I was thinking recently about how different Hannibal would be if it were set in the “real world.” Let me lay some bullet points on you:
This skates across a combination of logistical, cultural, and ecological aspects of place—all of which the show ignores. But still, place is important in the show; you can hardly find a mention that doesn’t nod to its beautiful sets and intense atmosphere.
What you find in Hannibal, instead of realism, is a radically abstracted, selective version of America. Its Baltimore is a kind of old-world-loving cultural center—opera, string shops, and old brick—with no hint of 21st century commercialism. Its opposite number is the rural, gold-lit countryside where Will and Abigail live; and just as the city is noncommercial, the countryside is nonagricultural. And while there’s no industrial or economic infrastructure in this world, there are institutions. Quantico and the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane are each oppressive, regimented Brutalist spaces (with slightly more comforting public faces: Chilton’s smug office, the still-grim but wood-panelled lecture halls of the FBI).
Each of these spaces has a figure that presides over it: Hannibal in Baltimore, Jack at Quantico, Chilton at the hospital—all of whom seek to control Will. And while the countryside is Will’s home base, it’s also the home of the figure who poses the greatest threat to his own self-conception, Hobbs. None of the others are especially good for Will, but Hobbs is the only one who he’s afraid of being like.
Hannibal is a show about the mind—the engine at its heart isn’t “omg cannibalism,” but the tectonic crashing of irreconcilable worldviews. Geography in Hannibal is not about portraying the world, but about creating functional spaces for the expression and interaction of character.
This is an interesting vantage point for thinking about the other characters, too. Alana’s ineffectiveness is reflected in her lack of her own home turf—she is literally marginalized, always trying to “buffer” for Will, but never with enough authority to out-compete the others. Bedelia is another variation: she has her own space, but it’s sufficiently isolated that her ability to influence, or even observe, is minimal. Freddie Lounds, on the other hand, uses her wily, snoopy, infiltrating unscrupulousness to make herself a potent destabilizing force. She’s a boundary-stalker with no allegiances—or you could think of it as, Freddie rules over the internet: a non-space that’s always close by.
The most interesting case, though, is Abigail in the hospital. This way of thinking about space makes it obvious why she’s in a facility that seems to have no doctors or administrative figures: it’s a neutral zone, controlled by no character, as the others all pursue her for their own (emotional or practical) ends. Hence everyone pulling her out of the hospital hither and thither. And it gives special poignance to her own temporary escapes (which we only hear about incidentally from Jack, and never get to see): what would Abigail look like, under her own dominion?
“Will Graham Takes the Beltway: Geography in Hannibal,” by dignityisforotherpeople, was originally posted on October 30, 2013