairings of the main characters. This segment was a tad too ridiculous at times, but I always enjoyed being stunned by how well Tompkins did the many different impersonations as well as the silly factoids he invented for these real-life people (i.e., John C. Reilly's addiction to the cake decorations known as dragees or John Lithgow's favorite actor being the presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth).
  • "The Paul F. Tompkins Show." At this point, Tompkins features a clip from his live comedy show. These are often short sketches including a guest star such as Matt Gourley or Jon Hamm; some of these sketches are far more out there than others, but most will have you at least chuckling a little. One of my favorite parts from here is when Tompkins does "Advice to the Probably Dead," a bit in which he goes through letters written in to "Dear Abby" columnists (and the like) from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Because some of the questions (submitted most often by women in eras different from our own in many respects) are so flat-out ridiculous, Tompkins can reply with helpful advice while still being hysterically funny. Another great bit is Tompkins's "Google Voice Transcripts." Tompkins would send well-known speeches from political history or classic cinema to his Google voicemail and then read aloud what the auto-detect translator would spit out as a transcript. The resulting gibberish is absolutely ridiculous and therefore very amusing.
  • "Paul F. Tompkins Comes to Your Town." Basically at this point, there's just a listing given of Tompkins' travel schedule for comedy shows, but this is usually done in some big theatrical way with a different theme for that particular podcast. Any other plugs for Tompkins' and/or Schletter's work appear here.
The podcast wraps up with some final rambling thoughts from Tompkins, sometimes related to the stream-of-consciousness remarks at the beginning of the podcast.

One thing that I very much appreciate about Tompkins's humor is that he shows how it's possible to be incredibly funny without being crass in terms of foul language or wise-cracks that make people - either specific persons (i.e., the ever popular "my wife" jokes) or a whole class of people (i.e., an ethnic group, a misunderstood subculture, etc.) - the butt of the joke. But what do you expect from the man known as "Comedy's One True Gentleman?" Tompkins's brand of comedy can also lend itself toward the "nerd humor" of comedians like Demetri Martin. (Actually, I'm surprised that more people don't make a connection between Martin and Tompkins given that they both show a proclivity toward stream-of-consciousness comedy). This kind of humor might not be for everyone but if you're tired of comedians who get too many of their kicks from potty humor (literally and metaphorically) and want something slightly more highbrow, Paul F. Tompkins in general and this podcast in particular are a good route to go. Tompkins is also obsessed with grammar and will often stop to correct his own speech if he thinks it is not polished enough the first time around. Hearing comedians laugh at themselves is one of the things I often find the funniest in any comedy show, and so Tompkins laughing at his own inability to get a random thought out in the correct grammatical order will make me laugh as well.

The stream-of-consciousness humor with no apparent purpose/endgame in sight takes a little bit of getting used to (if I recall correctly, Tompkins himself refers to the humor on this podcast as an acquired taste); at first, I wasn't sure if I would stick with this podcast past a trial episode or two. By the time I got through all the available episodes, I was absolutely hooked and found myself missing the podcast in the months I've had without any new episodes. Sadly, despite reassurances in the last episode that Tompkins was hard at work preparing future episodes, there hasn't been an update since nearly a year ago. I'm not sure that we'll see more of The Pod F. Tompkast in the future, which is a sad end for a podcast once rated as the top comedy podcast out there by Rolling Stone.