It was announced Friday that NBC has decided to pull the fourth episode of "Hannibal," which depicts children killing children, from its lineup because of a particularly violent few months in America.
I read that news on Twitter this afternoon after finishing last night's episode, which I was going to lament for its graphic content because the psychological aspect of the show is what makes it so alluring. So my first thought on reading that NBC was pulling next week's episode was: "Well, that's great, but the show is still unnecessarily gruesome."
Variety reported that creator Bryan Fuller called NBC to say that "given the cultural climate right now in the U.S., I think we shouldn't air the episode in its entirety." Instead, clips will be available on NBC.com. He told Variety: "I didn't want to have anyone come to the show and have a negative experience. Whenever you write a story and look at the sensational aspects of storytelling, you think, 'This is interesting metaphorically, and this is interesting as social commentary.' With this episode, it wasn't about the graphic imagery or violence. It was the associations that came with the subject matter that I felt would inhibit the enjoyment of the overall episode."
ABC this week pushed back an episode of "Castle" where detective Kate Beckett steps on a pressure-sensitive bomb. And, Variety notes, Syfy pulled a school violence episode of "Haven" after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.
Time sensitivity is an understandable concern, but are these associations ever really going to go away? "Hannibal" was filmed before the events at Sandy Hook, but that doesn't mean our world wasn't already filled with countless instances of children being victims of violence, as we're reminded constantly by gang-related deaths in Monterey County.
I've seen a slew of essays from TV critics in recent months about violence fatigue, about degrees of violence, about whether violence truly serves a story or is there as some sort of fad. These are all valid discussions to have; I'm in the camp that believes the depiction of violence can serve a larger purpose. But we should pay attention to what happens when we don't have those elements; in other words, if we as viewers lose nothing by the absence of "Hannibal's" fourth episode or by the absence of an explosion or by the absence of school violence, maybe it's time to rethink their necessity.
The argument here is not for a ban on the depiction of violence, but for a consideration of "excess." I realize that's an elusive term; I have a pretty high threshold when it comes to fictional violence and so haven't become as jaded as many TV watchers in recent months. Last night's "Hannibal," however, was the first time I've started to sidle over into that camp. What intrigues me are the mind games that Dr. Lecter plays with victim/suspect Abigail Hobbs and with Will Graham, and I don't need repeated visual imagery of bodies impaled on antlers or people getting their throats cut to understand it; just a few shots will suffice. The show starts with a "viewer discretion advised" warning of graphic content -- certainly nothing new these days -- but the message is repeated at the bottom of the screen after the return from each commercial break. That's gotta mean something.
And maybe making that warning unnecessary is a worthy goal to shoot for, because it's starting to feel like no amount of time between a real violent act and a fictional one is ever going to be enough.
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