Now that I’ve confirmed how much ass NBC’s Hannibal kicks -a lot- and I’ve settled into a morbid fascination with A&E’s Bates Motel, I find myself wondering how these two very different shows can sustain themselves in the long run. Ratings-wise things are looking good for both horror prequel series and that means that we’re no longer looking at a stunt gimmick or a one-off side story. We’re bunkering in for a regular series and, we can only assume, an end game.
Hannibal mastermind, Bryan Fuller, made some comments recently to EW.com regarding the show’s longevity and his plans for the characters from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon novel:
“It really is a love story, for lack of a better description, between these two characters,” Fuller says. “As Hannibal has said [to Graham] in a couple of the movies, ‘You’re a lot more like me than you realize.’ We’ll get to the bottom of exactly what that means over the course of the first two seasons. But we’re taking our sweet precious time.”
Hannibal will also be unusual because it’s planned as a 13-episode-per-season show. So though the drama won’t rush Hannibal’s story, it also won’t feel like its padded with throwaway episodes either.
“Doing a cable model on network television gives us the opportunity not to dally in our storytelling because we have a lot of real estate to cover,” Fuller says. “I pitched a seven-season arc including stories from various [Thomas Harris] books.”
Even as a two season 13 episode run it’s hard to imagine but seven, that’s formidable. How long can you really drag out a story which has only minor pressure release points before people realize that the big finale is predestined and will never offer a surprise? That all a prequel series can really do is pave the road with psychos and what ifs that dilute the narrative and distract from the piece moving? Having watched the first two episodes of Hannibal, in which two such Lecter-caliber psychos are dispatched, I’m going to say… they can do it really stylishly. With living corpse mushroom gardens and other things to make you hate life.
Bates Motel is taking a different approach. This is Carlton Cuse from LOST in the EP seat we’re talking about, he won’t have a plan. That’s not his style. He’ll say he has a plan…ish, but he doesn’t and the show may be all the better for it because although it takes pains to remind the audience of its source material through visual, sound, dialogue and acting cues, it’s a show better enjoyed if you just forget all that hooey. I think what they’ve made is one big giant what if fantasy world version of Norman Bates based on several questions completely unrelated to Psycho like; What if Norman Bates solved mysteries like the Hardy Boys? What if he had a hottie older half brother who basically played his mirror opposite; the James Dean-like rebel to his Goody Two Shoes Mama’s Boy? What if the town the motel was in was populated by corrupt city officials, quirky Twin Peaks weirdoes and psycho killers like him? I mean, this goes completely against all the things that make Psycho work like the idea that the kindly innkeeper in a small town could be one of history’s greatest monsters but what if that didn’t matter because it was all too much fun to care if it worked?
The issue both series face is one of trajectory. We know where we’re going because, no matter how much they change or add to the plot, in order to land their ending they have to launch from a predetermined location which we can trace back like the dotted lines of an Angry Bird. In that case the only thing in the creator’s control is the speed of the ship and the background that we see on the way to our destination. This isn’t like an adaptation of a novel where people are expecting specific plot or character moments, the anticipation of which is half the fun -Hannibal is based off of 5 pages in Harris’ Red Dragon novel. No, this is about characters we know don’t die, a pay off we know isn’t coming, and trying to find new revelations in moments that inform events that sit fully formed in our heads. It can be done. New details can add new insight into these characters, just by way of the casting and performances we can come to understand them in interesting new ways. But by not changing the perspective of the story, by not giving us someone new to root for or ponder the fate of, they’ve set us up for a lot of “watch checking” which is a shame considering how fantastically they’ve built these worlds and how much I’m enjoying the insanity so far.