I was in the middle of typing an effort post about the show when I saw you posted this, so I’ll just toss my thoughts here. I hated the first episode with almost every fiber of my being, but I am open to the idea that the things I disliked about it will tie together in later episodes and will give it a few weeks to impress me.
Going to lead with the fact that I haven’t read the novel and also haven’t watched Hannibal outside of a few episodes, so I’m largely unfamiliar with the source material and the showrunner outside of reputation and hearsay.
First episode spoilers:
[spoiler]I knew I was in for a wild ride from the opening sequence, which establishes America as a place where gods walk among us, and guns for shock value by having a fight sequence where a dismembered arm flies through the air. It’s almost comedic, but it’s played seriously.
The rest of the show follows Shadow Moon, the protagonist, who is let out of jail after his wife is fridged while sucking his best friend’s dick. He meets up with Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a position as a bodyguard after going on a Sorkin-esque monologue about the mechanics of flight, attributing Bernoulli’s principle to Newton. Ian McShane plays Wednesday with a lightness that suggests he’s the only one aware of how campy the material is. It works.
There’s a cut in the middle to Bilquis, a beautiful woman who takes a schlub way under her league on a date. What follows is an extremely pornographic sex scene that ends with her screaming “Worship me!” and slappig him, before he…proceeds to worship her, and she eats him with her vagina. Bryan Fuller says this is a sexually empowered woman, but I got the impression that this is a survival mechanism and, aesthetic aside, I don’t think being forced to have sex to survive is empowering. I’m open to be swayed on this one.
The whole thing is very dream-like. Nothing feels totally real, conversations are based more on notions and ideas that want to be conveyed than moving a plot forward. Mad Sweeney (played by an unrecognizable Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black) fights for no discernible reason. I think that this can potentially work, but this is a premise that needed to establish the plot a little more solidly at first blush, and it’s perfectly content to let its watchers constantly ask “Wait, what?” This is okay when a woman eats a man with her vagina post-coitus, but doesn’t really work when the questions are based on plot and motivation.
The episode ends with Shadow meeting Technical Boy, who after asking what Wednesday is up to and failing, proceeds to order his henchmen to kill Shadow. They beat the shit out of him and then…lynch him. In case it’s unclear, Shadow is a black man, and this is entirely meant to be provocative. I don’t think the show earns this moment. While there is foreshadowing (a white supremacist in jail holds a noose, and Shadow sees one during a dream sequence), the show doesn’t address Shadow’s race in a meaningful way, and it feels like the aesthetic of lynching is being appropriated to provoke a response sans meaning.
A response sans meaning describes the whole experience, in a way. Characters pontificate but don’t convey their motivation. Scenes which are intended to be shocking end up feeling unearned because the show is entirely uninterested in establishing its characters. The end result is vastly below the sum of its parts. I’m going to keep watching, because I’m open to the possibility that I’m wildly wrong and the show ties together its aspirations in a meaningful way. But as of right now, I’m unimpressed.[/spoiler]