Disclaimer: This post is not written by me, @karvounaki, but by my dear friend @weirdymcweirder. It is her third post on Hannibal that I get to host in this blog. You can find her other two posts here.
Funny, the things you remember. It’s been years since I first read that Bryan Fuller was adapting Harris’ work and yet I clearly remember thinking “Oh great, another original voice wasted on a zombie franchise”. I remember exclaiming, “Damn you, Fuller! I’m only doing this for you” before watching the first episode. I often talk at the television when I’m alone and I was alone that Friday night, lying on the couch, sick and exhausted. I remember sitting up when Will first says “This is my design”, my body tensing as my brain realized that this would not be what I had expected. After a furious exchange of emails (in turn, gushing over and criticizing the first three episodes), I remember the first time I shared the show with two good friends, starting a tradition of weekly viewings that we unanimously consider our best experience in the fifteen years we’ve been watching television together. I remember another good friend apologizing for not making it past episode 2 (“I love you Eleni, but… mushrooms!?”). And after watching Sorbet, which I consider the first fully-fledged Hannibal episode in the series, I remember proclaiming: “This is too good for TV. It’s going to get cancelled”. I even remember regretting it, because it made me sound like an annoying know-it-all. I’m really good at remembering things like that.
What I don’t remember, is the exact point when I got too close and let it all became so personal.
I know it happened early on. Put an English teacher (that’s me, by the way), apsychologist, and an art historian (and those are my friends) in front of a screen playing Hannibal and they will each find something to love. The show was tailor- made to our interests, like one of the good doctor’s perfectly fitting suits. In the first season alone, it took subjects like memory and identity, the mind-brain dichotomy, perception and self-awareness, wrapped them up in poetic imagery and psychoanalytic symbolism, and spattered them across the screen in the form of spine-tingling, existential horror. As viewers and readers, these themes had been in our thoughts and conversations for years. Even our favorite stand-up comedian showed up as a guest! It was bound to get personal.
And yet I can’t remember the exact moment when I admitted that, in 2013, I felt like Will Graham. I felt unstable. I felt crazy.
Was it after Trou Normand, when Will is disappointed that Jack didn’t notice he lost time in front of a totem of bodies? It’s possible. At that point, I was on my fourth consecutive bout of bronchitis, having coughed my way through 8 months of sleepless nights and 6-day work weeks. I was shaking and on edge and I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without stopping for breath. I felt like I was moving in fast forward but going nowhere. I kept asking my friends, my students, if they could tell I felt so awful; if they could see it. They couldn’t. I looked fine. That meant that I was probably exaggerating, that it was all in my head, that I would have to keep going. I was devastated. Just like Will.
So it could have been after Trou Normand that I came out and said it. Or maybe it was after Buffet Froid, where Will believes his feelings are the symptoms of physical illness. That was my first thought, too. The last time I had felt so bad, I had a mild case of cancer (and if you don’t think that’s possible, then you’ve never had a stage-2 lung carcinoid. Good for you). Maybe this was all because part of my right lung was deemed “inefficient” and was unceremoniously dumped in a surgical waste basket during a thoracotomy back in 2006. But I had never felt that bad since.
Maybe my cancer had decided to make a rare comeback. That didn’t make sense. I’d been clean a year before and carcinoids don’t move that fast. Plus, this *felt* different. This was not my kind of sick. The shortness of breath, the knot in the stomach, the shaking, what if they had nothing to do with my condition? If this wasn’t physical, then I had to consider the possibility it was psychological. And that scared me more than anything. Just like Will.
Could it be? After years of relentless self-exploration, of questioning every action and investigating every motive, I considered myself fairly self-aware. I knew about my debilitating lack of confidence, my deep feelings of insufficiency and failure, my constant sense of embarrassment and guilt for not being perfect. I knew that they would weigh down my every step, but until then, I had always managed to keep going and I was proud of that. A little adjustment here, a little acceptance there, I had scaled the steep mountain of my self and I was lying at the top, naked and bloody. The air was thin and the view was ugly, but I’d made it. I saw myself clearly.
How could this have crept up on me? And what was “this”? Was it anxiety? Depression? Both? And if it was, wouldn’t it be better if I had another case of that mild cancer? Easily identifiable, immediately treatable, totally-not-my-fault cancer?
Who wishes they had cancer??? Crazy people, that’s who. People like me and Will.
So, maybe it was after Buffet Froid, where Will hoped he had a tumor, that I finally said: “I feel that way, too”. But I don’t remember.
I did say it though, and that’s huge because I wouldn’t, normally. To the constant frustration of my friends, I’m the person who disappears for a month and then shows up at the bar and says: “I went through a rough patch, there. Over it now.” I couldn’t do that this time. I couldn’t retreat; I couldn’t disappear. No matter how bad I felt, I had to watch the next episode with my friends. How else would I unravel the symbolism and decode the elliptical dialogue? I couldn’t do this alone. So, when I finally came out and said “That’s how I feel, too. I feel like Will Graham”, I wasn’t talking at the screen. They were there and they heard me. Having spent hours together talking about story and character, they understood what I was clumsily trying to say and they found a way to help me. Much like Hannibal did for Will, Hannibal supplied me with the vocabulary and forced on me the opportunity to open up, get out of my head, and see what I was becoming.
The mere fact that I was becoming came as a surprise. I had never expected to change. My mountain metaphor had blown up in my face. Mountains are immutable only if you view them from a human perspective. Look at them from a geological perspective and they constantly rise and fall, shift and change. The mountain I had climbed up was not the same I was looking down from. Shaped by external elements and internal forces, I was becoming someone new, a new someone. And that new someone was thoroughly dissatisfied with the life the old someone had chosen for herself.
You see, I was also writing a screenplay at the time and, needless to say, it wasn’t going very well. I was always too sick or too tired, so I was just trudging along. That was until I saw Oeuf. After that, I wrote more, I wrote faster, I wrote more often.
Through CAT scans and blood tests, I kept writing. I changed my routine so I would have more time and energy to write. I am still writing, even though I’ll never be as good as the people who inspire me and it’s professionally futile at this time and in this place. I’m better than I was and I keep getting better and that will have to do for now, I guess. With its elegant storytelling and its open creative process, Hannibal has made me a better writer, but most importantly, it has made me want to be a writer more. Because as the credits rolled on Oeuf, I remember thinking: “This. This is what I should be doing.”
Funny, the things you remember.
It’s 2015 now and we are nearing some sort of end. Thirty episodes down the road from Sorbet, I’m glad it’s taken reality so long to catch up with my cynical vision of it. Though thirty-nine episodes may not be enough for a world so rich, they are, one and all and each in its own way, incredibly personal to me. I still see myself in Will. His battles against loneliness, isolation and the worst in himself echo mine and they’ve left us both with matching scars. But you’ll be happy to know, I don’t feel like him anymore.
Thank God. That guy is crazy.