Why Bryan Fuller’s Fairy Tales Always End Too Soon

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Publicat în October 02, 2015 , o comentarii

                                                           Ned: We were talking about phantom limbs and I blurted it out; it was like word vomit.

                                                               Emerson: Then you slipped on that word vomit and fell on your ass and now you all covered in word vomit.

(Pushing Daisies)

Hannibal’s season finale, and probably the last ever episode of the series, was broadcast in the last days of August this year. Over its three seasons stretch, the acclaimed NBC series has conquered miles of new TV ground totally unexplored before, but some say it has been doomed to die young from the very beginning. There are also plenty of reasons for which this unique, elegant, albeit disturbing work of art will not be revived, at least not by a television network like NBC. To those who, from various reasons, have not already seen it, this is precisely why they should start watching it.[1]  But to those Fannibals (if there are any left) still hoping for a miracle, it’s time to get real. NBC went out on a limb when it decided to make it at all. It stuck with it for three seasons – more than even showrunner Bryan Fuller had hoped.

Richard Armitage as The Red Dragon © NBC

Richard Armitage as The Red Dragon © NBC

Bryan Fuller is known for making quirky television series that evolve into a very peculiar creative space, a somewhat recognizable world governed only by the principle of creative authenticity. In other words, he does television like he’s some sort of auteur. And he is. The problem is, traditionally, people who like this kind of aesthetically, narratively and morally edgy entertainment don’t look for it on network TV. Moreover, Hannibal is so weird, even streaming services like Netflix and Amazon refused to buy it. The first seven episodes of the last season look and feel like something you’d see in a cinémathèque, not on TV.  It’s just too niche, too artsy, too experimental. And most importantly, too expensive to make. No official values have been released, but for something to look as baroque as Hannibal does, it has to be expensive. Just think of the exquisite high quality outfits exhibited, the loads of special effects, the fact that they had to hire a culinary advisor to design all those high cuisine dishes that steal away your eyes and your soul. Oh, and on top of that, the show is explicitly pretentious. Its “high aesthetics” are so decadent they become a mockery of themselves. Blood is poetically falling, and splashing, and flying in slow motion, victims are served their own flesh in beautifully displayed dishes, every murder scene is a sculpture, every outfit, a fashion statement. As a spectator, you are persuaded that the only right way to watch this show is with a glass of Montrachet  by your side.

©NBC

©NBC

As a showrunner, apart from Hannibal, Fuller has done one series that lasted one season (his very first, Wonderfalls, 2004), two series of two seasons each (Dead Like Me, 2003; Pushing Daisies, 2007) and one unpicked pilot, sold afterwards as a TV movie (Mockingbird Lane, 2012).  However short-lived his TV projects might be, taking a tour of Fuller-land it’s completely worth it. His television creation is, indisputably, a stylistic island. You could name plenty of auteur-type idiosyncratic principles like excessive attention to detail, a reverent love of symmetry or a tendency towards stylization. Visually, the space is marked by extensive use of patterns on walls, clothes or foods, bright vibrant colours, clean pastels, giving an overall joyful and playful mood. These attributes have determined critics to qualify Fuller’s series as quirky fairy tales.  But in the middle of formal exuberance there has always existed, in varied degrees, a morbid game with notions like destiny and universal determinism, death, social inadequacy, psychological maladjustment, and a deep exploration of human relationships, themes exacerbated in Hannibal. This last show takes the crazy game with aesthetics one step over the edge: style is content. The unbearable thing about Hannibal is not the extremely violent content of its images but the irreproachable polishing of their display. You cannot restrain yourself from admiring the cadaver transformed into an organic cello, by the exposure and professional treatment of its vocal chords. Or that gruesome installation of the bird emerging undamaged from the chest of a corpse stuffed inside the womb of a dead horse. You are more affected by the beauty of these images than by their horribleness. You are unwittingly put in accord with Hannibal Lecter’s vision: there is nothing more sinful in the world than bad taste. As one character – Bedelia, Hannibal’s therapist, puts it: You no longer have ethical concerns, Hannibal. Only aesthetical ones, and Ethics become aesthetics. Morality doesn’t exist, only morale.

Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, Hannibal ©NBC

Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, ©NBC

Pushing Daisies is far from unsettling its audience in such a violent way, but it does carry a similar idea: language comes before meaning, the rhythm and structure of the signifier is more important than the signified. The language, here, is stylistically overloaded. And by that I’m not just saying that the dialogue is fast paced, although that is the case. The way these characters speak is the way they live in the world. The coprotagonists Ned and Chuck for instance, love each other, but cannot touch because Ned has the fantastic power to bring back to life dead people, provided he doesn’t touch them again afterwards. In case he does touch them again, they will die…again. Chuck has already been touched to life, once. Their love is, nevertheless, consumed in the exuberance of their speech. They never use the same word twice, never express something without throwing in an unusual metaphor, their dialogue always surprises:

Chuck: Don’t you have a sea of questions?

Ned: There may be a pond.

Chuck: Then dive in.

Ned: I’m not a diver, I’m a cautious swimmer. I test the water with my big toe, and then gently wade into the shallows.

HANNIBAL "The Number of the Beast is 666" Episode 312 Pictured: (l-r) Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, Gillian Anderson as Bedelia Du Maurier -- (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, Gillian Anderson as Bedelia Du Maurier Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC

It should be noted that all his TV shows feature death in one way or another, but never regular, boring, tragic death. Hannibal displays intricate art installations made out of dead bodies and spectacular murder scenes. In Dead like me, the protagonist, Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth) gets hit by a toilet seat from outer space and goes on to become a bureaucratic grim reaper in the afterlife. In Wonderfalls, Caroline Dhavernas plays a clueless college graduate who can talk to dead spirits and inanimate objects. Ned, the Pie Maker (Lee Pace) from Pushing Daisies can revive dead bodies by simply touching them and chooses to use his superpower for solving murder mysteries. Genre TV is for Bryan Fuller a safe space that cancels the borders of imagination but it has a purely instrumental purpose. All these shows feel less like their genre (crime, fantasy, detective) and more like visual essays on aesthetics.

Fuller-land is not only exceptional and strange or quirky, as the critics keep saying, it’s highly unlikely. So this winter, do consider taking a stroll through it, because it’s nothing like television.

HANNIBAL -- "Hassun" Episode 203 -- Pictured: -- (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC

 

[1] In Romania you can still catch the last episodes of the third season on AXN

Maria Pozsar

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