Okay, just finished Hannibal Season One.

My name is Jeremy, these are my Hannibal credentials: I read Red Dragon and Silence before the movie was made. I read Hannibal and Hannibal Rising in hardcover (!), and liked them both for what they were–love story and backstory. I even mostly enjoyed those films.

So last week, when an insect bite laid me out for the week, I queued up Neflix with a Hannibal marathon.

There is some great stuff. It’s beautifully shot–the cooking especially. I like Mads, but Hugh Dancy was really the star of the show–just a believably understated performance in what could have become campy. The arc of the season is nicely plotted, the murderer-of-the-week is moderately interesting.

BUT (and yes, capital but, here) could they not have hired a psychiatric consultant? The show was written as if we should be drinking every time the word psychopath is spoken. The endless prattling on in psychobabble is so tedious and banal, I had to grit my teeth every time Gillian Anderson or poor Caroline Dhavernas were onscreen.

“I haven’t practiced medicine in years,” said the PSYCHIATRIST!
“Dementia is a symptom. What is the disease?!” Huh?
“She’s killing people because she thinks she’s dead.” Wait, what now?

Delirium versus dementia. Sociopath versus psychopath. Cotard’s Syndrome. Anti-NMDA Receptor encephalitis. This is a show that thrives on the intricacies of mental phenomena and yet the ability to make these abstract ideas interesting and nuanced (and worthy of armchair diagnostic fetishism with which they are endowed) is next to nil.

What the Starling-Lecter dialog succeed at was the absence of jargon. Conversation as metaphor as window into psychology. This season went the other direction–metaphor as jargon as power as jargon as plot.

Still, a show like Hannibal gets me jazzed up. It encourages me to find some way to get the real intricacies and challenges of psychiatry onscreen. When psychiatrists get together we don’t talk jargon. We talk stories, the surprises, the predictable surprises, the Gordian knots of helping someone. The dance, the breakthrough, the failure, the risk.

Okay, back to work.

2 thoughts on “Hannibabble

  1. This is really interesting, reading someone’s thoughts on the show who actually is a psychiatrist and can compare actual psychiatric discourse to what the characters are saying.

    I first saw the show starting with season two, and it was the cinematography and cat-and-mouse plot that hooked me. Since then, I’ve started season one and read Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, and I’ve seen Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, and Red Dragon. I think the project of the TV show is slightly different from that of the original books (and movies); I think the TV show wants to create more a dream world to explore the idea of Hannibal Lecter as the Devil, and frame his interactions with Will that way, with Will cast as a sort of mystic. I haven’t read Red Dragon, but I know that at least regarding Lecter and Starling, their interactions were more straightforward. There was still the cat-and-mouse element, and also a surreal element toward the end of Hannibal, but I think Harris was taking two extraordinary people and laying them out on the page, presenting them matter-of-factly almost. The metaphors still, to me, seemed to come back to that aspect of presentation. On the other hand, the TV show takes two extraordinary people and turns their story into a mythic drama. The emphasis is on the masks they wear, and the staging, and the drama obscures where convenient.

    (I also have a literary background, so I can’t speak to the psychology aspect, although it seems like in the TV show, they have Lecter talk more about evolutionary psychology, which I didn’t think had tons of credence within the discipline? Maybe the way he phrased it made those parts stand out to me.)

    I’m curious, do you see yourself watching the second season at all (even if only due to another mishap), or was one enough?

    (Also, I hope your insect bite healed/is healing well.)

    • The leg is still healing! I’ve never seen anything like it, and still don’t know what bit me!

      I’ll definitely watch Season Two. The first season stayed away from evolutionary psychology, so I’ll be excited to have something else to listen to. But you’re right, it’s a field which is quite theoretical and made of superficially valid arguments with little ability to test them. But hey, makes for interesting discussion…maybe.

      Part of why/how Lecter became such a mythic figure is that Harris didn’t overuse him. He is a Yoda or Obi-Wan in the original novels, albeit an evil one. As soon as he steps into the Villain role his wants and needs become banal (power, revenge, freedom), until then we can’t decipher what it is he wants. He’s a mystery, he’s chaos, he’s inhuman. They kept some of this up in the first season, and I certainly felt like I was being played at all times he was onscreen. I’ll be curious to see the mythic come out more, as you say in what’s coming up.

      Your comment about “extraordinary” is interesting. I never thought of Clarice as extraordinary but we’re constantly told that about Will, though. There’s an overall distortion of what profiling is and what profilers do. In the show they are masters of psychology and treatment and firearms and forensic techniques. In and of itself that would be pretty damn extraordinary. The real Starlings, Grahams, and Crawfords of the world come straight out of law enforcement. They use knowledge of psychology to direct criminal investigation. Being a psychopath is only interesting as it may relate to other investigable targets (previous criminal record, multiple marriages, transience) as opposed to diagnosis or help.

      But, yay compelling television!