THE SERIAL KILLER CANNIBAL MURDER MAN LOVE STORY

Dear ARTICHOKE,

As you may have heard (as I may have told you in person approximately five minutes ago), Hannibal aired its series finale just the other night, bringing three years of rampant cannibalism jokes to a climactic ending. I’m still digesting everything that’s happened in the show in general (pun very much intended), but I did want to share an initial reaction, in this delighted moment.

Spoilers from here.

What did I think of the series finale? One word: gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

No, like, literally. Gay.

I think Hannibal made history with this finale (actually, I think Hannibal’s probably made history in many ways), because we have entered into a brave new world, wherein the show actually gives the fangirls what they want.

You, Artichoke, haven’t watched this show, despite my very best efforts (maybe I should not have started with the season 2 episode Primavera, wherein a man literally rips his shellacked body out of a painting made of people and then tumbles off a cliff to his watery death, as I’m sure you remember, vividly), so you may not know that Hannibal has been a long study in trying to be the most homoerotic show ever made, as mostly seen through Hannibal’s desire to get inside of Will, in all kinds of ways. Every time Hannibal psychologically manipulates Will or, perhaps more to the point, forcibly penetrates him in the gut with a curved knife so as to disembowel him, it’s seen through a loving, quasi-religious, psychosexual lens. Hell, they even had a child together– whom Hannibal murdered and fed in piece to Will, not necessarily in that order. This show had all the subtlety as that dream we’ve all had where your high school math teacher repeatedly punches you in the face. The erotic subtext of Will and Hannibal’s wicked murder love was always only ever barely one step away from simply being text.

In the development of this manly cannibal romance, it quickly became apparent that Hannibal was in love with Will, to the point where Will and Bedelia (Gillian Anderson’s character) discuss it openly in 3×12, The Number of the Beast is 666; “Hannibal is in love with me,” Will says, direct quote.

And yes, Hannibal being in love with Will was always there. Hannibal falling in love with the people who profiled him (namely Clarice Starling) has been canon long before this iteration of the story. The plot of season 2 depended on Hannibal being in love with Will. But hey, the one-sided but deeply felt infatuation of a cannibal-serial-killer-embodiment-of-the-devil does not a romance make; it takes two to tango. The focus has always been not on what Hannibal feels for Will (a lot of love, and also like his brain would make a really delicious caprese), but on what Will feels for Hannibal. Will is by no means unaware of Hannibal’s complicated but very intense feelings, and he is haunted, caught between temptation for a devilish future and the ghosts of past murders. In this conflict, he repeatedly chooses the moral high road, therefore refusing to succumb to the temptation to run off with his cannibal-serial-killer-friend-lover and become “murder husbands” (as the show refers to them). He conspires with Jack to get Hannibal caught; he tells Hannibal never, ever, ever, and then walks away (thereby “dropping the mic”); he gets married and gets on with his life.

Until he doesn’t.

In the series finale, Will helps Hannibal escape, ostensibly as a ruse to bait Dolarhyde. It’s a hell of a suspension of disbelief on my part, that the FBI would ever let out a worse serial killer with the hope of catching a lesser serial killer, but I digress. Dolarhyde steps right into the trap, because the Great Red Dragon has a bit of a one-track mind where these things are concerned. He announces his presence by shooting Hannibal in the gut (shooting through Hannibal, actually, since the bullet shatters the window behind him). Before long, he’s stabbing Will in the face, and then at one point Will is on his knees getting stabbed some more, and then Hannibal hits Dolarhyde with an axe a few times while Will stabs D. repeatedly and all in all, it culminates with Will slashing his guts while Hannibal rips his throat out with his teeth, in a fight that can only be described (by Bryan Fuller!) as a three-way.

And then, once Dolarhyde is finally fucking dead, Will and Hannibal have a tender little conversation about how beautiful murder is, and how it’s all Hannibal ever wanted for Will, while Siouxsie Sioux croons a love song in the background. Will then leans into Hannibal’s embrace, and THEIR LOVE IS REAL, and Hannibal makes a face of love and relief that I can only really describe as an expression of orgasm. Like, an emotional orgasm. An emorgasm (™).

 It took me eight tries to screenshot this moment, so everyone who reads this letter better damn well appreciate it.

(My assumption that everyone is going to go watch this final scene, currently available on NBC’s website, to see for themselves. Start at the 34:00 minute mark if you don’t want to watch the whole episode. Warnings for gore, and love. See? Seeeee?)

And then, of course, Will tumbles Hannibal off a cliff, and what happens after that is another letter for another time.

TV has a long and tired history of subtextually appealing to the female and gay male gaze while keeping the actual content safely heteronormative; TV that can appeal to fangirls and homophobes alike, if you will. This audience keeps watching, waiting for every scrap thrown their way, and along the way, they write fanfiction and make loving fan videos and tribute websites, which act as free advertising for the show, and in this way, subtext becomes a whole industry unto itself, fueled primarily by denying the fans what they want. It’s weird, because you would never do this in any other context; hell, in Star Wars, the only reason Luke and Leia are twins, and Hans gets the girl, is because that’s what the audience wanted. The reason you don’t do this, is because if you don’t appeal to your audience, some other show will. As an industry staple, this practice of denying desired contents works because if no one is giving the fans what they want, then the fans have to continue subsiding on the subtext scraps, or nothing. The reason you might want to do this, is that the larger the audience, the more money for the show; so, ideally, my aforementioned example of an audience of fangirls and homophobes alike is simply bigger and therefore better than an audience of just fangirls. That, and an aversion to risk; no one wants to be the first penguin in the water.

The reason this model hasn’t folded, specifically in regards to homosexual romantic subtext, is because it’s aimed at an enormous, but marginalized audience (women, primarily young women, and gay men) while concerning a taboo subject matter (homosexual love). About that taboo subject matter– it’s becoming much less taboo. I don’t think it’s at all coincidence that this episode happened right around the same time as the Supreme Court’s monumental decision. Not that Bryan Fuller or NBC was waiting for the Supreme Court’s okay, but these two events are both part of and evidence of the changing cultural landscape.

I know next to nothing about TV, but from the negligible amount of authority invested in a blog post on the internet, I’m going to say this: the first genre TV show [1] that actually dares to portray a gay love story, featuring a singular protagonist (by which I mean, not one main character among dozens, like Game of Thrones or Heroes) in way that is well done, or at least moderately charismatic and interesting, is going to rake in all of the money. It’s going to be wildly successful. It’s going to occupy a previously unoccupied niche [2], and as the only thing occupying that niche, it’s going to dominate. I think I would enjoy seeing the eventual demise of all those mediocre little shows that subsist on teasing an audience with homoerotic subtext on which they have no intention of ever following through.

(Quick note– you could make the argument that because Hannibal’s show creator, Bryan Fuller, is gay, that’s part of why the show later followed through on its aforementioned homoerotic undertones. But. Teen Wolf’s show creator is also gay, and I don’t see Stiles and Derek getting together anytime soon.)

What is a little funny about this finale of Hannibal’s is that this wasn’t a mediocre show coasting along fueled only by a fanbase who just really wanted to see the main men kiss; this was one of the best shows on television, and from a stylistic and aesthetic perspective, the best show on television, possibly ever. In the words of Matt Seitz, after Hannibal was snubbed at the Emmies:

“I also need just to go on record here and say (1) the worst ten minutes of Hannibal display more tonal control and visual imagination than the best hour of almost any other drama you can name, even the great ones; and (2) it should have been nominated here; and (3) it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t nominated because 20 or 30 years down the road, young students of cinema and television will ask their elders if they watched Hannibal during its first run, and they’ll all lie and claim they watched every second, like people do today when young viewers ask about Twin Peaks.”

This finale wasn’t a gimmick. The conflict keeping Will and Hannibal apart has never been that they are both straight men (not that we’ve ever been told that either character only likes women) but the fact that Hannibal is a fucking cannibal serial killer, and Will is not (more or less). Will’s fluid sexuality is not the interesting thing; the interesting thing is that Will is succumbing to temptation, literally of the devil. Oh, the romance.

Now that I’ve said that sexuality is not the main thing– let’s talk about sexuality. I’m sure there will be at least one person, who has watched all three seasons behind a tightly held lens of no homo, bro, who will maintain that the love in question is totally, completely, manly platonic love. To be fair, sexual lust has always been depicted covertly on this show, largely underneath a current of unnatural desire (namely, to kill and eat other humans), emotional intimacy, and control. No one ever said Hannibal wasn’t a fucked up show.

It’s easy to see why Fuller chose to work this way; straight forward sexual lust only takes the story so far, but emotional intimacy can be explored forever. Characters frequently keep their sexual desires private, although not secret; Margot has sex with Will despite not feeling any sexual attraction to him, while Alana not only sleeps with but falls in love with and marries Margot, despite having never before indicated (to the audience) that she might be interested in women. The premise of Hannibal simply accepts that humans are complex emotional and sexual creatures, and acts on that acceptance without feeling the need to hold the audience’s hand and explain it to them.

In response to the hypothetical person calling no homo: when we use the English language to convey that we are in love with someone, that is understood to mean both sexual desire and romantic love, wrapped up together. That’s a problem with English as a language– I have no idea how someone who is asexual but not aromantic manages to navigate this built in lingual thornbush– but it’s silly to insist that in love between two men means romantic but not sexual, when it wouldn’t even occur to us to bother equivocating an otherwise identical love story between a man and a woman; e.g., the canon story of Hannibal and Clarice Starling.

In other words, this ending was the most predictable thing ever, and the viewer should be able to see it coming from miles and miles away– but I didn’t, really, because I live in a culture where homosexuality when not explicitly stated is audience interpretation and never turns out to be explicit. When explicit, it’s about the individual sexuality of the singular character, not– and this is key to Hannibal– the intense romantic love between two characters. And especially not a pair of one good, one incredibly fucking evil.

It would have been interesting to see what Bryan Fuller would have done in the fourth season, other than that I’m sure Hannibal and Will would have survived their tumble over the edge of the cliff, because human beings can apparently survive basically anything on Hannibal. Alas.

I have so many more thoughts, but that’s going to have to be all for now.

Much (platonic) love,

ONION

O&A on Tumblr! O&A on WordPress!

PS. This is it; the post that means I will never let my mom anywhere near our blog.

[1] Genre meaning procedural, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural– but let’s be honest, probably procedural. Basically, an overarching story, to which the main character’s sexuality is incidental and not central, but not so incidental as to be purely sexual and not romantic.

[2] Niche in this context having the same definition as it does in evolutionary theory; so, in accordance with this usage, fantasy would be another niche, even though people interested in fantasy are, as evidenced by Game of Thrones, are not exactly a rare species.

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About onionandartichoke

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a pair of vegetables in possession of a good quantity of opinions must be in want of a blog. Onion and Artichoke: Purveyors of Fine Literary Reviews, Discussions of Modern Life, and Only Infrequent Eviscerations. (With occasional contributions from Messrs. Aubergine, Leek, and Zucchini.) ------------- We are two college friends in our twenties, who live in the same city and (as of April 2014) have the good luck of working in the same office too. Onion runs the Tumblr, and Artichoke runs the WordPress. Onion is media-savvy; Artichoke mispronounces words on the regular. Onion is full of grace; Artichoke listens to Ace of Base. Onion is a bulb; Artichoke is a thistle. We hope this has been a very informative reading experience. Sincerely, ONION and ARTICHOKE
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One Response to THE SERIAL KILLER CANNIBAL MURDER MAN LOVE STORY

  1. manmahsh says:

    I honestly think this is the best review I’ve read on the show since it ended last Saturday. Great job, Onion.

    The homoerotic tone is obvious from episode one. It is part of the voyeuristic nature of the show that taps on lust and gore/violence equally. And as you said many things on the show don’t make any frigging sense! It’s meant to be visually and sensually entertaining, no more. When it started, I tried to take it seriously but then I gave up by the second or third episode.

    I’m a fangirl myself (only of Mads Mikkelsen) and you can imagine my disappointment when I saw his feelings for Will unfold 😀

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