Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hannibal (On the Essence of Evil)

A few words about Hannibal the tv show. I just adore it. Unbelievable that they managed to air a whole season of it, with another one following in 2014. For me, it redefines psychological horror. It's so rich in dark subtext, that even with nothing happening on the screen, the viewer gets a feeling of suspense and dread. Complex and intelligent, a rare treat.

Here is a quote from Bryan Fuller (found on wikipedia):
"'What would David Lynch do with a Hannibal Lecter character? What sort of strange, unexpected places would he take this world?' I'm a great admirer of his [Lynchs] work and his aesthetic and his meticulous sound design. Those were all components that I felt very strongly needed to be part of our Hannibal Lecter story. Between Lynch and Kubrick, there's a lot of inspiration."
David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick.. he's not just paying lip service here, I honestly believe they pulled it off (not necessarily at eye level, but close enough). Writing, sound and visuals are as good as money can buy and the actors are stellar. Way above what should be possible in a tv show (and maybe comparable with Game of Thrones in this regard).

Hopkins doesn't do it for me, really.

Mads Mikkelsen is a brilliant cast as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. I read somewhere that his thick accent makes him unbelievable and that's so far from the truth, it almost hurts. It benefits the role a great deal. As a viewer you're bound to know who Hannibal Lecter is. You know he is a cannibal and as evil and dangerous as they get. And Mads Mikkelsen is exactly that - for the viewer. But not for the cast. They take him serious and ask him for advice. They even act after it! It's that discrepancy that makes it work for me.

You have to wonder... (source)
The show is, to give an example, a lot about the fine art of cooking and there are quite a few scenes with the characters sitting at a table and Lecter serving something that looks delicious, explaining in detail what they are about to eat. And then they enjoy it, talking about other stuff. The viewer has to think "They're not eating chicken, fer crying out loud!". It get's me every time. It's almost like a running gag, but scary at that. One time at such an occasion Lecter states, rather nonchalant,  "I like to have friends over for dinner." and I couldn't help but thinking - yeah, right, nicely cooked with a good glass of vine.

The Essence of Evil

The script does a lot to help making him one of the most effective villains I've seen in a long time. It adds to Mikkelsen's calm and reserved presence. How he interacts with his surroundings and shapes events, with a few notches here and some misdirections there, is just delightful to behold. And evil. Nothing redeems this character, all his actions and motives are irrevocably distorted. Only the viewer is to understand that for a very long time and Lecter keeps being in control so long, it's unnerving. But in a good way (as far as tension goes).

With all the serial killers portrayed in the show, he is the most evil one. By a long shot. Which seems very difficult at times, because those are examples for some very creative writing and good acting (Spoiler! One was breeding mushrooms on his comatose but living victims... End of Spoilers!). But even they are for him just means to an end. If you ever asked yourself what the term evil could entail, Hannibal Lecter, as staged in this show, is the paradigm for it.

What to use in The Game?

It might be pretty difficult to implement a character like Hannibal Lecter into a D&D game, but not impossible. One idea could be to use a city crawl with a heavy social context in a vanilla setting (civilized, the day to day horrors of a D&D setting merely rumors). Hannibal would be, to take a fantasy analogy, an alchemist of sorts and a pillar of the community. Wealthy and with status, but well liked by the people for his "good" advice. Not so much a spider in a web, but the core of an onion, so to say. Not a Big Player, but a great manipulator.

Famous for his great dinners and responsible for the declining minds of at least one wizard doing terrible experiments, one or two cannibals and a few nobles with horrible hobbies (to give but a few random thoughts). The social structure around him is his playing field, his manipulations nearly undetectable (the suicide of the brewery's owner drove his wife into madness, which in turn put enough pressure on the son to become a cruel drunkard, because he had the potential, but he had to be the new boss in the brewery and this led to a series of violent behavior from his unhappy workers, the weakest of those pushed hard enough to hurt their families, until one of them bashed his new bosses head in... always just a notch, coming clean all the time).

(As a side note: in the Settlement as Class idea I proposed two posts ago, he would deplete WIS. Catching him would refresh the ability score with time, making the town a better place to live in.)

It could also be a lich, totally content with perverting the unsuspecting humans living in villages and castles nearby. It's like Fuller said: what influence would such a character have on the world he lives in...

Have any of you ever had a serial killer as part of the D&D game?

That's it, my love letter to the show. If you haven't had a chance to see this by now or were reluctant about giving it a try, I hope my unfiltered praise helped getting it on your radar. DMs of Lamentations of the Flame Princess or fans of David Lynchs work (or psychological horror in general) should have a lot of fun with it.

It's nothing for children, though. Very mature content, not for the faint of heart.

Fanboy: Out


  1. I did a Spring-heeled Jack type serial killer in my old Forgotten Realms campaign. He was a half-orc rogue who hated dwarves, and was murdering them with poisoned daggers.

    Since the party was led by a dwarf, and had many dwarven allies, they got a bit upset.

    He ended up being a very memorable villain, since he had boots of striding and leaping, a cloak of spider climbing and 2 returning daggers that he poisoned.

    When the PC's finally pursued him to his lair, he led them into the sewers and to an abandoned cistern with a single-plank bridge across it. As soon as the dwarf and cleric started across the plank, he kicked it over, dropping them into the cistern. Which woke up the Shambling Mound that lived down there.

    As they started to fight the Shambling Mound, he calmly started pouring a barrel of oil down on them. Then he threw down a lantern and took off again.

    It was a shame when they finally tracked him down and killed him. He was no Hannibal, but it was a good villain, albeit a very different type of serial killer.

  2. JD -- This is Gorgonmilk. Can you send me an e-mail? I have a question regarding accreditation in PETTY GODS.



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