Usually I need three episodes to decide whether or not I like a new show, but Hannibal already has me hooked. After The Following, I expected this show to be dumbed down, loaded with over-the-top lunatics and portrayals, gore for gore's sake, and a formula that matched CSI, where there was a crime every week and the duo of Graham and Lecter went about solving it. I also had little faith in NBC, as most of their shows tend to bore me.
I don't often like the sets used in NBC dramas; as seen in Revolution, they're too clean and organized, but in Hannibal they work, especially Dr. Lecter's office, where every book is in its place and the furniture is pristine. Even the crime scenes and hideouts of serial killers seem oddly picturesque, which lends to the notion that these criminals might be lunatics but they're lunatics with a purpose, finding a disturbing beauty in death.
While I suspect serial killers will continue to pop up during the course of Hannibal, giving Graham cases, by the second episode it's clear that past cases are not going to be easily forgotten by the characters. Graham, in fact, is haunted by them, and similar to Twin Peaks there are trippy dream sequences where a feathery stag walks down a hospital hallway; he also has hallucinations while awake. Our hero is flawed. I've read viewer comments complaining Hugh Dancy's portrayal is stiff, but I think it works. After all, Graham, though functioning, is mentally ill, and one of his biggest problems is the wall he puts up to keep others out--I believe such a person would have a very stiff personality. At this point in the show, it also works in that Lecter and Graham are still feeling each other out, and they are tentative of their relationship. Perhaps, their character's personalities will unfold over the course of the show.
Mads Mikkelsen is an excellent choice to play Lecter. There are times in the show, where I find myself wondering, "What's he thinking?" as conversations and plots unravel and Mikkelsen remains calm, delivering subtle expressions where you can really tell there's something going on behind his forced smiles. When he confronted Freddy, his lack of emotion convinced me she was going to die in his office. I don't think it would be fair to compare Mikkelsen's portrayal with Hopkins' as they're playing the Lecter role in different stages of the character's life: in one, Lecter is in captivity or on the run with no need to hide what he is, whereas in the show Lecter is a respected psychiatrist no one suspects as a cannibalistic serial killer. Any emotion he would show would tip off Graham, who is an empath. I'm actually surprised the show was able to make it plausible that neither Crawford or Graham would suspect Lecter.
I find Laurence Fishburne to be equally enjoyable to watch, callous and domineering. I get the sense that Crawford cares more about solving crimes than any of the people around him, and he acts as if Graham is a weapon, not a man. Plus, Fishburne maintains a level a charm. Crawford's an ass, but I still like him.
Part of the fun of the show are subtle things that go unsaid. It's a psychological journey, especially during Lecter and Graham's sessions--there's a double meaning to most of what they say. When Lecter makes meals for Graham and Crawford, we're left wondering if they're being tricked into eating people or if Lecter hasn't progressed to that level of madness and is actually feeding them what he says he is (sausage and pork). We know what Lecter is, yet the characters don't. In the first two episodes, Lecter went as far as assisting the serial killers. Though it wasn't shown like the premiere when Lecter called the man they were hunting, I suspect he tipped off the pharmacist, too--it's all a mind game, a cerebral form of cat and mouse.
Hannibal succeeds where shows like The Following and The Cult failed, brimming with interesting characters, believable plots, fascinating and subtle dialogue, all of which asks viewers to think, rather than explain or divulge every secret. So far, I'm impressed.