In most cases, we all have that one friend or know of somebody who loves to either read or watch things that focus on serial killers or psychopaths. I probably fit the template for being this person as there was a period of time where I was attached to crime dramas. I wanted to learn more about the psychology behind what I was seeing, as I lived for the suspense of these dramas and thrillers — even if they did increase the rate of anxiety within me. I didn’t care about these feelings because it felt like I was watching some of the greatest television the world has produced, and that this was the best sensation that television had to offer. Even more so, I found that the viewing experience became more enjoyable if you knew someone else who was into the same shows as you. This connection opens up the possibility to exchange your theories and feelings with another, amongst hearing and providing great recommendations for the next frightful nightmare you could encounter.
I often bounced from show to show on different networks. While I could always enjoy what I was watching, my sense of personal identity did not fully connect with what I was viewing on-screen. That all changed with NBC’s Hannibal (2013-2015) and BBC America’s Killing Eve (2018-present). Now, I am not saying that I feel represented within these shows because I have an appetite to kill, or that it is my wish to get entangled with a psychopath, but the homoerotic undertones and subtexts of Hannibal and Killing Eve, whether they reveal themselves to be explicit or not, provided me with something else to obsess over and feast upon apart from the usual: who has done this, and why? Hannibal and Killing Eve created a shift in the tide of this genre as they cannot be denied of having their main characters infatuated with their same-sex counterparts, especially when analyzed from a queer perspective. For once, television was starting to feel more accessible for me to feel further invested with the personal relationships and lives that grew in a television show. Now, not only was I able to see my own sexuality traced and appear in a genre where it would be uncommon — but what also surfaced was an exploration of sexuality and same-sex relationships that were featured in a deeply layered, intricate and mesmerizing story. From here on, it was apparent to me that these shows would always have a significant role in television history from being so defining, and reflecting a sense of personal identity back to me.
It only takes one episode of Hannibal or Killing Eve to expose you to a complex world of gay tension and obsession that lies at the peak of serial murder. By presenting their viewers with a series of cat-and-mouse chases, some complex psychology and a battle for supremacy, Hannibal and Killing Eve create a feeling of infatuation between their leads amidst of the drama. For these reasons, I have begun to look at the shows as counterparts to one another. The relationship dynamics between Hannibal’s protagonist, criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and antagonist, cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), are also reflected in Killing Eve with protagonist British intelligence operative, Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and the antagonist Assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer). In order to capture more insight into the sculpted worlds of Hannibal and Killing Eve, it is important to outline the premise of each show to expand upon the similarities and also how they each possess their own differences. A brief introduction to each show also highlights where the appetites for murder and desire originate from and how this dynamic is not common in LGBT+ relationships in television.
Villanelle: “It’s going to be hard to trust me again, but I will prove myself to you. I promise.”
The Shows Themselves:
Hannibal’s basic premise is that while Will Graham is a gifted criminal profiler, driven by his extraordinary skill to empathize and sympathize with killers to reconstruct crime scenes to discover the motives of the perpetrators, as Will looks into the ‘design’ of a scene, this reconstructive experience takes its toll on his mental wellbeing. Therefore, Hannibal, being a forensic psychiatrist, is entrusted with acting as Will’s therapist on behalf of the FBI and also works with Will to consult on crime scenes whilst also concocting his own. This partnership is where the fun begins in Hannibal as the story is different from that of its source material, the Hannibal novels of Thomas Harris. The television series focuses more on the relationship between Will Graham and Dr. Lecter, courtesy of the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller and his queer design of the show that reaches out to its broader audience. Therefore, in Hannibal, the relationship between Will and Hannibal himself is in a different context to the other media they are represented in. Their relationship is explored more delicately on a personal level, through therapy, which highlights Hannibal’s fondness of Will as Hannibal sees himself and Will as one of the same. As it is Hannibal’s belief that he and Will can share more than similarities, Hannibal uses his appetite for murder to influence and manipulate Will into his design by hacking into his psyche, bounding the pair together into a perfect partnership where murder is an art, and beautiful.
Will: “Is Hannibal in love with me?”
In a similar vein, Killing Eve provides an insight into Eve’s mind that follows her obsession with female assassins and serial killers alike. They are an enigma to Eve, and this enigma only grows as she has the job of trying to find out who Villanelle is, and why she is killing her targets. The mystery of psychology is what infatuates Eve, like with Hannibal and Will, and the thought of what could be does take its toll on Eve as she sacrifices everything to pursue Villanelle, and the same can be said for Villanelle as she takes a unique liking to Eve. The distance between Eve and Villanelle makes Killing Eve more a game of cat-and-mouse in oppose to the enclosed encounters and subtleties of Hannibal. But, Villanelle’s increasing obsession with Eve and Eve’s need for excitement is what draws the two together and moves them closer to one another. After a few too close for comfort escapes and near fateful encounters between Eve and Villanelle, Villanelle’s advancements on Eve showcase a burst of emotions that stimulates the growth in their relationship, even if the two battle to sustain a relationship that would be simple or result in bloodlust.
A Growing Appetite:
Whilst watching Killing Eve, it was hard for me not to immediately compare the show to my experience with Hannibal. The relationship that I was seeing pan out throughout Killing Eve appeared to be the spy thriller variation of the psychological thriller I had already experienced, grew frustrated at, yet eternally loved and continue to grasp. I thought to myself – I have seen this one before, I am excited to see it once more through a different take that focuses on women, but I know how this is going to play out. And my presumptions were correct: as with Hannibal, the flirtations between Killing Eve’s pivotal characters also grew. The gazes that were there on-screen, the expressions, the looks, the emotions and responses, the figurative and literal suggestions created an image that leaves you believing that there is something deeper inside these relationships. However, in this case, Villanelle was more explicit with her desire for Eve on their journey, whether she would either kill her or want to be with her, compared to Hannibal, who psychologically lures Will in and remains in a shroud of mystery that Will himself has to tear away. Nonetheless, with these relationships, it all starts out with an encounter that grows into an all-consuming entity. Once these characters cross paths with their counterparts, you know that they are never going to be able to escape them. Even if they could physically escape them, they are still going to be mentally there due to the way they have touched and fed off each other in a state of dependency.
Villanelle: “Sometimes when you love someone, you will do crazy things.”
The desire embedded inside the relationship dynamics these shows share and battle with is consuming, and it is the intentions within them that allow the characters to provide a series of action that develops these complicated relationships. This set formula becomes noticeable through each scene of the shows that priorities the main character’s interactions. As communication breaks down motives and feelings, each interaction between these character’s is just as important as the last to decipher where the relationship is heading. We are shown a portrait of detail that is always developing. Each moment of communication and storyline can be signalling, implying or referring to a state of relationship or feelings, and we get left trying to figure out these often-blurred lines as we observe the characters actions.
The main takeaway that Hannibal and Killing Eve leave on the table is: are the central characters going to end up together, or not? And all of this is layered out for us. Is the desire going to grow, leading the characters together for them to become their imagined states? Is one going to actually kill the other? Or are they going to kill together, harmonizing as one? No matter what twisted turns the shows have taken, or the false leads they provided, the appetite that the characters develop for each other cannot be erased. Both of the shows move past a sense of rivalry, and of trying to fight and give in as part of an exploration of morality and desire, to a point where viewers can root for them because your appetite for seeing the characters together grows.
Blurred Lines, Mixed Messages:
The relationships that Hannibal and Killing Eve provide us with are clearly more than of professional standing. They touch a personal level. In no other world is a feared assassin going to break into your house because she wants to have dinner with you, and in no other world is your therapist going to smell you with no context given and try to imagine a family unit with you. And, Eve is more than happy to chase after Villanelle round Europe, as is Will to continue pursuing Hannibal. However, the likes of fondness and frustration in these relationships do become blurred. At times, it is as if the frustration present in the narratives translates into the characters as hatred, with a notable example coming from Hannibal himself where he states: “My compassion for you is inconvenient, Will.”. A series of revenge surfaces because of these conflicting emotions and this revenge can transpire because of unrequited love. Eve wishes to take revenge upon Villanelle for disturbing her life, even though that was her desire and attempts to kill her, and the same is ultimately returned with Villanelle asking Eve: “Do you think I would kill you, Eve?” to which Eve responds, “Yes.”.
Additionally, Will and Hannibal also share a sequence of their cunning assassination attempts on each other. But, even with all the tension and hidden elaborate angst, Will and Hannibal, and Eve and Villanelle remained bound by the shared likeness they have with each other. This very likeness is what causes Will and Eve to fight against what is of their nature, and to fight for high morality, even when they are magnetized to their true calling: the one they have desire for, and how that very desire can cause them to kill or be killed in the face of the one that wishes to transform them. There are the key push and pull factors in these relationships, and when these two are meeting in the middle, that is when the characters are truly drawn into a new world where the possibilities seem endless.
Hannibal: “If I saw you every day forever, Will, I would remember this time.”
I think that Hannibal and Killing Eve are best described as a rom-com taking a dark turn. A deeply dark turn of that. Yet, it is the contrasting of the similar and conflicting beliefs in these shows that are remarkable for performing how the actions a character takes are not always done independently. They become swayed by conflicting loyalty to one another, destructive romances, transforming from enemies to lovers and back again, and having to work with each other in distaste, all the while still creating implications in their relationships. Hannibal and Killing Eve have been criticized for queer-baiting in terms of the on-screen representation between making the relationships more explicit, but in a world where it is often seen as a risk to have out and proud LGBT+ character’s on screen, and it is easier to kill them and bury them, the romance that does come to light is one that cannot be dampened. The romance is there, and even if it is wrong, there is still a desire as a viewer, especially as an LGBT+ one, to accept it and want it. At least it can be said that the character’s sexualities are not what drives them to kill. Hannibal did not give us an on-screen kiss, but it did provide a satisfactory ending and enough moments to counteract this fulfillment, such as Fuller confirming Will and Hannibal’s relationship as canon. Here is to hoping that Killing Eve will follow in the same fashion, and maybe go deeper.
Once more, it is the blurred lines and mixed messages contained in Hannibal and Killing Eve that call upon viewers to analyze them as more than just television. They are wonderful works of television, but it is what is underneath their surface that makes them a greater work of art and worthy of more in-depth discussion. For once, there are television shows out there that are refreshing for the eye, making you think: it is a change to see LGBT+ relationships in mainstream television, especially of this nature and genre, yet the possibility to connect with them and want them to be together because of the high levels of involvement is still there. It is reasons like this that make Hannibal and Killing Eve celebrated and championed by their viewers, and importantly, from their LGBT+ fans, because the shows do not discredit the merits that they bring. After being on a journey with a set of characters, we are still bound to wanting to give them our empathy and see their desires met, no matter how radical or complicated they may be.