Why I absolutely adore the gruesome TV show Hannibal

The tv show Hannibal is the most internally consistent psychological drama on TV. Sure, its characters are quite fantastical, but they are crafted intelligently, with sophisticated comprehension of the disturbed psyche. Shows with criminal profilers allow psychologists to be relatively smart, but still, they offer the most simplistic of analyses, aren’t required to think much to come to their conclusions, get it right the first time, and of course solve the case. On the TV show Hannibal, the profilers are all brilliant. They think together, try out ideas, incorporate theory. Therapists don’t help heal our clients by being kind, or just lending them our ear. There are multiple skills a therapist must bring to the table, but a well-educated and versatile mind are at the center.

To make a good drama most shows need clinicians to betray their ethics. Even shows that try to capture some of the real moments of a session, like In Treatment, end up with the clinicians making such radical violations, as a therapist I can hardly tolerate watching them. Hannibal on the other hand, has one character who lives in a world of his own ethical making; when he blurs professional boundaries, it is hard to get worked up about it given we have also watched him delicately prepare and savor human flesh.

Most “therapy” scripted for TV is really just counseling; supportive, validating, concrete, constructive, with the notable exception of The Soprano’s. While by session two there were all kinds of ethical and boundary violations, the therapy was analytically oriented psychotherapy, which is what I practice, and it was great to see it on TV. Hannibal goes a step further.The character of Hannibal performs analysis. He offers interpretation as his only real intervention. Even outside the consulting room, he fills his conversation with interpretation.

Even if the script were so rich, and the characters so well crafted, I would still be drawn in by the elaborated, symbolic laden imagery of the show. From the grotesquely posed corpses, to the lusciously prepared meals, and riveting dream and hallucination sequences, every scene serves to reveal extra layers in this brilliant psychological drama.

Smith is and analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additional the  Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

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