Our meat processing professional last wrote for The Toast about Torchwood, which also needed more meat.
Hannibal is a television series based upon the popular novels of Thomas Harris. Each episode lasts for under an hour, with the shortest lasting 41 minutes, and the longest 44. There were 3 seasons comprising 39 total episodes, many named after a food item or meal component (usually, but not exclusively, containing meat.) Sadly, this naming convention was abandoned for the latter half of the last season. The show runner is a Mr. Bryan Fuller.
I wish I could be happy with this production, because it is in many ways exactly the type of entertainment that should be more commonly available. Care has been taken to hire a culinary consultant, Mr. José Andrés, and a food preparation expert and stylist, Ms. Janice Poon. Ms Poon shows a refreshing understanding for the minutiae of meat preparation, and has blogged at length about the proper way these things are done.
Her thoroughness pays off in numerous small ways throughout the episodes. Ms. Poon’s knowledge of the dimensions of the human female thigh, or the docking of pig’s tails is commendable. I understand from her writing that the human organs presented on screen in fact originate from the pig. This is a shame, but I suppose we must be sympathetic to the difficulties that supplying the real thing would cause. Indeed, the organs of the pig are close enough to humans that those noble creatures may one day supply us with their hearts, or kidneys.
That said, Sus scrofa domesticus is not Homo sapiens sapiens. The barrier of species would, I fear, preclude the maintenance of a living human foetus inside a sow for any appreciable length of time. And yet, we are presented with just such a feat in a third season episode of the show. The character who appears to have bankrolled the experiment, Mason Verger, is a fellow worker in the protein industries. I suppose it is possible to believe that he has been bankrolling research into the immunosuppressant, hormonal, and anatomical technologies that would be required to achieve this feat. But such fast progress is literally incredible. Interspecies surrogacy is a science very much in its infancy, and any successes have been achieved with animals that bear a much closer genetic relationship with each other. The technique has some promise as a means to birth new members of endangered species, but research in this field using human embryos has been almost nonexistent. The UK Government looked into this question in 2007, and sadly decided against it, with charmingly naïve ideas about “clear issues of animal welfare.”
As readers may see, the story stretches realism at times, especially when it leaves the comfortable realm of food behind. But that can be forgiven – we all have our areas of expertise. One may quibble over the likelihood that comatose patients would support such a fine crop of mushrooms, but it cannot be denied that fungi find a welcoming home throughout the human body.
Equally, it seems unlikely that any living being – starling or social worker, would emerge unscathed from the body of a horse. And yet, we see both these miraculous events happening on screen. Birds have highly efficient lungs, and additional air sacks, so the starling’s survival is, perhaps, more understandable – although flying around the room with such vigor after a night without an air supply may be poetic license. When the trick is pulled a second time, with a full grown man, the unlikelihood grows. Horse bodies, like all bodies, do not maintain air filled cavities for the convenience of visiting guests! The social worker is inside for a full three minutes at least – more than enough time to put him in serious danger, although survivable with proper training and preparation.
I suppose we must chalk this one up to Mr. Fuller’s decision to grant super-heroic strength and finesse to his killers. This is an unusual choice, but not an insurmountable one. All of the series’ protagonists seem capable of astonishing feats of construction, design and artistry with their chosen, human instruments. But why should they not be, if that is what Mr Fuller’s heart desires? I do not believe that a tower of well-aged corpses would be an easy thing to construct, even if I myself were doing it, but I admire the whimsy of Mr Fuller’s idea.
The ease with which these killers transform into animals is something which I do find troubling. Perhaps I am merely revealing my inexperience, but I believe that Francis Dolarhyde, or any man who grows a tail and red, leathery wings would be going through a transformation rather more scientifically interesting than a mere serial killing spree.
Mr. Fuller seems content to skate lightly over these events– and indeed, the characters may be seen in the next scene without extensive scarring, injuries, or any of the long term damage one would expect to be associated with even the smallest bodily modification. This would be more forgivable if applied across the board, but scarification seems strangely optional in Mr Fuller’s world. Mr Verger, meat processing entrepreneur, is doomed to live with the results of his own facial injuries, while Dr Lecter may sprout horns in one scene, and appear untouched the next. This bias on the part of the show is telling, and I will have cause to return to it.
The transformations seen on screen, into dragons, stags and species unknown, also elicit curiously muted responses from the characters that witness them. Will Graham, the principal character, began the series expressing horror at, for example, horns suddenly growing from the walls around him. But by the end Mr Graham too has been sucked into this strange lethargy, and regularly witnesses transformations and even translocations (to a church in Florence, for example) without any sense of shock. This does not seem a likely reaction.
Still, I fear that I stray from my purview. Forgive me, readers. Luckily my next comment concerns something of interest to all – especially those who work hard to produce food for the general public. I refer, of course, to the fact that none of Dr. Lecter’s dinner guests appear to notice their meal’s lack of resemblance to what has been advertised. Mr Fuller is surely not completely lacking in taste buds, and is aware that if various meats are presented as “chicken,” or as, “steak,” they will be expected to deliver upon that promise. Then again, perhaps he is making a point. The unrefined palate of the average consumer is a scourge of us all, professional and gifted amateur alike.
And yet, I say gifted amateur, and that brings me back to my main problem with the series. A gifted amateur is precisely what Dr. Lecter is. That is what makes me unable to recommend this series. It is infuriating that, in 2015, the culture still cannot recognize the value of professional training. Even with extensive meat experience, I do not assume that I would make a skilled surgeon. Why then does Mr. Harris, and by extension this television production, assume that it Dr Lecter can make the jump in the opposite direction?
It exemplifies the snobbery that is felt towards all in our noble profession – as if bloodlust and scalpel skills were a substitute for years of training with the Hobart knit-knife tenderizer, the Biro Poultry Cutter, and the six-inch beef skinner.
In respect for my fully trained fellows, and, yes, with a certain amount of pride in my work, I cannot recommend the series. This encouragement of amateurism cannot stand. There are numerous professionals in the meat processing field. Why is it so hard to cast one as the hero of your story, Mr Fuller?
Helen lives in the UK, where she works in science media and wastes too much time online. She has a degree in the history of science.