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NBC (ended 2015)

"Nothing here is vegetarian."

Season 1 of NBC's Hannibal was structured around the Sophoclean disparity between what the characters believe to be true and what we viewers know to be true. We knew who Hannibal is and found ourselves in uncomfortable, ironic collusion with him as he slyly insinuated himself into Will Graham's life and head. And it's an irony Hannibal cultivated. He takes great pleasure in not only cannibalizing his victims but feeding them to others, even as he tells them the truth, however obliquely, about their meal. The glib proclamation at last season's banquet—"Before we begin, you must all be warned. Nothing here is vegetarian." (Episode 1.7, "Sorbet")—is only the most prominent of many. In abrupt juxtaposition to their savage, flash-forward kitchen brawl, Jack Crawford shares a meal of sushi with Hannibal in "Kaiseki" (Episode 2.1):
"I almost feel guilty eating it."
"I never feel guilty eating anything."
"Mmmm. I can't quite place the fish."
"He was a flounder."

Hannibal derives pleasure not only in knowing the truth, but speaking it openly with the full expectation of being misunderstood. He relies on others to make excuses for him, and encourages their misperceptions. He never, at least in my recollection, denies his responsibility for the crimes with which Will Graham is charged. Instead, he circumvents the accusations and deflects suspicion. During his dinner conversation with Dr. Chilton, also in "Kaiseki":
"He tells everyone that you are a monster."
"Well, in that case, you are dining with a psychopathic murderer, Frederick."
Chilton cooperatively laughs it off. Hannibal courts investigation, confident that it will fail to incriminate him. He espouses faith in the empirical evidence even as he knows it tells a false story.

"I am doing my best to avoid working through my issues with Hannibal Lecter."

But Season 2 has invited other characters into the fold. Though his grasp of the details of Hannibal's deception is incomplete, Will now sees Hannibal clearly. And he has now become complicit in this pattern of deceitful truth-telling. He and Hannibal are locked in a game of competitive irony.

His hysterics may be performance, but there is truth in Will's pleading to Hannibal: "I need your help." From within the confines of the Baltimore State Hospital, he needs Hannibal to believe, at least, that Will might not see him clearly, that Will remains confused about his culpability. But, like Hannibal, Will builds his ruse out of truths. When Hannibal comes to see him in "Hassun" (Episode 2.3), Will is able to redirect their relationship, to assuage—if only with a little doubt—Hannibal's vigilance, without recanting his accusations.
"I know there is no evidence against you."
"There never was."
"Accusing you makes me look insane. I'm not insane. Not anymore."
The implications of his statements are not logically necessitated by them, drawing careful lines between public perception and self-definition.


Dr. Du Maurier is similarly adept at this manner of double-speak, allowing what is unsaid or grammatically ambiguous to (at least temporarily) misdirect Hannibal and Jack. As Hannibal invites her into his office near the opening of "Sakizuke" (Episode 2.2), she furtively announces her own intentions:
"What a pleasant surprise. Please sit down."
"I won't be staying long."
By the end of the episode, she has disappeared, a surprise to Hannibal as much as anyone. Indeed, staying not long at all. Her reply to Jack's suggestion that she work through her problems with Hannibal is rich, playing the grammatical polysemy of the final prepositional phrase: "I am doing my best to avoid working through my issues with Hannibal Lecter." Her skill at disguising her meaning makes her unmitigated candidness with Will Graham all the more satisfying, even if it must be whispered.

Even the pompous—and routinely clueless—Dr. Chilton participates in the ironic conversation, however inadvertently. His diagnosis of Will Graham given in his courtroom testimony is laughably misguided, a differently ironic and preposterously unself-aware expression of his own ego. But, though he has confused the mark, it's an unexpectedly shrewd description of Hannibal.
"He has carefully constructed a persona to hide his real nature. He wears it so well even Jack Crawford could not see past it.... I have objectively examined him and the crimes of which he is accused. These murders were measured and controlled. The confused man Will Graham presents to the world could not commit those crimes.... There is not yet a name for whatever Will Graham is. He kills methodically, and I believe would kill again if given the opportunity.... Will Graham is driven by vanity and his own whims. He has a very high opinion of his intelligence. Ergo, he caught the other killers simply to prove he was smarter than all of them too. Saving lives is just as arousing as ending them. He likes to play God."
Chilton sees the murderer clearly even as he sees nothing at all.

"You may not believe me now. You will."

Most of this rhetoric relies on little more than the cultural reputation of Hannibal Lecter, likely the most famous fictional serial killer ever, but occasionally Hannibal draws on more nuanced or detailed knowledge of Harris's characters and his novels' film adaptations. It is popular knowledge—though a minor *SPOILER* warning is probably in order for those TV-only fans—that Jack Crawford survives his attack. Certainly, Bryan Fuller and his writing team have the freedom to take liberties with the source material, but so far with few exceptions Hannibal has been more characterized by their fidelity to it. The show is rife with familiar details and turns of phrase, visual allusions, and pregnant echoes of the characters' futures, all hanging in suggestive juxtaposition to the action on the screen.


Hannibal even constructs its own ironic tandems. Their opening confrontation in the season premiere confirms that at some point Jack Crawford recognizes the truth of Will's claims against Hannibal. We know, of course, that Hannibal is eventually caught and Will exonerated, the real psychopath left to fester in the psychiatric "care" of Dr. Chilton. Will's final warning to Jack at the end of "Kaiseki," then—"You may not believe me now. You will."—carries that ominous knowledge with it. Belief will be painful for Jack, but it will come with acute clarity.

It's a game the show plays with more widely as well, beyond even the cognizance of Hannibal Lecter. Buffalo Bill, for instance, the other serial killer made popular by The Silence of the Lambs, reverberates as an ironic echo around Hannibal himself. Beverly's suggestions that Hannibal should "consider supplementing his wardrobe" and Dr. Du Maurier's description of his "person-suit," even perhaps the lingering camera over the stitched bodies from the eye-mural, make casual and figurative use of the grotesque correlation.


As a parting question, I offer for discussion a scene which is particularly intriguing if, as he is wont, Hannibal is not exactly lying. It is taken, once again, from Episode 1.7 ("Sorbet"). While Hannibal makes his final preparations for his elaborate cannibalistic dinner party, Will brings a bottle of wine as a thank-you gift, but takes his leave of the invitation to continue work on the murder cases.
"Why'd you stop being a surgeon?"
"I killed someone. Or, more accurately, I couldn't save someone, but it felt like killing them."
"You were an emergency room surgeon. It has to happen from time to time."
"It happened one time too many. I transferred my passion for anatomy into the culinary arts. I fix minds instead of bodies, and no one has died as a result of my therapy."
"I have to go. I have a date with the Chesapeake Ripper."

1. What do you make of Hannibal's own account of his "origin," so to speak?

2. Can you recall Hannibal telling an unequivocal lie, a statement that is factually untrue not just meant to deceive?

3. What are your favorite instances of ironic or deceptive truth-telling in Hannibal? Which characters have the finest grasp of this skill?

4. What are your favorite ironic allusions from the series that depend on knowledge of the Thomas Harris books or previous adaptations?


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Just came across this...it is very well written and I enjoyed reading it. One lie that stands out to me, though, is when Hannibal tells Jack (in season 1, episode 12, I believe it is), that when he and Will were at the construction site, that Will was inside the trailer alone while he (Hannibal) was loading the car. This, of course, gives the implication that Will is the one that made the phone call to Garrett Jacob Hobbs.
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the thing about watching Hannibal is that you have to be very perceptive and thorough
every tiny details and nuances are part of the greater picture
it's like a tour in the Louvre which you have to revisit couple of time to actually get the beauty of them
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Yeah most of the time a lot of the characters in Hannibal are speaking with irony, but its not true that Hannibal never lied. One example is his conversation with Jack Crawford when the Violin maker and his patient Franklyn are found dead in his office. He tells Jack a pretty unambiguous lie, that the Violin maker killed Franklyn. I cannot recall the exact dialogue, but its a clear example of Hannibal lying. Mads Mikkelsen also interestingly seems to think that Hannibal never lied as he said so in an interview.
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I think, however, you did find the one lie in the whole scene. Hannibal does tell Jack, "He broke Franklin's neck and then he came after me." Other than those first four words, I'm fairly confident nothing else in that scene at least is an outright lie. Good catch! That's one.
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Interesting though, because they could be an interpretation of the situation. By coming into his therapy session and refusing to allow Franklin to leave, he put Hannibal in a situation where he had to kill Franklin. It could be argued that in knowing what Lecter was and by putting him in that situation, Tobias did kill Franklin. While it is not factually true, it is interpretively true. A kind of inversion of his other comments which are factually true but interpretively false.
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Yup... anyway regardless of what happens in the thin slice of Hannibal's life that we see on-screen, there's no way can he get by without telling a million lies a day doing what he does.
I actually see the deceptive half-truths and ironies more as little games that he plays with other people, a sort of teasing and mocking to feed his narcissism rather than a natural behavior on Hannibal's part.
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Everybody lies
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I wanted to comment here before saying that Hannibal lied when he showed the clock, that Will drew for him, to Alana Bloom, but seeing the last episode even that wasn't a lie.
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Really good article but I can't think of anything. There are so many great conversations with double meanings. That is one of the besting things about his series. We know who Hannibal is so his little innuendos are really funny.


Jack: What is this?
Hannibal: "Rabbit."
Jack: "Ha. He should have hopped faster."
(QUICK SHOT OF MAN HOPPING AWAY)
Hannibal: "Yes. He should have."
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The conversation that Hannibal has with Abigail at the end of 1x03 after Abigail killed NIcholas Boyle demonstrates his ironic truth-telling and subtle avoidance of outright lying quite well.

Abigail: You're glad I killed him.
Hannibal: What would be the alternative? That he killed you?
Abigail: I didn't know if he was going to.
Hannibal: No you don't.
Abigail: You're the one who called the house. You talked to my Dad before. What did you say to him?
Hannibal: A simple conversation. Ascertaining if he was home for an interview. Then why not tell the truth?
Abigail: They think who called the house is a serial killer. Just like my Dad.
Hannibal: I am nothing like your Dad. I made a mistake. Something easily misconstrued, not unlike yourself. I'll keep your secret.
Abigail: And I'll keep yours.

I imagine Hannibal is glad that Abigail killed Nicholas, but he dodges her accusation with a question. Hannibal did have a simple conversation with her father, and he did ascertain if he was home for their visit (as well as alerting him with a simple "They know"). He is "nothing like" her father. But is he lying when he said he "made a mistake." Maybe. Or maybe the mistake was that he didn't know she would pick up the phone.
More+
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Oh my! I had forgotten about that conversation. It is a teasing idea as well: what did Hannibal consider his "mistake"? Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I'm of the opinion that he just doesn't lie and that a huge piece of the Hannibal/Hannibal puzzle is figuring out what he's really referring to when he doesn't mean what the other characters think he means. (That was a grammatically convoluted statement.)

I sometimes think, particularly with Will, Hannibal is trying to actually tell him personal things. I think he, in a strange way, really wants Will to see him, to know him. His admission to Du Maurier that he enjoys the idea that Will can see from his perspective even when he has to be seen by the crime scenes he leaves behind is fascinating and, I believe, very honest. It's like a surrogate vulnerability.

I'm delighted to see how Hannibal unmasks the serial killer, since they've already diverted Harris's version of Will's discovery to Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky).
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So 'allcorrect' has pointed out at least one instance of a blatant lie.

Before seeing tonight's episode (2x05), I thought I had another. I was imagining that Hannibal was the 'copycat' killer. And in one scene from 2x03 when Hannibal was visiting Will, they had this exchange:

H: It seems you have an admirer.
W: You think someone sent me an ear because they admire me?
H: The boundaries of what's considered normal are getting narrower. Outside those boundaries, this may be intended as a helpful gesture.
W: How far would you go to 'help' me?
H: It hadn't occurred to me to send you an ear. I'm grateful someone has.

I thought he was lying about not thinking to send him an ear, but apparently he only thought to shove one down his throat.

I was thinking about this before tonight's episode (because of this article on 'truth-telling'), and it got me wondering if perhaps he was telling the truth and that someone else had indeed sent him the ear. And indeed, there was. Now I want to go back and rewatch 2x03 and 2x04 again.
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Staff
This is very nice. I'm going to a) give it a more thorough read soon-ish and b) include in the notes section of this week's review so that it hopefully gets a bit more attention. :)
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Thanks.
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This is one of the most well-constructed pieces of writing I've ever seen on TV.COM. A great topic, too. Thanks for a refreshing examination of what makes the dialog in Hannibal so exquisite.
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I suppose the other question I could have asked is: what do you make of Hannibal"s characters that are the inverse of this tendency? Beverly Katz, foremost of all, who uses words to clarify her meaning instead of disguise it. She doesn't manipulate or cajole. She does her best to understand the truth and to speak it clearly, even if that means indecisively. She is honest; Hannibal tells the truth.

My God, I love that woman, and I really hope she doesn't die!
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Sorry for your loss.
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Thank you. I'm thinking about holding a mock-wake next week when my friends and I convene for our Hannibal viewing.
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This was so fun to read! I find this to be the most delightful way of story telling and why I think tales of the Far are so interesting. The number one warning in dealing with the Fae is that they can't lie bit it doesn't mean they have to tell the truth. Sometimes this leads to lazy writing of doublespeak but it is always better when you can rely on grammar tone and inflection and assumptions of others.
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I hadn't made this connection, but you're right. That is EXACTLY how the fae work, and it can lead to cheap or obvious writing, but when it's good, it's very clever and very layered.

I suppose the same principle applies to oracular statements, which are decipherable only in retrospect because they have been wildly misunderstood. It's an interpretive game: I'm telling you the truth; now figure out what it means!
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I am also a lawyer and one of the things we entirely focused on is the language used, hence the popular deposition preparation question to a client...answer this, do you know what time it is? Most people then tell you the time, but the answer is yes or no.
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This is incredibly well-put-together, thank you! The biggest part of my enjoyment of Hannibal is that disconnect in the audience knowing what's going on when the characters don't - but Hannibal does, making the whole thing like a big inside joke. Now that Will's finally in on it, too, it's only gotten better. Hannibal is at once unbelievably subtle and painfully blatant and it's the most perfect balance.
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I love when there's the joke Hannibal's in on—Hannibal being a cannibalistic serial killer—and simultaneously a joke that Hannibal's not in on—knowing that in the future he will be caught.

You're also bang on about hitting the balance between subtle and blatant. I think this is particularly true of Hannibal, who enjoys showing off. Will would say theatrical. "Kabuki". It's one of the things that most impresses me about Du Maurier is that she's always subtle, so subtle I doubt I've caught half of her double entendres. It makes me want to re-watch all of her scenes.
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