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A Killer Roundup

Would anyone hold it against if I turned this blog into one about serial killer shows? So much good material! I mean, come on, when you have stories about people that kill people, it’s usually because they have problems with sex and/or women. So I’ve decided to do a little roundup. Maybe it’ll be a regular thing.

The Following

Let’s start with a show we’ve discussed before, which ended it first season this week with a bang, and plenty of commentary on literature and story tropes. As the season was reaching its close, the formerly suave and menacing Joe Carroll was dissolving into a sniveling villain, desperate to have his perfect narrative. Unfortunately, he relies on tired clichés to do this, and the show’s hero, Ryan Hardy, and Claire, Carroll’s ex-wife, are not afraid to call him out on it.

Carroll faces a dilemma in his grand epic when he feels he no longer can understand Hardy’s motivation. He needs to jump start his narrative, and so he relies when of the oldest tricks in the book. Fridge stuffing. By killing Claire, who Hardy loves, Carroll believes Hardy will be “reborn.” This, of course, is a clever way to disguise the fact that Carroll’s efforts to make Claire love him again have extravagantly soured, culminating in her stabbing him. Even Claire can see through it. “It’s tired,” she says. Likewise, Hardy later tells him, “I am so bored of you.”

The Following lost a lot of steam as the season progressed, the complex world of killers vs killers went from intriguing and scary, to kind of ridiculous. However, this is one of the few things that show does right. It takes a metatextual approach to illuminating the depth of its characters. By presenting Joe Carroll’s quest as stereotypical, it reveals the true flaccidity of his conviction and villainy.

Unfortunately, there is an actual event of fridge-stuffing within the episode. Agent Parker, who so far has been a great, powerful female character, is killed when she’s buried alive by Carroll’s followers. The whole sequence frustrated me immensely. I thought it was unnecessary, and I hated the fact that a great character was turned into a device for Hardy to get the next clue in the puzzle. Not to mention, she was in a pine box and not even buried that deep. Kick with both legs, girl.

Bates Motel

Oh me, oh my. If you’re not watching A&E’s Psycho spin-off, Bates Motel, I’m not sure what to tell you. Stay away? Grab the popcorn? I don’t know if I’m going to stick with this one, but it is fascinating.

If you’ve seen the Hitchcock classic, you’ll understand why issues with women are a focal point in this show. Norman Bates is a young man whose personality is overcome with that of his mother’s, and the imaginary version of her that exists in his head compels him to kill people, particularly young beautiful women. Bates Motel aspires to sow the seeds of how exactly this came to pass.

About six episodes have aired so far, during which Norman was witnessed his mother being raped (then helped her dump the body after she killed her rapist), rescued an Asian sex slave (before jerking off to her fully illustrated diary that he found in the motel), and slept with and then got dumped by prettiest girl in school, among other trials. Nevermind the fact that he clearly already had problems in the first place, the shit just keeps piling on.

However, I am impressed that despite all this, Bates Motel manages to not disempower its female characters. Norman has plenty of positive female influences in his life, from friends to teachers. Even his mother is well-meaning and strong, despite being extremely manipulative and a magnet for drama. The problem is Norman just processes all this information wrong – he’s overprotective of his mother to the point of violence, and he fetishizes and idealizes moments with women that were, if not totally innocent, mostly casual. His desire for happiness does not factor in the fact that women are actual people who are going to make their own decisions, even if they don’t match up with what he wants.

Sadly, the point of this show seems to be watching Norman dissolve into a monster, which is too bad because I would really prefer to see a character like this learn from his mistakes. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see a show that’s willing to process how exactly people like this are made.

Hannibal

Last but not least is another show that seeks to reinvent a classic. Hannibal expands upon the time referenced in the first Hannibal Lecter novel, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, featuring some revamps of familiar characters and new modern takes. Several prominent characters have been genderswapped, as well as adding some awesome female characters (I am so looking forward to Gillian Anderson as Lecter’s psychiatrist), giving the original story a much needed face lift. With that and the show’s jaw-dropping cinematography and complex structure, you have a truly innovative crime drama going on Thursday nights.

The focal point of Hannibal at the moment is the “bromance” between Lecter and FBI consultant Will Graham, so the show is pretty male centric for the most part. However, it’s introduced a character that is, perhaps, a precursor to Clarice Starling. Abigail Hobbs is the daughter of a cannibalistic serial killer, who both Graham and Lecter take an interest in, but Lecter the more proactive role. Whether he sees her as a protégé (many still believe she had a hand in her father’s killings), or simply a curiosity is unclear. But what is apparent is that Lecter sees the value of dangerous young girls, and is looking to indulge it.

Creator Bryan Fuller, who also created Pushing Daises and Wonderfalls, is known for his sense of style. It’s really cool to see where he takes that horror. I was also incredibly relieved to read this in an interview with him:

“We won’t tell a rape story on Hannibal. If it’s too real it’s no fun for me. I’m very sensitive. The horror that we do on the show has a heightened quality to it and I kind of need that vibrating above reality-sense in order to enjoy the work, and have fun with it. If it’s too real, then it’s not as much fun.”

The goal of Hannibal is to tell an arresting story that is frightening and dramatic, but with air of fantasy as well. A lot of shows like to pretend they’re as real as possible, when really they’re just using the excuse to create something exploitative that is no more realistic that Saturday morning cartoons. It’s aware that is first and foremost entertainment, and its intention is to thrill and not hurt.

The verdict: of all of these, you should be watching Hannibal. Bates Motel is campy and ridiculous (with some outstanding acting, might I add), and The Following is just ridiculous. A show like Hannibal, though, that takes its time with everything, you know has plenty to say.

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