‘Hannibal’: The Violent Episode That Never Aired on Television

The psychological horror-thriller Hannibal first premiered on NBC in 2013. Although it was suddenly canceled a few years later after only three seasons, the TV show quickly garnered praise from critics, audiences, and award groups during its short run.

Despite the drama’s popularity and its Emmy nomination, Hannibal was not without its controversies, especially as it relates to televised gore and violence. So much so, that Hannibal‘s team even self-censored itself and pulled a violent episode before the episode even had a chance to hit the airwaves. 

‘Hannibal’ centers around a cannibalistic serial killer

Hannibal stars Danish actor Mad Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal and a serial killer who also works as a forensic psychiatrist. Opposite Mikkelsen is English actor Hugh Dancy, who plays the role of FBI special investigator and profiler Will Graham. In the show’s first season, Graham is tasked with investigating a Minnesota crime case involving an alleged serial killer. 

The killer’s gruesome acts weigh heavily on Graham and affect him psychologically. To help him cope, the FBI asks Dr. Lecter to supervise Graham and, in a sense, be his therapist and sounding board. However, Graham doesn’t know about Dr. Lecter’s darker side.

“For the first time, viewers will spend quality time with Lecter while he’s at large and before the world knows his secrets, working side by side with a similarly brilliant man who is destined to catch him,” explains Entertainment Weekly. Meanwhile, Bryan Fuller (the director and creator of Hannibal) tells the publication that the show takes place before Dr. Lecter is imprisoned in the Silence of the Lambs novel and movie adaptation.

“So he’s more of a peacock,” says Fuller. “There is a cheery disposition to our Hannibal. He’s not being telegraphed as a villain. If the audience didn’t know who he was, they wouldn’t see him coming. […] We get to subvert his legacy and give the audience twists and turns.”

Many TV critics highlighted the realistic gore and violence of ‘Hannibal’

Mads Mikkelsen
Mads Mikkelsen | Stefania M. D’Alessandro/Getty Images for RFF

For a show about investigating a serial killer, while also featuring a serial killer and a cannibal as a main character, it’s not surprising that gore, violence and blood were a central theme during Hannibal‘s three-season run. 

For example, Rotten Tomatoes‘ summary of the first season concludes that “Hannibal caters to an intellectual audience that prefers plenty of gore.”

Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly‘s critic points out that audiences should be alarmed anytime Dr. Lecter is near a stovetop. “All of Hannibal is…impishly ironic, especially when its title character is anywhere near a kitchen: tenderizing a side of lung-shaped mystery meat, dining on saucy ‘loin’ chops,” reports the publication “Bon appétit, horror freaks.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the show’s team even brought on celebrity chef Jose Andres to ensure accuracy when it came to what cooking human flesh would look and sound like. 

This commitment to realism paid off cinematically, but in one instance, the show took it too far and pulled an episode before it was televised.

‘Hannibal’ pulled a controversial, violent episode and kept it off of television

In the fourth episode (entitled “Oeuf”) of Hannibal‘s first season, Graham tackles a case where two different families are murdered. It was set to be shown on April 25, 2013, but just a few hours before it would have aired, it was pulled from television.

According to Variety, it was a decision made by NBC and the Hannibal team “due to the disturbing content involving children murdering other children.”

Fuller, the show’s director, told Variety that his decision came due to the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that took place four months prior, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred a few days before the episode’s air date.

“I didn’t want to have anyone come to the show and have a negative experience,” Fuller said. “With this episode, it…was the associations that came with the subject matter that I felt would inhibit the enjoyment of the overall episode. It was my own sensitivity.”

Variety also points out that several other TV shows cut violent episodes shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, including ABC’s Castle and Syfy’s Haven.

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