NBC’s psychological thriller serves as a prequel to the likes of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. The story picks up with FBI special investigator Will Graham as he tries to hunt down the sadistic Chesapeake Ripper. Reporting to Jack Crawford – head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI – Will also seeks out the help of renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Even though Will has his own tormented past, it’s nothing compared to the dark secrets that Hannibal hides in his larder. A game of cat and mouse ensues as the FBI tries to take down the Chesapeake Ripper without realising he’s been in front of their faces the entire time.
A complicated love triangle also emerges between Will, Lecter, and Professor Alana Bloom. As the series evolves, Will and Hannibal’s relationship becomes more than just doctor and patient. Sometimes working together, sometimes drifting apart, Will and Hannibal also face villainous entities like the unhinged Mason Veger, psychotic Abel Gideon, and the mysterious Tooth Fairy.
Who is in Hannibal?
Taking the lead, Hugh Dancy plays FBI special investigator Will Graham in Hannibal. He’s joined by Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen as the titular Hannibal. Both were praised for their chemistry on screen and expanding Harris’ characters from the books. The Matrix’s Laurence Fishburne rules the roost as Jack Crawford, while Caroline Dhavernas portrays Alana Bloom.
Elsewhere, The X Files’ Gillian Anderson plays Hannibal’s psychiatrist, Dr Bedelia Du Maurier. Originally appearing as a recurring character in season one, Du Maurier is promoted to a series regular in season three. Gina Torres is Bella Crawford – Jack’s wife who is suffering from lung cancer. Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams add comedy value as crime scene investigators Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller.
Also along for the ride, Raúl Esparza is the downtrodden and sleazy Dr Frederick Chilton, who is the power-mad administrator of Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Lara Jean Chorostecki is a gender-flipped version of Harris’ Freddie Lounds – a nosey journalist from true crime website TattleCrime.
Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt plays Mason Verger in season two, replaced by Joe Anderson in season three. Katharine Isabelle stars as Margot Verger and evolves into a sympathetic character after many years of abuse at the hands of her brother.
Finally, guest star Eddie Izzard is the institutionalised Abel Gideon and Kacey Rohl plays the complicated Abigail Hobbs.
Richard Armitage joins for the final season as Francis Dollarhyde. Harnessing the power of the mythical Red Dragon, Dollarhyde is best-known by his alter ego as the Tooth Fairy.
Mikkelsen is the third actor to play Hannibal Lecter. Brian Cox appeared as the culinary cannibal in 1986’s Manhunter. Despite its cult status, Manhunter failed to cash in on the success of later adaptations. Most famously, Anthony Hopkins portrayed Hannibal in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, 2001’s Hannibal, and 2002’s Red Dragon.
Although both Hannibal and the various movies are based on Harris’ four books, the TV show tends to veer away from the source material with more of a focus on the dynamic between Will and Hannibal.
Fuller had originally planned for the first three seasons to cover original material, the fourth to chart Harris’ Red Dragon novel, the fifth The Silence of the Lambs, the sixth Hannibal, and a final season of new content to round off the story.
Hannibal often struggled in the ratings stakes and Fuller moved his plans around to incorporate Red Dragon into season 3. Elsewhere, a bitter battle between studios meant NBC couldn’t secure the rights to Agent Clarice Starling/most of The Silence of the Lambs’ characters.
How many seasons are there of Hannibal?
Despite a loyal fanbase that grew over the years, the show was cancelled in 2015 – leading to an outcry.
Season three ended on one of the biggest TV cliffhangers of all time, and viewers might never find out what happened to Dr Lecter and Will Graham as they apparently plunged to their doom.
There’s been plenty of talk about a possible continuation, with Fuller sharing fans’ pain and teasing a possible revival, saying, “a hungry cannibal can always dine again.”
So far that revival has never materialised, although now that all three seasons are available to stream online, at least fans can still enjoy a bite of the action.