Aesthetics & evil: The style of Hannibal

I'm obsessed with Hannibal, which is a bit of a departure from my normal taste in telly. It's not that I'm much a fan of horror or gore. Indeed, I regularly recoil when watching in anticipation of some scene of butchery. But the style is incredible. Whether it's the vanitas-inspired table-settings and flower arrangements, or the chiaroscuro crime scenes, this show imbues the grotesque with gorgeousness, heightened by incredible sound-editing and location selection (most of them in Toronto).

Indeed, one of the markers of evil in this show is high taste — the aesthetes of the show are the most dangerous characters. And being drawn to their style and manners knots the viewer in both seduction and repulsion.

Dr. Alana Bloom (played by Caroline Dhavernas) is an emerging contender this season. Her style has kicked up a notch — she has evolved from wearing mumsy DVF wrap dresses and drinking beer to a much more striking look and even changing her trademark beverage. Margot Verger's calculated style may be rubbing off on her but, more likely, Alana's near-death transformed her into vengeance-driven badass with better taste. Her softness is gone and there's no mistaking that she has decided to survive Hannibal's promise.

Being a tabloid crime journalist, Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) has always been a bit of a bad egg, but despite her venality she's still on the side of the victim. If Coco Chanel's elegance is about subtracting one item before you head out the door, Freddie does the opposite -- adding one more pattern, or a hat to top off her bountiful red hair. She's the least undercover investigative journalist you can imagine and wholly without qualm or conscience. Her style is impactful but always has an element of tacky over-the-topness to it, just as her storytelling and moral elasticity flaunts normal boundaries.

Dr. Chilton (Raúl Esparza - one of my favourites on the show) is also like Freddie in terms of character and portrayal of style.

But the woman to be is Gillian Anderson's Bedelia Du Maurier. With her slow and deliberate enunciation, it's clear Bedelia's cogs are always turning. She is consistently dressed in a panoply of jewel tones rendered in luxurious fabrics, with her golden hair cascading impeccably.

Bedelia is as close to Hannibal as an aesthetic peer as the show permits, and in that way, we can't be sure about her. Even her biggest break in restraint (when she goes to see Will in prison), has an element of deliberation in it. Bedelia's lack of spontaneity in both style and behaviour makes her elegance epitomized, but also wholly untrustworthy.

In contrast to Hannibal as the ultimate aesthete of the show, there's dog-smelling, cheap-cologne wearing Will (Hugh Dancy). Sometimes Will's look sharpens up, as he vacillates between good and evil (most notably at the end of last season), but his style and sensibility always indicates he is on the side of good, despite the clear seductive influence Hannibal has on him (and on us). Will, minus his gifts, is the most regular character on the show. His vacillation is ours. His everyman, dishevelled style is ours too.

Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) is also interesting to watch. His exquisite taste is revealed early on; this is clearly a man who appreciates Hannibal's high-minded approach to food, dress and decor. And, after the death of his wife and his own near death, his style (like Alana's) is changing. But it's more subtle with Jack and he is still on the side of good - we haven't seen the overt corruption of identity that we've seen in Alana. Still, Jack is one of those characters who does all the wrong things for the right reasons and his approach to good-doing makes easy sacrifices of others. His aesthetic is subtle, just as his ruthlessness with Will and others is masked in goodness.

And finally there's Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal. Even in captivity Hannibal has supreme style. His taste is expressed through how he lives and eats and what he wears, but it's more innate than that. He may wear a person-suit in order to fit in with the world, but his aesthetic taste ultimately betrays him and remains manifest even as his person-suit is peeled away. He can stand in a prison jumpsuit across from Alana and still ooze style. That the show has imbued Hannibal's character with this aesthetic untouchability gives us an idea of the strength of Hannibal's "memory palace." And because we naturally admire high style and high-mindedness, we're drawn to Hannibal and even want to elicit his approval.

So handsome. And so depraved. And so handsome.

Products for Alana Bloom: Coat | Hairpins | Pyjamas| Wine | Pants | Scent | Lipstick | Bracelet | Purse
Products for Freddie Lounds: Camera | Belt | Tights | Purse | Glove | Coat | Scent | Shoes | Heels
Products for Bedelia du Maurier: Purse | Dress | Umbrella | Blazer | Heels | Truffles | Fragrance | Bra | Hat
All screencaps from Hannibal / NBC, created by Bryan Fuller.

P.S. Also read Stacey May Fowles on Hannibal on the Globe & Mail and
Dr Hannibal Lecter: Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula.
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