NBC's Hannibal gained quite the dedicated following over its three seasons, but never enough to break into the mainstream consciousness and bring in the ratings it needed to survive. Thus, the show ended on something of a cliffhanger, with fans uncertain over what happened to FBI special agent Will Graham and Hannibal 'the cannibal' Lecter. But those questions may soon be answered, according to showrunner Bryan Fuller.
Responding to a fan's request for information on Twitter, Fuller wrote, "Conversations couldn't start until 2 years after the final airing of season 3. [Executive producer Martha De Laurentiis] has started those conversations. This takes time." The two year time period Fuller is referring to is the time before the show's rights could be scooped up in full by another network (or streaming service). Now it's just a matter of finding a partner that wants to give the show another shot.
Both Hugh Dancy (Will) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) have said they're onboard to return, and that's where things get a bit complicated. Fuller has previously said that his intention was to use seasons 4 and beyond to adapt the Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal novels. But Will Graham isn't a major player in those books, and is only mentioned in passing. Instead, the stories focus on the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice Starling.
So would Will take over and replace Clarice, act as a mediator between the new agent and the serial killer, or exit the show? How would that work? How would any of this work? Fuller's not telling, but if you'll indulge me for a moment, I have some suggestions.
Let Will Graham rest in peace
The relationship between Will and Hannibal is at the heart of the show's drama, and watching these two highly intelligent men clash is thrilling. The mind games, the set ups, the vaguely erotic subtext... it's good stuff. But Will was already brought out of retirement to help on the Red Dragon case, and look how that ended for him (spoiler: badly).
Plus, on a storytelling level, the show was fast approaching maximum saturation. We don't want a Phantom Menace or Alien: Covenant situation on our hands where a cool character gets over-explained and loses all appeal.
It's not made clear whether Will survived the end of season 3, and it shouldn't be. Let the audience decide for themselves, and leave Will in the past. Besides, it'll clearly separate NBC's Hannibal from a new network’s Hannibal.
Hannibal should stay free or go back to prison, but not both
In the books, Hannibal is caught by Will Graham and subsequently escapes captivity during the events of Silence of the Lambs. By the time the book Hannibal takes place, Dr. Lecter has been living under an assumed identity in Italy for several years. He is eventually pursued and captured by henchmen hired by Mason Verger, a rich sadist whom Hannibal had previously disfigured. Sound familiar? That's because many of the plot beats in the Silence of the Lambs sequel were touched on in the first half of NBC's Hannibal, season 3.
This puts the order of events all out of whack. Season 4 can't follow Silence of the Lambs exactly, because at the end of season 3, he had already been confined and escaped. Which means that if Clarice is going to communicate with Hannibal in order to hunt down Buffalo Bill, he either needs to be behind bars or there has to be an excuse as to why he's able to relay information to her without the FBI catching him. Will could fill the role of mediator, but I'd still prefer he take on a less active role, if not disappear from the show altogether. Again, I'd argue his story has been told.
The 'will they or won't they catch him' tension has also been played out at this point. We've seen Hannibal get captured. We've seen him escape. Don't make us sit through another season where he does both over the course of a few episodes. Either keep Hannibal locked up or let him roam free, but don't try to do both.
Dive deeper into Buffalo Bill
Buffalo Bill, the killer who skins his victims in order to construct himself a 'woman suit' and displays a desire to become female, was very much a villain of his time. Transgender issues were barely talked about, let alone explored with any nuance in the late '80s / early '90s, and Buffalo Bill shows that. Sinister and secluded Bill is textbook example of the old-fashioned tendency to make anything that wasn’t straight seem terrifying.
Unlike Francis Dolarhyde (AKA the Great *huff* Red *growl* Draaaaagon) who was shown to be conflicted over his nature and could even be considered sympathetic, Bill was a one-dimensional caricature; a tool for progressing the narrative between Clarice and Hannibal, but little else. Don't believe me? Tell me one defining thing about Bill that doesn't revolve around the infinitely parodied "Would you fuck me?" scene or a bottle of lotion. His psyche is explored a bit more in the book, but not much.
With many more hours of runtime to flesh out these characters, Fuller could give Bill a much richer backstory. He could still experience gender dysphoria, but this doesn't need to be the defining part of his character. Consult with transgender people about how to portray this character so that his desire to become a woman doesn't come across as exploitative, and isn't the only thing people remember about him.
Of course, this is all just my own personal thoughts on the matter - what would you like to see in Hannibal season 4?