(Note: No major spoilers.)
Hannibal is a rare breed in that the first episode is genuinely good, mostly because there's no need for clumsy exposition. Anyone with half a brain already knows what's going on: Hannibal is a cannibal, but it will probably take at least one season for anyone on TV to work that out. It only takes a couple of minutes to illustrate who Hugh Dancy is: a guy who frowns a lot because of Confused Emotions, and whose brain is a holodeck for blood-spattered crime scenes. Hugh Dancy means we can watch people get murdered in dramatised flashback form, instead of having some generic CSI person explain it to us with Science.
Mads Mikkelsen is, obviously, fantastic. But for me, the harder sell was always going to be Hugh Dancy's character, criminal profiler Will Graham. Not because I'm familiar with his character (I'm not) but because the crime/mystery genre is already overflowing with cute-ish men in their 30s and 40s. Luckily Graham sidesteps the two main cliches of "asshole genius" and "dorky everyman", and is interesting enough to be a worthwhile foil to Hannibal. Still, like most stories about serial killers, Hannibal mostly features women as side characters or in the role of naked, brutalised corpses. In The Silence of the Lambs, this is less of an issue because Clarice Starling is just as important as Hannibal Lecter, but there's no real need to make a TV series about Clarice. We already know her story too well.
nods to The Shining. Even the promotional materials lean pretty heavily on the image of Hannibal as the vampiric centrepiece of a 17th century oil-painting, usually surrounded by fruit and skulls and slabs of raw meat. It must be difficult to avoid going overboard with all that gothic imagery, to be honest. Hannibal's already almost a parody of himself, sitting in a darkened room full of expensive furniture, eating exquisitely flambéed human lungs while the Goldberg Variations play in the background.
Mads Mikkelsen's costumes simultaneously crack me up and make me sigh because they are soooo good. Here, we're getting to see Hannibal at his absolute peak: taller, better-looking and better dressed than anyone else onscreen. The rest of the cast are serviceable crime procedural characters wearing everyday American TV clothes, but Hannibal looks like... well, exactly what he is. A luxury-obsessed European aristocrat and connoisseur, secretly looking down his nose at all the small-minded American plebs who eat food from chain restaurants and dress like Will Graham.
Graham is deliberately dressed to look soft and
harmless, in the wrinkled shirts of an academic who doesn't care about
his appearance and sleeps on the floor with ten stray dogs. Hannibal is the absolute opposite, his clothes just another extension of the obsessive care he puts into every other aesthetic aspect of his life. When we see him apart from Graham and the FBI (at his office, or at home by himself) he wears beautifully tailored suits with grace-notes in the form of pocket squares and a tie so wide it's practically a cravat. When he goes on the road with Graham, I suspect his toned-down outfit is for Graham's benefit. Since Hannibal wears a red pocket square and a jacket with metal buttons to eat dinner by himself, I doubt that his sudden adoption of open-necked shirts and conservative v-neck sweaters was for his own comfort.