You Are Anderson

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since the third Sherlock series concluded, but I never had the time to. Mainly because of laziness, but lack of time sounds cooler.

Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t find it disappointing at all. I honestly felt that it was one of the most intriguing, well-written and wonderfully directed series currently on air. Even the second episode – The Sign of Three – was an achievement in character development, pacing and writing. I’m not here to talk about the show in general, though. I’d like to focus on a cheeky move Moffatt & Co. pulled on us all.

They decided to introduce a new character to the show.

Well technically, he wasn’t a new character. He was an existing one.

It was Anderson. You are Anderson.

Ever since Sherlock jumped off the rooftop of St. Barts’, fans have spent countless hours coming up with meticulous theories, each more convoluted and contrived than the previous. We spent two years watching and re-watching the final moments, trying to figure out what we missed. We even extended our scope of study beyond the final episode, linking theories with events from the previous episodes (a theory said John was still under the effects of the nerve gas in Baskerville). We obsessed over the tiniest details, convinced that they were vital to the theory we were constructing. I was particularly obsessed with some chalk markings on the road which outlined the path for the cyclist who hit John right after Sherlock fell. I was convinced that these had been deliberately laid out by Sherlock to ensure that the cyclist (obviously from his homeless network) crashes into him while Sherlock pulls some stunt in the confusion. All this despite being repeatedly told the chalk marks are simply production markings.

So, Anderson. In the Christmas special (which was the perfect birthday gift, btw), we see an obsessed Anderson. Gangly beard, surrounded by notes, building theories and analysing patterns. He’s convinced that Sherlock lives on, and he’s coming home.

Cue the first episode of the series. Anderson is delighted to see him back, as the very foundation of his many theories was Sherlock’s survival in the first place. We see a group of like-minded individual from all walks of life who participate in formulating theories – some as enthusiasts, and others equally as obsessed as Anderson. In fact, he loses his cool when they don’t take the entire process seriously.

His wall is littered with photos and notes and those threads from detective movies to make connections and come up with wild ideas. He’s formulated multiple ideas by now, each of varying degrees of complexity, knowing that Occam’s razor doesn’t apply to Sherlock and doesn’t put hilariously complicated methodologies beyond him. This increases his expectations by several notches, as he expects the actual escape plan to be a brilliant, yet simple procedure which would explain everything.

At the end of the episode, Sherlock “tells” Anderson the details of his plan. Anderson listens intently, paying attention to each detail, after all this, he has a look of dissatisfaction on his face. He’s disappointed that it wasn’t as clever as he thought it would be. He even exclaims he has a better way to do it. Of course, it’s still not clear if Sherlock revealed the actual theory to Anderson, as Anderson would be the “last man” who Sherlock would tell anything.

Doesn’t this all seem familiar? Anderson is simply a mirror for your thoughts about the show for the last two years. You have built plans, scrapped off old ones, debated vehemently with friends and lost yourself for hours looking for that crucial piece of information. Obviously, there was no way to satisfy you, the audience, with any theory, as everything would feel unsatisfactory. While the writers have written brilliant scripts in the past, they wrote themselves into a corner at the end of the second series. They’d set up a conflict splendidly, but the cliff-hanger had to be resolved very delicately, especially after keeping audiences guessing for so long. Any other writer would’ve tried to make up some far-fetched theory that would leave us shaking our heads in frustration. Not Moffatt & Co., though. They attempted something unique and pulled it off with some style. They both, gave us and did not give us, a theory, and will probably never tell us. Like Anderson, we realised what fools we’ve been made off and tore away all our theories, never to be resolved. We’ve gone back to our lives, knowing we’ve been tricked. That, or we’re satisfied that our theory is better than Sherlock, giving us a sense of superiority.

To summarize, you are Anderson. And you’ve been played.

Hannibal

Hannibal

I recently finished the second season watching NBC’s Hannibal and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of the best – if not the best – crime dramas on television today (along with the splendid True Detective). Even if you don’t agree with this hyperbole of mine, a few episodes will be enough to convince you that it is, at least, an extremely underrated show.

It’s been twenty years since Jonathan Demme’s wonderful Silence of the Lambs released, and even then the film didn’t catch public fancy immediately. A murderous cannibalistic psychopath and a female FBI agent seemingly did not appeal to the average movie goer.  Irrespective, Anthony Hopkins’ fifteen-minute appearance as Hannibal Lecter was so terrifying and convincing, it was enough to earn the film the Academy Award Grand Slam (not that it matters). Tight scriptwriting and superbly envisioned characters gave us a memorable film. Hopkins did reprise his role as Hannibal in the eponymous sequel with decent success, albeit not to such a level. We wanted a greater insight into Hannibal’s life, which Silence of the Lambs did not provide, and although we had a glimpse in the sequel. It was a decent attempt.

However, the TV show has really hit the nail on its head with its adaptation of Red Dragon. Having not read the book, I cannot comment on the faithfulness of this adaptation, but it certainly is an enjoyable one. Although the show is titled Hannibal, it focuses primarily on Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy). Will teaches at the FBI academy and tries to solve crimes by predicting the chain of event that might have preceded the murder. Dr Hannibal Lecter is his psychiatrist, and is often responsible for most of the events in the show.

While we’re not shown how a psychopath was made, we’re given an idea of one manages to be a part of society without letting the clouds of suspicion shroud him, or tarnish his reputation. This is the show’s greatest achievement. I’m in admiration of Mads Mikkelsen’s fabulous portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, which, while being quite different from Hopkins’, is worthy of applause in its own sense. There isn’t any specific reason to his madness – much of it arises from a sense of curiosity. Hannibal toys with others’ minds simply to see what would happen. (Before you Google, Mads is that villain from Casino Royale. Before you Google that, Casino Royale was the new Bond’s first movie).

The writers have shown him to be a skilled cook with an interest in various cuisines. To emphasise his love for exquisite food even further, each episode of the first and second season is named after an element of French and Japanese cuisine, respectively. Naturally, as his profile suggests, he likes to cook with human flesh. Something so utterly disgusting portrayed with an undeniable charm, generally set to light classical music. I say charm, because it’s fascinating to watch – almost as an art from, while you know exactly how horrifying the task at hand is. Mikkelsen goes over all this with such ease and slips into his character so convincingly, it’s hard to imagine he himself isn’t a psychopath. Mads Mikkelsen plays Hannibal with such disdain, coupled with expressions of mild interest while cooking human kidneys, plating the food and relishing it while sharing it with unsuspecting guests – it’s a privilege to watch him operate.

Importantly, the writers are aware of the pacing and don’t rush the show. Initially, I was sceptical of this gradual approach, but I realised it was important to glide through plot points, tying them intricately with one another. Anything different would make the plot seem convoluted. While the first season showed Will and Hannibal’s friendship blossoming, the second season takes it up a notch in ways I cannot explain without divulging too much information. The scenes in which they’re conversing provide some of the series’ most chilling moments. Each line is deliberately enunciated to create a tension which is deliciously thick, often leaving you gasping for breath. I was missing their interactions at the beginning of the second season, but it was fixed with brilliantly as the season progressed.

Of course, Hannibal isn’t without its flaws. After a while I was slightly sceptical of Will’s uncanny ability to perfectly predict the nature of a crime, which seemed more like tired writing than anything to advance the plot. Moreover, the romance in the second half the second season (which ends as abruptly as it begins) seems like an unnecessary complication. Laurence Fishburne, who plays Jack Crawford, head of the FBI Behavioural Science Unit, seems lost and utterly clueless about the events happening in his own department right under his nose. Even as a major character is killed off, their colleagues seem to weep only for three minutes, following which they completely ignoring their absence and not being bothered with it at all, which was a pity, as that murder, and the following scenes, were one of the most chillingly executed sequences in the show. Gore might also be a problem for some viewers, as the show is not at all reluctant in showing you organs or blood or other unspoken horrors. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but with the drama associated with the show, you may be able to tolerate the gore.

As the tension builds up, the second season concludes with two magnificent episodes. The second season’s finale was one of the best TV episodes I’ve ever seen (it’s also rated 9.9 on IMDb, for the curious). It is thematically different from the rest of the season, while still retaining the general tone of the series, giving us an unforgettable visual treat. The finale is emotionally satisfying and more – an impeccable end to an outstanding season. The inevitable cliff-hanger it leaves us with makes the wait for the next season even longer…

…which brings us to the bigger problem. Hannibal airs on NBC. Their viewership ratings aren’t that great (you probably didn’t even know it was airing in the first place). Call it poor marketing or niche interests… we arrive at the same conundrum. What happened the last time a genre-defining, ground-breaking, innovative show with a passionate fan-base failed to meet the high expectations of NBC executives? It didn’t exactly end well. NBC seems too trigger-happy in cancelling shows and I don’t want Hannibal to meet a similar fate. I hope that Bryan Fuller has more influence on the NBC board than Dan Harmon did.

At this point, I can only urge you to go on a quick two-season binge of Hannibal, and you’ll come out of it wondering why you hadn’t seen it before (you can buy me some cookies later).

For Indian viewers, Hannibal airs on AXN in the same week as the US! I haven’t seen an episode there, though, so I have no idea about the extent to which they will censor gore. It can’t be worse than Star though, who feel the book with Ishmael as the main character is Moby-**** (true story).