TV Minus the TV: Game of Thrones does it for the watch, and Hannibal has the primavera
Welcome to TV Minus the TV, a column full of thoughts about TV shows watched on laptops published on the internet for you to read on your phone.
Click titles to jump:
Game of Thrones #510, “Mother’s Mercy” by Bryce Rudow
Hannibal #301 and #302, “Antipasto/Primavera” by Charles Bramesco
Game of Thrones #510, “Mother’s Mercy”
History v. His Story
By Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
Seinfeld is famously known as “The Show About Nothing.” There’s no hugging, no learning, and if critics ever (even decades later) charged it with being too ____, its creators always replied, “It can’t be too ____ because it’s not any ____ to begin with.”
Game of Thrones, while admittedly not usually compared to 90’s sitcoms, has taken a similar tactic when it comes to both incorporating and defending its unique storytelling decisions. With a backstory as dense as most AP History textbooks, Game of Thrones likes to masquerade as a ‘history’ of a world rather than a fictional story, and its creators have been more than happy to use that as an excuse for why ‘bad things happen to good people.’ It’s fine that characters are getting beheaded/tortured/raped/castrated/immolated because this is the (fake) real world and in the (fake) real world, things like that (fake) really happen. But now, with more and more red herring protagonists (possibly) getting knocked off the board, Game of Thrones is being forced to reveal itself as the epic story it really is.
‘Bad luck’ can only go so far in a narrative before it becomes ‘bad storytelling.’
By now, we already know the classic plays that GoT likes to run — when a character gives a long soliloquy they’re probably going to die soon, don’t trust cutaways, it can always get worse, etc. — and the quick fix has always been to throw in a nice twist for the
watchers viewers. In the past, it’s been seemingly indiscriminate, as that’s how the (fake) real world is, but with winter rapidly approaching and our final main characters having to at least somewhat congeal before the big looming end battle, the essential elements of the story of Game of Thrones have to supersede the chaotic randomness of a supposedly real world’s nature.
There are really only a few ways, narratively, that things can shake out for everything to be logistically okay in the end.
And almost zero of them involve Jon Snow being dead…
It’s no fun to think about how we’ll probably find out confirmation of Good Snow Friday via behind-the-scenes shit like casting and filming gossip, but it is fun to think back on all the fun clues that have been left along the way for his zombie resurrection to actually make narrative sense.
The parental lineage R+L=J theories (that even non-book readers like myself should at least be sniffing around) are too important to the future storyline to not be all but assumed as confirmed#, and we’ve gotten more than enough pleasant reminders that resurrection is totally possible in this (fake) real world. Plus, there’s the infamous story of how Benioff and Weiss got the job working on GoT in the first place#.
From a storytelling perspective, Jon Snow not only can’t be dead for good, it makes total narrative sense that he wouldn’t be.
Now he’s just got to figure out how to get everyone worried about White Walkers when…
- Stannis may or may not be dead (don’t trust cutaways)
- Brienne may or may not be dead (see above about cutaways)
- Sansa and Theon are on their way to camp out in the Iron Islands after falling into the world’s softest snowbank
- The Boltons still have Winterfell
- Arya is blind
- Bran is Warging under a tree
- Dany is dealing with lazy dragons and Dothrakis
- Cersei the Shamed and Jaime the Uncloseted are on the warpath
- you can’t even trust a long kiss from a Dornish woman to not poison you
God, I’m going to miss getting to watch this show each week.
I might actually have to start reading the books…
Hannibal #301 and #302, “Antipasto/Primavera”
So Pretty It Hurts
By Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse)
Despite all of its marked similarities to other currently running programming, there really is nothing like Hannibal on network television right now. Watch the first two episodes — the two of them forming a sort of diptych that reintroduces Hannibal first, then Will Graham in the wake of his stabbing at the end of the second season — and you’ll find moments that ravish you with their novelty. In turns, Hannibal feels like a major coup. Nothing this idiosyncratic, indulgent, allusive, and heady could possibly run on the same channel as The Voice.
The funny bit is that on paper, Hannibal sounds no different than the scores of dark and gritty (two descriptors that, at this point, should probably be permanently affixed to scare quotes) dramas that run for five or six episodes with the coming of each new season, peter out, and are then relegated to the deepest recesses of TV bar trivia. There’s nothing new or fresh about Hannibal’s penchant for violence, though showrunner Bryan Fuller appears to take a perverse pleasure in dreaming up ever-more gruesome ways to mutilate and distend the human body. # Hannibal is the latest in a long line of television shows about fraught relationships between what Brett Martin calls “difficult men.” Sleek Dr. Lecter is a spiffed-up Dexter Morgan, or Tony Soprano, or whichever violent, compartmentalizing, secretive white guy might strike you. There are plenty to choose from. He an antihero, visibly morally corrupted but not beyond redemption, and impossible to resist by virtue of his presence, charisma, and power.
The show’s massacre-of-the-week format doesn’t bust any boundaries, either. For the most part, the plot arcs of Fuller’s program expand and riff on established stock stories from the world of crime procedurals. A detective gets too wrapped up in the case and loses sight of himself, a slippery killer never fails to turn the tables every time he seems cornered, etc. etc. On a foundational, basic level, this has been done before.
And yet Hannibal retains a sense of boldness through the sheer audacity of Fuller’s artistic vision. With accomplished filmmaker Vincenzo Natali (the twisted mind behind Splice and the “U Is For Utopia” segment of horror anthology The ABCs of Death 2) in the director’s chair, the show has never been more ravishingly sensuous or stylistically experimental. To say images play out on the screen would do them a grave injustice; the churning streaks of color and darkness dance off the screen, pour from it, explode out of it. Natali begins the third season with a hazy, dreamy swirl of abstract color, reds lapping at greens and yellows and dark blues like waters on a tempestuous sea. Slowly, carefully, we zoom through an intricate network of fire and steel, chiaroscuro masses pumping quickly and forcefully; the sexual undertone is not accidental. Through more gauzy hues, and the camera shoots out the tailpipe of a motorbike steered by a leather-jacketed Lecter. It’s an expressionist show of force, a semi-conscious giallo fever dream so sensuous it’s practically pornographic. The question at hand is this: What the fuck is this foreign art film doing on NBC?
That characterization isn’t mine, by the way. It’s Fuller’s; in a recent and slightly troubling interview with RogerEbert.com the showrunner laid out his methods: “The first thing I tell any new director is ‘You are making a pretentious art film.’ This is not an episode of television. This is a pretentious art film. It goes back to The Hunger, which is a pretentious art film beautifully told. The criticisms at the time where that it was ‘style over substance,’ and I was like, ‘I’m getting plenty of substance, I don’t know what you’re getting.’ I love cinematic poetry. I love juxtaposition of imagery.” It’s not a super-heartening sign when a guy refers to his own show as “pretentious”. We could take a leap and assume Fuller uses those word with his tongue planted firmly in cheek. Anyone who’s seen Hannibal, however, knows better than to think Fuller might have a sense of humor. No beams of levity may piece the thick black cloud cover the eternally hangs above the show.
Formalism is not a hollow charge, and it’s wrong of Fuller to dismiss it out of hand in such a cavalier fashion. Because, in all honesty, Hannibal’s gut-wrenching, diabolical prettiness can only distract from the larger problems in the show for so long. Not unlike one of the fiendish bodily sculptures that litter the show’s episodes, Fuller’s stitched together a magnificent product. The seams, however, have begun to show.
The contrast between “Antipasto” and “Primavera” alone illustrates one of the show’s glaring weaknesses. The excellent “Antipasto” finds Doctors Lecter and du Maurier in Italy (and a short interlude in Paris) on a vacation/extended hostage situation. Hannibal’s there to investigate a possible opportunity as a professor, but in all honesty, he’s there for the same reasons he goes anywhere: to be a fancy, fancy man and to murder people. Italy, that fanciest of non-France countries in Europe, the fanciest continent of all, affords Hannibal the opportunity to be fancier than ever. He shows off his fancy mastery of foreign language and his fanciest attire reserved for fancy soirées. One man dares to challenge Hannibal’s fanciness — needless to say, Hannibal proves himself the Fancyman Supreme and things go poorly for the insolent challenger.
Glib language aside, it truly is an outstanding episode that showcases many of the program’s best qualities. It’s overwhelmingly gorgeous, yes, but at Hannibal’s best, it also coaxes out keen insight on the tangled enigma that is Hannibal. His conversations with Eddie Izzard’s mad Dr. Gideon over leg-fed snails, told through monochrome flashback, add an unexpected new dimension to the urbane murderer. He misses Will, but more than that, he’s scared of death. These are human sensations. What Hannibal’s doing with them poses a fascinating new direction for the show.
Things take a turn down a road more well-trod when focus shifts to Will Graham in “Primavera”. It’s a bad sign when the episode begins and the first appearance of Will’s face triggers the realization that we are not pleased to see him. Things were cleaner, more focused, and more interesting without him in the show. Sure enough, Hannibal has come down with a bad case of orangeisthenewblackitis, a rare disease affecting ensembles with rich supporting casts, with symptoms manifesting in the main character’s recession into the background. Will has a fraction of Hannibal’s charisma (related in no small part to the fact that Hugh Dancy cannot hope to hold his own alongside modern titan Mads Mikkelsen), and the troubles with the show that fade away during its most rapturously beautiful sequences suddenly reappear clearer than ever.
Specifically, the show’s absurd self-seriousness as it appears in the dialogue. Everybody talks like a Bond villain, spewing curlicued bons mots about life and death, the dark nature of man, deception, and whatever other topics can be cleanly listed under a reader’s guide with a section marked THEMES. Like the comically intense blackness of True Detective, the lines are overwritten to death. While I’m sure the dialogue has provided no shortage of DeviantArt pages with header quotes, it sounds rather silly in its grandiloquence. The bark far exceeds the bite.
Which take us back to the worrisome descriptor, “pretentious”. In the mass of modern discourse, # the true meaning of the word has been perverted, or possibly just forgotten. It’s not uncommon to see the word used as code for something along the lines of “you are smarter than me and I don’t like you”. But pretentious means, in the most self-reflexive sense, putting up a pretense. It’s not a matter of being smart and snooty about it, but of being snooty without anything to back it up. Hannibal’s so devastatingly pretty, but seldom can it follow through on that visual sophistication into narrative sophistication. In “Antipasto,” Fuller and Natali match the stylistic complexity with Hannibal’s inner multitudes. Whether they can do so with Will as well has yet to be seen.
Like what you read? Share it.
(That helps us.)
Love what you read? Patronize Charles Bramesco.
That helps us and the writer.
What is Patronizing? Learn more here.