The Women of NBC’s Hannibal

NBC recently debuted a new series called Hannibal, based on the character of Thomas Harris’s novels. The series seems to take place even before the first novel, Red Dragon, but features many characters who are part of that storyline. Two of these characters were men on the page, but are women on the TV show.

(Note: There will be spoilers for the novel Red Dragon and the first three episodes of the series Hannibal.)

Dr. Alan Bloom has become Dr. Alana Bloom. As far as I can tell from the first three episodes, the character has remained essentially the same: a psychiatrist who is friends with Will Graham. In both the novel and the TV show, Dr.Bloom has a great deal of respect and sympathy for Will Graham, but takes care to avoid analyzing Graham even inadvertently. So far, the biggest difference between book Dr.Bloom and TV Dr.Bloom is that one happens to be a woman. It’s nice that the writers realized there is nothing about the character that is essentially male, and have simply given the character to a female actress to portray.

However, the other character that has been gender-shifted presents far more interesting possibilities. In Red Dragon, the character of Freddy Lounds is an amoral, degenerate, two-faced tabloid writer who will stoop as low as necessary to get a story. He bribes, lies, sneaks into places he shouldn’t be, publishes deliberately inflammatory rumors, and gruesome pictures of crime scenes not intended for the public. He’s a reprehensible human being, and given only the barest of redeeming qualities that do not in any way offset his narcissistic, self-centered, and greedy view of the world and his own actions. He seems to feel absolutely no sympathy or empathy for his fellow humans, even at the worst moments of their lives (or deaths). He is not the villain of the novel, but he’s not too far off.

On the show, Hannibal, we are introduced to Freddie Lounds, a pretty, petite, female blogger played by Canadian actress Lara Jean Chorostecki who publishes photos of crime scenes she’s snuck into, inflammatory rumors she coaxes out of law enforcement officials with lies, and who attempts to tape record another person’s therapy session in order to get new dirt to spread to the world. It is heavily implied that she slept with an FBI agent to get a story. It is outright stated that her actions have gotten multiple police officers fired from their jobs. In the third episode, she deliberately baits a grieving family member with news of when a killer’s relative will be in public again, and seems to goad him to confront that individual. She tells a witness that our protagonist, Will Graham, is a dangerous man who is little better than a cold-blooded killer himself. She’s a reprehensible human being, and given only the barest of redeeming qualities that do not in any way offset her narcissistic, self-centered, and greedy view of the world and her own actions. She seems to feel absolutely no sympathy or empathy for her fellow humans, even at the worst moments of their lives (or deaths). She is not the villain of the show, but she’s not far off.

The prospect of having a woman playing an amoral, empathy-free individual is an interesting one. Will they keep this version of Lounds as reprehensible as the one in the books? Three episodes in, it seems like they will. Every time she comes across information essential to murder investigations, she attempts to wheedle the police or FBI agents for other tidbits she can print in exchange, even when it puts people’s lives in danger. So far, there is no low that is too low for Ms. Lounds to stoop to to get her story. This tracks perfectly with the Freddy Lounds of Red Dragon, who was willing to bait a serial killer in order to get a good story. His motivation wasn’t even good reporting, but rather lining his own pockets. I assume that Ms.Lound’s motivations are similarly selfish. She has given me no reason to believe otherwise.

More interesting, though, is if the show actually catches up to Red Dragon, in which Lounds meets a particularly grisly fate. It was hard enough reading about it when it was happening to a man that most people wished were dead. I am wondering if they’re going to leave the whole gory chapter intact despite the fact that they’ve made Lounds a woman. However, women in popular culture are more frequently the targets of sadistic killers and we even have a whole movie genre devoted to storylines in which women are brutally tortured or abused for entertainment. Will it actually be less shocking because of the gender-switch, because we anticipate women will be the victim of those sorts of crimes? Or will animosity towards a female Lounds be strong enough that there will be more of a feeling of, “She deserved it,” instead of, “Oh god, I hated the guy but no one deserves THAT!” (in other words, the feeling I had while reading the book).

Overall I’m happy that the producers went out of their way to include more female characters in Hannibal and give them complex, interesting roles. The only woman I remember from Red Dragon was Will’s wife, who spent the majority of the book somewhere else and who served as a way to show Will’s divided attentions. Putting two women so far at the heart of the action (and possibly a third soon, as Gillian Anderson is allegedly playing Dr. Lecter’s therapist) is commendable. I’m very interested to see how this plays out as we approach the storyline that Harris established in his books for these characters. Whatever happens, it won’t be for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

4 thoughts on “The Women of NBC’s Hannibal”

  1. I just saw this show this past weekend and it is absolutely brilliant. I’m a few weeks behind in the episodes and need to get caught up, but I’ve read both RD and SOTL, and it’s made me want to read them all again plus Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. Anyhow, the show is wonderfully dark and atmospheric–it reminds me a lot of Whitechapel, Waking the Dead, and Prime Suspect and yes, even Inspector Lynley–so someone has been watching their BBC crime dramas. But as a viewer it’s scary and deliciously creepy to know what Hannibal really is while the other characters don’t.

  2. This was a very interesting article. I’ve never read the books so I had no idea that they switched genders on a couple known characters. And I can see where you’re going with Lounds (even as I don’t know her/his fate).

    I enjoy watching Hannibal. I think, like Criminal Minds, I will have to space out my viewing because it’s pretty intense and tends to cause nightmares/trouble sleeping. (I am a delicate flower)

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