Crime-drama Hannibal, based on the titular series by author Thomas Harris, expertly borrows character and plot from the books to weave an incredible and original design for the TV show.
The main protagonist is Will Graham, an FBI profiler with a rare gift: the ability to put himself in the shoes of criminals, specifically serial killers, in order to establish motive and to catch them. This unfortunate understanding takes a deep toll on his mental health in the series, and lends a sympathetic trait to Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of him.
Hannibal, as revived by Mads Mikkelsen, is still the suave, intelligent psychiatrist, and we are afforded a look at his life before he was put behind bars, where he started off in the first novel of the series, Red Dragon. He develops an interest in befriending Will, forming a deep connection (perhaps due to Will’s unique ability to understand the psychotic mind).
Many other characters are welcomed from the page to the screen, such as Jack Crawford, Head of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, played by Laurence Fishburne; Dr. Frederick Chilton, a psychiatrist at the Baltimore State Hospital portrayed by fan favourite Raul Esparza; along with several other regulars on the series, although with minor roles in the Red Dragon books, these include lab technician Jimmy Price and crime scene investigator Brian Zeller.
The characters we’ll be examining, however, are Dr. Alana Bloom, Freddie Lounds, and Margot Verger, specifically because in the book series, they were men.
DR. ALANA BLOOM
In the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, from which the show is based, Dr. Alan Bloom is a teacher of psychology and a consultant to the FBI’s behavioural-analysis section.
“Graham liked Dr. Alan Bloom, a small round man with sad eyes, a good forensic psychiatrist – maybe the best. Graham appreciated the fact that Dr. Bloom had never displayed professional interest in him. That was not always the case with psychiatrists.”
His one personality trait, as evidenced by his very small role in the book, was developed well in the show, especially the first time we see Alana Bloom, as portrayed by Caroline Dhavernas. Speaking to Jack Crawford while outside the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Bloom repeatedly reminds Crawford that she has never been in a room alone with Will Graham, and has no interest in psycho-analyzing him or conducting a study on his abilities while he is living, stating simply that she just wants to be his friend.
As for physical attributes, hey, it’s TV, and this is TV at its sleekest, most stylishly elegant best. Most of the characters, male or female, are portrayed by mainstream attractive actors, and are commonly seen dressed to the nines. This all fits the esthtetic of the show – one of fine dining and upper-class education. However, there is a difference between switching the genders of certain characters in order to have a more diverse show, and taking advantage of hollywood stereotypes and using your newly female characters for what most tv shows and movies know they’re only good for: looking pretty, sassy, and having sex with the male characters.
Let’s skip ahead to season two, shall we? Alana Bloom has entered into a physical relationship with her former mentor and our antagonist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. While certainly psychedelic and steamy, as all of the shows rather refreshing love scenes are, something still tells me that if Alana were still Alan, this would not have happened. Just an observation.
Perhaps it is personal style, or maybe the writers were going for realism by insinuating that although Bloom is a respected expert in her field, she is still pressured to wear a full face of makeup and a skirt and heels to work, but I do find it a little too coincidental that this newly re-imagined character has such an affinity for maintaining perfectly coiffed, glossy hair, and such an emphasis on her looks. Once again, I realize that this is TV and everyone looks beautiful and yes, even the men are wearing makeup to keep them from looking like (albeit, normal) blemished people, but something still does not sit right with Alana Bloom. Will Graham has messy hair and bags under his eyes, all characteristic of what we know of him and see him go through: sleepless nights, mental strain, sometimes an inability to focus. He also dresses quite casually. So, maybe Alana is portrayed so made-up to show how secure she is in herself, that she can keep up appearances, that she has her shit together. This is a horrible statement in itself, to say that a woman shows she is doing well in life by looking a certain way, but let’s move on, if you’re not convinced.
This is not simply a put-upon character trait for one individual. Oh, no. Of course these nuances span the remaining female cast.
In season three, as Alana’s character has gone through somewhat of a transformation, falling in love with Margot and abandoning her ethical roots in order to help Mason Verger catch Hannibal, Dr. Bloom’s look is given an edge: Her hair is styled in an old-fashioned but nevertheless glamourous manner, she wears darker, more prominent makeup (to show she’s literally become a darker character – although that’s not quite fair, just because she is now interested in a woman and was almost killed), but another important change is in her wardrobe.
Alana is seen is season three, more often than ever, wearing pantsuits. This, in the TV world, is an attempt to make her look more masculine – once again, can’t doubt this is to emphasis the character’s newfound ‘darkness’ (she is with a woman now, anyway. Somebody has to dress like the man, right? Who wrote this.) – but she is still very much stylized and sexualized. It is not a suit her male colleagues would wear. It is still a feminine one.
This change of dress could also be to show her authority, though, as the new head of the Baltimore State Hospital, where Hannibal is currently imprisoned. Because nothing says ‘I don’t have any authority’ like a skirt.
*I’d like to take this time to mention an original character to the show, Bedelia DuMaurier, played by Gillian Anderson. Bedelia is similar to Alana, in that she works in the same field, but as Hannibal’s psychotherapist. The two characters share many physical similarities: they both dress very well (and feminne), often in skirts and low-cut blouses, with their hair down elegantly and with prominent makeup. Ok, so not an anomaly on Alana’s part.
Replacing the ‘Y’ at the end of Freddy for the – I suppose – more feminine ‘IE’, (I can’t really complain, having just realized I may have done that myself), the infamous tabloid journalist that met a sorry end in Red Dragon is reprised on the screen in his female ‘equivalent’ – not quite, I’ll argue – by Lara Jean Chorostecki.
“Lounds had come into the hospital room while Graham was asleep. He flipped back the sheet and shot a picture of Graham’s temporary colostomy. The paper ran it retouched with a black square covering Graham’s groin. The caption said “Crazy Guts Cop.””
A purposely annoying character in the book, Lounds had very little reverence for victims of his stories or the FBI. He also had an inability to keep himself out of his own stories, searching higher and higher for a claim to fame. His obnoxiousness was definitely well translated to the TV show, Freddie being a character the fans loved to hate. She was also clever and brave, like Freddy was in the books. Overall, his personality was changed very little.
“Lounds was lumpy and ugly and small. He had buck teeth and his rat eyes had the sheen of spit on asphalt.”
The first time we see Lounds at the beginning of episode two, she is nude, sitting behind her desk with a towel draped over the chair and her hair wet, evidently having just gotten out of the shower. The camera switches to her face as she clicks through an article on her own website, TattleCrime (the show’s equivalent for Red Dragon’s supermarket tabloid The National Tattler), and we see what Freddie Lounds looks like. As a character we are not really meant to like, Chorostecki’s strong, angular features and elfish looks bring a mischievous and untrustworthy expression we immediately recognize onscreen. On a side note, her long, curly red hair was often literally a red light when she appeared on screen, alarming us that something downright infuriating was about to happen, in my opinion at least. She was expertly cast. However, this close up of Lounds’ face was infuriating enough by itself, for those of us not complacent enough to see it.
This woman was freshly out of the shower with a full face of makeup on. And not just the TV makeup treatment every actor gets before they’re allowed to set foot on set, the basic concealer and skin correcting stuff, no. Freddie Lounds was wearing lipstick, a lot of eyebrow pencil, mascara, eyeliner, and an interesting touch, highlighter. They’d highlighted along her nose and cupid’s bow for a feminine effect, but also brought it down to her bare collarbone and shoulders. Interesting. I wonder why our first view of this character is in such an eye-catching way. Without hearing a word out of her mouth or seeing her in action yet, we are already treated to a view I couldn’t possibly imagine for her male counterpart – who was excellently portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film adaptation, by the way. Nevertheless, I knew this character very well as a fan of the books, and was excited for what she would bring to the table. I knew a few curveballs were coming.
The greatest ‘curveball’ that came however, was the insinuation that Lounds weaponized her sexuality to prey on male police officers and FBI agents to get information for her website. ‘Freddy’ never had to do that. In the third episode, Lounds is busted by Jack Crawford’s team for having written a defamatory article about Will Graham. Jack is very suspicious as to where she got her leads. As the team leaves, Brian Zeller cuts the zipties with which she’d been temporarily bound and whispers, “You used me.” And it wouldn’t be the first time.
Along with Dr. Bloom, Dr. DuMaurier, and, as we’ll see, Margot Verger, Freddie’s choice of garb is stereotypically feminine, often wearing dresses and tights, heeled boots, a cropped peacoat or fitted leather jacket, carrying a purse. This, honestly, made me hate her character even more, which wasn’t fair because it was for the wrong reasons. Lounds’ character in the book was never stereotypically feminine in the least bit. I see absolutely no reason for her to act or dress this way. This is not what women are. Women are not dresses and makeup and hair flips and sex. There was NO REASON FOR THIS. WHY DID THIS HAPPEN. YOU MAKE A MOCKERY OF WOMEN WHEN YOU GENDERSWAP CHARACTERS BY PUTTING LIPSTICK AND A SKIRT ON THEM. Goddamnit.
*I would now like to mention Beverly Katz, similar to my above sidenote on Bedelia DuMaurier. Katz was a minor character in Red Dragon, but her personality and expertise were brought over well to the screen. She was a woman in both the show and the book, however, not to be confused with our genderswap topic here, but I do feel the need to point out that although she dressed smartly and, refreshingly less feminine than her female costars, Katz can still be seen wearing high-heeled boots to crime scenes, an unorthodox and actually downright unprofessional choice of footwear for her job. This was certainly just to piggyback on what we’ve just gone over for our two previously mentioned characters.
No doubt, Bryan Fuller found this a tricky one. Margot Verger, sister to the psychopathic heir of the Verger fortune, Mason (portrayed in the show by the stunningly gorgeous and yet equally unnerving Michael Pitt), is introduced in the third Thomas Harris novel Hannibal, as a transgender man. In fact, he is an avid bodybuilder with a partner named Judy. In the show, however, Margot is played by the incredibly talented Katherine Isabelle, and is instead portrayed as a lesbian. To be fair, in the film adaptation that featured Gary Oldman as the hideously disfigured Mason, Margot’s character was cut out completely and never even mentioned once. But still. Isabelle could not have been more the opposite of her character in the book.
Svelte and dressed decadently, with quite the emphasis on hair and makeup, this new version of Margot was in fact every bit a slave to her brother as in the book, but it seemed that all that mental anguish and strain didn’t affect her ability to look like the ideal male fantasy. Alas, it gets worse.
*Please keep in mind I absolutely love Katherine Isabelle and enjoyed both the books and the tv show very much, absolutely all of them are brilliant. These are just problems we need to think about in regards to the way women and men are portrayed in the future. Sexism is rampant. We can start by recognizing it.
So, Margot is a lesbian now, but let’s not forget, also a woman. And you know what that means. Although Will Graham acknowledges that he does not “have the parts for [her] proclivities”, Margot nevertheless engages in an equally stylized sex scene to that of Bloom’s and Lecter’s, supposedly to forward the plot as she was trying to conceive a child. Margot, one of the few female characters on the show and a lesbian (yes, I understand the Kinsey scale, but that’d be a bit too much of a coincidence here) has sex with our protagonist, Will Graham in order to secure a new heir to the Verger fortune – meaning she would be able to leave (or kill) her abusive brother.
At the end of the series, Alana Bloom has married and had a son with Margot after Mason’s death, and the two are left sitting pretty (literally) and safely on top of the Verger fortune.
And then there’s Chiyoh.
This woman lives alone in the woods of the abandoned Castle Lecter homestead in Lithuania. She hunts her own food and keeps a terrible prisoner.
SOMEBODY HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHY THIS WOMAN LOOKS LIKE AN URBAN DECAY PALETTE. I NEED TO KNOW. Her prisoner sure as shit doesn’t. Are you telling me she’s been reapplying her lipstick and lipliner all day while she’s been hunting? And that she bothered to put on a full face of makeup anyway? Seriously, if her devotion to makeup artistry is supposed to be a character trait, there was no mention or development of that at all. LOOK AT THOSE FALSE LASHES. Fuck you guys.
Seriously, this is so frustrating, I was genuinely expecting an uproar. Somebody needs to atone for this and say, ‘Yeah. We were just being sexist. Women exist to be supermodels. We created a universe wherein people with vaginas all spend hours every day on their makeup and hair, regardless of who or where they are. And we’re never going to mention or explain this once. You’re supposed to just accept it as reality.’
Chiyoh takes the remixed form of a character from the Thomas Harris prequel, Hannibal Rising. The book details Hannibal Lecter’s childhood in war-torn Lithuania, losing his younger sister, attending a cruel boarding school in what used to be his family home, and eventually living with his aunt (by marriage) the Lady Murasaki. In the show, this character was adapted as a younger version named Chiyoh, apparently Lady Murasaki’s handmaid. I suppose it was easier for them to work this role with a younger woman, rather than Murasaki herself, who would actually not be much older than Hannibal now. He’s pretty agile. I wonder what was wrong with her? Then again, actresses kind of expire when they get older, don’t they? Not the way their male colleagues do. Cause they don’t.
Oh, and since she’s a woman? Similar to Freddie Lounds, she uses her sexuality for absolutely no discernible reason to trick Will Graham. She kisses him, then pushes him off the back of a train. Could’ve just pushed him, but we need a close-up of those lips on our protagonist.
I am so over it.