Depression in the Time of Hannibal: On Queerness and the End of the World (I Guess)
These days I’m either apathetic resignation or heart-crushing sorrow, wondering how old I’ll be when we finally destroy the world and what will get me in the end – the megaquake, the atomic bomb, the weaponized smallpox, the white guy with a gun and a grudge. To protect myself, I practice accepting the inevitable – the mass extinctions, the strip mining and poisoned oceans, the death of democracy and the third world war just around the corner. It’s easier than caring, I find, and gets me at least to minimal functionality day by day.
I don’t have a lot of faith left in humanity, is what I’m saying. I’m a realist, and I really think we’ve gone past the point of no return for our species, and possibly for our world as a whole. I’m trying to not think about all the awful things we’ve created because then it feels like our whole existence, past and present and future, is pointless. If I can cling to the few good things we’ve done, the future seems less bleak. At least we managed to not fuck this particular thing up, I think. At least we invented this and that before we killed every living creature on the planet.
If you suspected that the last two paragraphs were simply an elaborate means of getting to my true topic, NBC’s Hannibal, then you were right. And you know me too well.
If you suspected none of this, and possibly thought I was going to write something insightful and timely, then wait! Don’t click away just yet. I’m semi-serious here.
You see, Hannibal is one of those things I look at and think, Maybe we’re not a totally worthless species. If a team of us could create something so dark, so beautiful, so heartbreaking and poignant and atmospheric, I guess I have to give credit where credit’s due. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in utter despair. But I’m in utter despair while watching Hannibal fanvids on Youtube, which is honestly better than any therapy or medication. I dare you to watch this video and not feel a little better about the world.
Cause here’s the thing – can we talk about Hannibal? Is that okay? Cause, okay, here goes…
Hannibal is motherfucking perfect. Its three seasons contain a single gut-wrenching story arc that makes you question what you think you know and believe about love, right and wrong, queerness, fate, and beauty. This isn’t just a show that makes you root for the bad guy – it forces you to confront the very concept of love and the myriad ways it manifests, both in good ways and bad, and decide for yourself where you draw the line. It makes you admit that beauty is truly subjective and question whether, and when, a person’s honest perceptions and love language can be labeled as deviant.
Cause here’s the thing, friends. Here’s the thing: we have never, and may never again, see a relationship like Hannibal and Will’s on network TV. It’s honestly astonishing that NBC even aired the third season, given how it’s still revolutionary to show a gay kiss. See, what’s so different about the relationship/connection between Hannibal and Will is that it defies not only labels but also any recognizable relationship structure taught by society. Contextually, we’re lead to assume both Hannibal and Will are straight. Yet by the end of the second season, we see that Hannibal has been working toward a life in which he, Will, and Abigail are some sort of (admittedly dysfunctional) family. He wants this future so badly that when he is betrayed by Will, he takes Abigail away as punishment and leaves Will alive with the burden of his choices. Hannibal’s response, while admittedly drastic, is the response of someone who has had their heart broken. This isn’t the fallout from a bad friendship – if it was, Hannibal would probably have killed Will and moved on. His actions show their relationship is much more complicated.
Will Graham: Is Hannibal in love with me?
Bedelia Du Maurier: Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you, and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?
By the end of the third season, Will has come to understand the life Hannibal wanted for them – and to desire it himself, even as he knows it’s impossible. In this season these two men, who have been both friends and enemies, consciously and purposefully become something more. We never know what that something is, though, because that’s the point – their connection defies labels. Hannibal and Will love, or are in love with, each other in a way we simply don’t see in most media. Are they friends? Frienemies? Lovers? Romantic partners? Queerplatonic partners? Partners in crime? Can they be more than one of these options? We just don’t know. We are left to decide that on our own.
Hannibal takes three seasons to tell us the story of two people in love. That this story is nothing like we’ve ever quite seen, that this love is so impossible to label even as our characters embrace its existence, is what makes this show so captivating. You just don’t see this kind of storytelling on television. Hell, you can hardly find it anywhere besides obscure indie literature and, well, my blog. This just isn’t a story major media would ever take a chance on. That Bryan Fuller was able to so explicitly confirm Hannibal and Will’s relationship is probably in great part thanks to Hannibal’s mid-season cancellation. Season 3 pulls no punches and reveals all subtext because the team wasn’t constrained by the need to earn a fourth season. The last half of season 3 is everything the show is and could be, and its greatest triumph is this captivating relationship and the fact that it is glorified in the final episode, not vilified.
I’ve never understood how the queer community seemed to totally miss Hannibal, despite its two canon queer relationships. When we talk about queer representation and the need for it to go beyond the L and G, beyond monogamy and labels and boxes, this is what we’re talking about. Attraction and love both exist on vast spectrums; to insinuate that romantic love and sexual attraction always fit the same two or three models is both incorrect and, frankly, boring storytelling. Hannibal shows us that love is strange and unpredictable and cannot be constrained by gender, sex, or any other label society tries to impose. And that’s fucking awesome. Like, seriously, why aren’t more people freaking out about this? This show was on NBC, for fuck’s sake! It had a minimum of four queer characters and a lesbian couple that didn’t die!
So, to summarize:
Hannibal is queer as shit and you need to watch it.
Its existence is keeping me from sliding into utter depression.
The world can end now because nothing humanity creates will ever be better than this motherfucking show.