From the depths of my mourning for Hannibal’s cancellation, I wanted to think about the good times, and focus on some of the show’s best corpse sculpture.
See that picture up there where Will Graham is happily fixing a boat motor, surrounded by his loving puppies? That is the last happy picture you will see in this post. This post is literally made of (fictional) dead people. So proceed with caution. Also, there will be spoilers for the ENTIRE SERIES.
We’re starting with some ground rules since ranking posts can incite the disgruntled to such shocking rudeness, and I do hate rudeness. So a few things aren’t going to be included. The Dinner Party from “Oeuf” isn’t included here, cause it isn’t particularly artful – though it is notable for being the closest thing we’ve gotten to A Very Hannibal Christmas. Also, Abel Gideon’s Stabathon isn’t making the cut here. There was no real forethought there – he was just trying to put the most possible pointy things into a corpse. And I love Abel Gideon, but even he’d agree that anybody can do that. So, with that in mind, lets go!
19. The Girl on Fire (Georgia Madchen, “Buffet Froid”)
Georgia Madchen’s murder is clever, but not particularly artful. It did lead to this video, which is grimly hilarious, but I’m still pissed at the show for killing her. This murder goes at the bottom.
18. Colombian Necktie (Dr. Curruthers, Rôti)
Booooring. If drug cartels can do it, it’s beneath you. And while that’s kind of the point, since it’s another one of Abel’s pathetic attempts to get inducted into Murder Club, context isn’t enough to move it up the list. Gideon just seems to be doing it for shock value, the symbolism doesn’t have any special meaning to him. You can do better, Dr. Gideon.
17. Antler Girl (Marissa Schurr, “Potage”)
This is the second Hannibal murder that we see (although that isn’t totally clear at the time) so it comes in near the bottom of the list simply because I know he’s capable of more artistry than this. There is some interesting symbolism happening… but, for Hannibal? The Chesapeake Ripper? Il Mostro? Liver & Fava Beans? This is a C-.
16. Shrike Corpse (Cassie Boyle, “Apéritif”)
This is the better version of Marissa Schurr as seen in Hannibal‘s pilot, “Aperitivo”. This one is notable for a few reasons – the horrifyingly public setting of the murder tableaux, the inauguration of the phrase “field kabuki” and, as the audience soon realizes, this is Hannibal’s first real love note to Will. He only kills this poor random girl so her body can serve as a negative to Garrett Jacob Hobbs’ murders, and help Will solve the case. Awwww.
15. Cave Bear Dude (Randall Tier, “Naka-Choko”)
This is a fairly simple one. Randall Tier thought he was an animal, and rather than settling for being a sloth or sugar glider, he went straight to I’M TOTALLY A HYBRID CAVE BEAR/SABER TOOTH CAT, which is a pretty lame 10-year-old boy way to be a serial killer. So, after Will killed him (ostensibly in self-defense, but really because Mr. Tier hurt Buster, Will’s smallest, most vulnerable dog) he slapped his head onto a Cave Bear skeleton. Eh. This one is notable, though, both for being Will Graham’s first-ever murder tableaux (which leads to possibly the best “This is my design” ever) and for proving the one inviolable rule of Hannibal: Unless you’re giving them a healthy treat or a belly rub, you leave Will Graham’s dogs the hell alone.
14. Corpse Valentine (Anthony Dimmond, “Primavera”)
Seems kind of boring at first, until Will unfolds it with his mind and you get that it’s human origami. And then Swiggity Stag crawls out of it like a vision of Hell itself, and your brain is never the same again.
13. Primavera (Unnamed Couple, “Primavera”)
Botticelli’s Primavera is already a beautiful depiction of horrific violence. The story being told in the right corner of the painting is chilling: Zephyrus attacks Chloris, and so traumatizes her that she transforms herself into Flora, the goddess of flowers. Hannibal has ditched the healing transformation to focus entirely on Chloris’ terror, and Zephyrus’ fanatical pursuit. Oh, and he’s done it with the bodies of people he murdered, because apparently charcoal just wasn’t a vibrant enough medium. There are real connections here to the real Il Mostro, and you can read about them here if you want to be even more freaked out.
12. Smiling Dead (Beth LeBeau, “Buffet Froid”)
This one maybe shouldn’t be so high on the list, but first: “Buffet Froid” remains the only episode of Hannibal that has legitimately scared me, so I want to give this its due. Second: this episode takes a horrifying real-life practice (The Glasgow Smile, in which a person’s cheek muscles are slit to give them a permanent scarred grin), and combines it with two real-life medical conditions (Prosopagnosia, in which the ability to recognize faces is impaired, and Cotard’s Syndrome, in which a person believes that they are dead. Both of these conditions are caused by a misfiring in the fusiform area of the brain) and then sprinkles on a healthy dash of the Japanese urban legend Kuchisake-onna and the entire genre of Japanese horror to create a surprisingly moving meditation on mental health. Unlike “Rôti”‘s use of the Colombian Necktie, this episode pulls real meaning from the murder, and ties it intimately into the murderer’s life and sense of self.
11. Damien Hirst Homage (Beverly Katz, *sniff*, “Mukōzuke”)
A lot of effort went into this, and I appreciate that, but I’ll admit that I was really upset that Beverly was gone, so then when the show went into the painstaking detail of constructing this tableaux, I appreciated it? And then I was mad at myself for appreciating it? The love of Hannibal is not an ordinary love. I want them to bring Beverly back as a snarky ghost.
10. Bee Hive Dude (Unnamed Acupuncture
Victim Patient, “Takiawase”)
Did you know that honey used to be buried with corpses to provide the dead with nourishment as they journey to the afterlife? It did! I actually wanted this one to be a little bit more baroque than it was? But I did love that the show took the time to establish that overzealous acupuncturist Katherine Pimms believed all of her murders were acts of mercy.
9. Justice is Blind and Oh Yeah Also Has No Brain (Judge Davis, “Hassun”)
A little too on-the-nose for my taste, but I’m putting it a fair way up the list because I appreciate the effort that went into this one. I’m also, as you may have noticed, a sucker for Hannibal’s little love-notes to Will.
8. Mothman (Chiyoh’s Captive, “Secondo”)
This one gets extra points from me because of Will’s heartbreakingly proud expression as he steps back and surveys his piece. #SNAILEDIT.
7. Mushroom Garden (Various, “Amuse-Bouche”)
Despite the CSI-ish cliche of “boys stumble upon murder scene in the woods” the mushroom garden itself epitomizes Hannibal‘s horror/beauty meld far more than any of the murders in the pilot episode. I also loved Eldon Stammets’ quest for connection, and the brutal way that Will denies it to him. Plus, there’s a Wonderfalls crossover!
6. Angels (Roger and Michelle Brunner, “Coquilles”)
This one gains points from me for withholding two key pieces of information: was Elliot Buddish identifying criminals to transform them? And if so, um, how? (Just how supernatural do you want to get, show?) It loses points because, while I’m willing to buy incredibly complex murder tableaux, I can’t accept that a man who just castrated himself would be able to then also transform himself into an angel without help. Castration brings with it a horrifying bullet list of medical complications and side-effects (and that’s when it’s done by a surgeon in a hospital) so how did Mr. Buddish manage to do that, in a back alley, and then also flay his own back and winch himself up into random barn rafters? Again, show, if you’re going to feint toward actual supernatural ability, you have to ground your murder art in reality. You can’t have it both ways.
5. Human Cello (Douglas Wilson, “Fromage”)
IT PLAYS. YOU CAN ACTUALLY PLAY THE DEAD DUDE. I LOVE THIS POSSIBLY TOO MUCH.
4. Horse Birth (Sarah Kraber, A Horse, and a Starling Who May or May Not Be Named Clarice, “Su-Zakana”)
Not a murder, true, but it is still art made from corpses, so I’m going to allow it. Clark Ingram is maybe the most stereotypical serial killer Hannibal’s given us so far, complete with a normal-seeming job as a social worker, a bland outward veneer, and a streak of virulent misogyny. But if you want that, Bryan Fuller knows you can just watch SVU, so he’s given us a more complex character in Peter Bernadone! Peter is a sweet animal lover who’s been a bit, well, off ever since a horse kicked him in the head. He attempts to symbolically bring one of Ingram’s victims back to life by sewing a living bird into her chest, and then stuffing her inside a dead mare. (Look, I said he was off.) Naturally Ingram uses this quirky artistry to try to frame him, and naturally Will Graham is going to activate his superhuman empathy powers to try to save him.
3. Tree Man (City Councilman Sheldon Isely, “Futamono”)
Honestly? I would love it if someone did this with my body after my (Natural! And preferably many years from now!) death. And all the organs made of flowers? Hannibal thinks of everything.
For sheer effort, this one has to be near the top. Lance Henriksen murdered people and hid bodies for decades, just to be able to build the thing to his exact psychotic specifications. But, and I’m sorry this is going to be so headache-inducing, the Corpse Totem Pole both gains and loses points for intention. On the one hand, I’m really pleased that the show gave us a totally petty murderer who was just killing people for revenge, and who inadvertently killed the wrong guy at one point. It shows us the truth that Bryan Fuller is sure to reiterate in every interview: most serial killers are just assholes. I also love that Will Graham gives himself a snarky Jessica Fletcher moment when he casually mentions that Lance Henriksen has murdered his own son. OTOH: HE BUILT A FREAKING TOTEM POLE OUT OF CORPSES. I really wanted more forethought and a more dramatic reveal after all that.
1. The Eye (Various, “Sakizuke”)
This piece has all the nuance and forethought that I felt Totem Pole lacked. The killer is trying to build not only a human eye, but a human eye that represents every possible skin tone and ethnicity. He wants to create an eye from the entire human family (possibly, as Hannibal suggests, to stare back at God?) which is already pretty cool. (I mean, not the murder part, but in all seriousness if somebody had a bunch of volunteers lay down in this pattern on a floor at MoMA? They’d win awards! The line would wrap around the block three times, and they’d have to do timed ticketed admission! There would be shirts!) And purely in the universe of the show, this piece is so interesting that it inspires one of Hannibal’s rare moments of kindness. Lecter would never take the time to collaborate, to stitch the murderer into the center of his own creation, if he didn’t admire the man.
So what do all you Fannibals think? I never thought I’d ask this question, but what’s your favorite piece of corpse art from the show?