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Here's Why Hannibal Is the Best Crime Show on Television

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Oh man. Have you been watching Hannibal? There are only two episodes left in the entire series, and despite its cancellation and its death-knell move to Saturday nights, it’s still the best crime show on TV. And amazingly, as season three has progressed, it’s only gotten better with each episode.

Spoilers if you’re not yet caught up to episode 11 ...

The 13-episode season began in Italy, where a crafty Hannibal Lecter fled all manner of bloodshed in Baltimore with his psychiatrist and eventual accomplice/faux wife Bedelia Du Maurier. The first seven episodes, named for Italian cuisine (like season one’s menu of French courses, and season two’s Japanese), were visually lush, setting new standards in creepy-beautiful TV production design, and meandered along at a dreamy pace, with surreal sequences coming courtesy of Will Graham’s troubled mind. The storyline got mega-weird (even for Hannibal, holy snails) and lots of distressingly tasty-looking human body parts were served to unsuspecting diners.


But just when Hannibal was about to make real his desire to get inside of Will’s head, by applying a saw to his skull—as Jack Crawford, the most manipulative yet also patient boss ever, watched in horror—everyone was “saved” by greedy Italian cops hellbent on collecting the massive bounty on Hannibal’s head. Vindictive wannabe Mason Verger tried to kill Will and Hannibal next, but instead enabled his own demise, though neither Hannibal (who turned himself in) nor Will (haunted 4 life) walked away from their Muskrat Farm unscathed.

We’ll always have Florence, y’all. But while these episodes were eye-gougingly gorgeous (and the dialogue knowingly pretentious), Hannibal’s gory heart is in Baltimore, which is why it’s so appropriate that the show is ending its run there. And it was so genius for Bryan Fuller and co. to shift the action three years into the future midseason: it’s long enough so that everyone has settled into their new lives, but short enough so that the insanity of season two and the first half of season three still feel fearfully fresh.


When we see Will Graham has a wife and stepson, then hear that he’s tracking a killer who specializes in taking out entire families, even those who haven’t seen/read Manhunter or Red Dragon know what’s coming. But because Hannibal offers such a fresh spin on the story as well as its characters—which it’s had hours and hours to develop over three seasons—the fact that the material is so familiar isn’t a negative here. Instead, Hannibal uses that to its advantage; though it does take its own liberties with the story, it’s thrilling to see iconic moments, like the blind Reba McClane’s close encounter with a sleeping tiger, presented from a new point of view.

Episodes 10 (“And the Woman Clothed in Sun,” a slight variation on episode 9’s title that refers to a specific version of a William Blake painting; here, it’s the one in the Brooklyn Museum that Francis Dolarhyde furtively gobbles) and 11 (“And the Beast from the Sea,” also a Blake reference) are two of the season’s more action-packed, although the actual crimes aren’t really what Hannibal is about. It’s what motivates the crimes, and the emotions surrounding them, and the relationships which spring up as a result of both ... taken together, often wreaking more horrifying results than anything else.

While Hannibal was more of a deliberate, elegant killer, Dolarhyde is frantic and driven by a power he doesn’t understand. He reaches out to the imprisoned Lecter, in a phone call we see from both perspectives, because he’s an “avid fan” of the famed cannibal, and just as skilled in telephone-line hacking, too. “I want to be recognized by you,” he admits, in a scene that uses the recurring motif not just of imagining Hannibal back in his analyst’s office, but also the depiction of one character split into two.

The ongoing theme of duality, formerly chiefly focused on Hannibal and Will, becomes even more important as the season nears its close. Will and Bedelia have a grudging couple of meetings, where she sticks to her narrative that her time with Hannibal was beyond her control. “You didn’t lose yourself, you just crawled so far up his ass you couldn’t be bothered,” Will sneers. But though they agree “we’ve both been his bride,” only Bedelia has been “behind the veil,” or so she thinks. But she is most definitely a killer in her own right, as we finally see an flashback showing what really happened to her patient, Neal Frank. It’s unnerving and it includes a Scientology reference.


So Will and Bedelia are linked by their “marriages” to Hannibal. And Will has a violent run-in with his new and growing obsession, Francis Dolarhyde, whose greeting of choice is a hearty body-slam, and who’s grappling with his own multiple selves anyway. But the main “couple” of the show, Hannibal and Will, have seen their strange magic grow even stranger and more complicated than ever before. And it looks to only get weirder as the season ends.

Witness: Hannibal instructing Dolarhyde—who fights an imaginary dragon and then engineers the most awkward breakup scene ever; it’s debatable which is more uncomfortable for the viewer—to target Will’s family next: “Save yourself, kill them all.” Maybe he knew Dolarhyde would fail, managing only to wound Will’s wife, Molly, and awaken his 11-year-old stepson to Will’s disturbing career. Maybe he figured the failure will drive Dolarhyde even more over the edge, making him easier to capture. Maybe he did it to get back inside of Will’s head.


But Hannibal has an endgame, and even behind Dr. Chilton’s glass walls, he’s the most powerful character on the show, even with only a prison phone as a weapon. He has always been in control ... and he always will be, and dammit it sure would be amazing to have one or three more seasons to see what this show could make of Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill and yet another splatter-ific Lecter escape. Sigh.

“I’m just about worn out with you crazy sons of bitches!” Will barks at Hannibal after his family narrowly evades the Tooth Fairy’s latest full-moon rampage. Sorry, Will, but you’re the only one, buddy. Hannibal forever!