The past decade-plus has been a time of dispiriting uncertainty and powerlessness: an era of endless war, economic erosion, class disconnection, and political disillusion. At the same time, our approach to art and entertainment has become all the more unequivocal in its assertions about content and quality. We pore over TV shows for clues about their outcome, which we present with power-point precision. We treat all art like editorial cartoons, interpreting it the way we would a drawing of a fatcat politician holding bulging moneybags in each hand, and accept or reject the story accordingly. We treat the comics and novels that form the basis for our blockbusters as holy writ, we insist that fiction hew inerrantly to the facts that inspired it, and we punish those who stray from the path. We elevate our favorite characters and relationships to the point where the stories they inhabit are mere vehicles to get them to the place we’d like to see them go.
In all four cases—the Theorists, the Activists, the Purists, and the Partisans—we’re treating the inherently subjective fields of art and art criticism as things we can be objectively right about. We’re taking work that’s complex and capable of conveying multiple contradictory meanings and reducing it to a simple either/or, yes/no proposition.
The real failure here, though, is one of audience empathy with the artist. All of us have characters we love, hook-ups we wish could happen, and moments of vicarious delight over dirty deeds. But when we run art primarily or exclusively through these personal filters, we lose our shot at experiencing the ideas and emotions of another person, the artist — one of the great gifts art gives us. We insist that art accommodates our headspace, rather than embracing the tiny transcendence of leaving ourselves behind and meeting art where it lives.
In “…And The Beast From The Sea” Bryan Fuller takes another opportunity to go meta.
“How do you imagine he’s contacted me?” Hannibal muses when Will accuses him of being in touch with Francis Dolarhyde. “Personal ads? Writing notes of admiration on toilet paper?”
It’s a winky nod to how Hannibal and The Tooth Fairy kept in contact in the source material and a great way for Fuller to let the audience know that he’s not afraid to break away from a faithful retelling of The Red Dragon. After all, we’ve seen how a by-the-book depiction went down in Brett Ratner’s version and it was underwhelming, to put it mildly.
For starters, Fuller is mixing it up by depicting Dolarhyde’s assault on Will’s family as the next in a series of disturbing attacks and not the climactic final showdown as seen in the films. So, this deviation certainly leaves it up in the air as to how the season (and let’s be honest, series) will end who will get out alive.
Jack Crawford has always had an “ends justifies the means” approach when it comes to catching killers. He’s never had any qualms about endangering Will, by putting either his sanity or life on the line in pursuit of the Chesapeake Ripper. So why should be think twice about dangling another piece of human bait in front of a bloodthirsty psychopath? In this case, the mark has to be a therapist willing to lend some legitimacy to Will outright taunting The Tooth Fairy in a Freddie Lounds Tattle Crime article.
Different storytelling mediums have different needs, and moreover the people responsible for translating a work from one such medium to another can and should have ideas of their own. Change is a morally neutral phenomenon. The mere fact of change doesn’t inherently indicate anything about the quality of the adaptation, or the character of the artist responsible for it.