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Mourning the HANNIBAL Season That Never Was

I think about Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal every day. The avant-garde network series feels like a fever-dream. A kaleidoscope of nightmare logic and decadence that was perhaps more than we deserved. So few shows lean into horror the way Fuller’s do; the creator has a knack for finding the tender—pun intended—moments in the macabre. Think of Mads Mikkelsen as cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as FBI special investigator Will Graham. Two men divided by morals and order, who find something like love in the pit of carnage.

The NBC series borrowed from Thomas Harris’ book series, which started in 1981 with Red Dragon. But Hannibal followed no linear path. It pulled from the books as needed, and navigated tricky rights issues that prevented the inclusion of certain characters. The first season chronicled the rise and fall of Will Graham, a highly empathetic and methodical FBI investigator whose psychiatrist is unknowingly the sadistic cannibal Hannibal Lecter. Will uses his unique psychological abilities to hunt and catch killers, many of whom operate in visually ornate ways. The second season pulled from one of Harris’s later novels (also called Hannibal), while the third finally delved into the plot of Red Dragon.

Sadly, the show never got to tackle the most famous story in Harris’s Lecter series: The Silence of the Lambs. The rights to Harris’ books are divided between MGM and the Dino De Laurentiis Company, the latter of which produced Hannibal. That meant the series couldn’t even reference characters specific to the 1988 book. But that didn’t stop Bryan Fuller from dreaming. He hoped to one day tackle the novel, putting his own spin on the iconic FBI trainee Clarice Starling.

Unfortunately, NBC canceled Hannibal after its third season, and those dreams dissipated. But Fuller has gone on the record about his plans for a potential season four, which would have tackled The Silence of the Lambs had he finagled the rights. Here’s everything we know about what the fourth season of Hannibal might have entailed, why we’ll forever mourn that it was never made, but why it could possibly still happen.

Mads Mikkelsen wears a face mask in Hannibal.NBC

Fuller is still keeping the faith

Fuller talked about his hopes of securing The Silence of the Lambs rights even after Hannibal‘s cancellation.

“August 2017 is when we can actually start talking about it,” Fuller told Collider in 2016, a year after Hannibal went off the air. “That’s when we would have to see what the rights are for the character and for the story, and see who’s interested and how we get it done. The cast is game, I’m game. It’s just a matter of finding the right time where everybody’s schedules sync up, but I would love to continue to tell the story with Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen.”

He also had a whole plan for season four mapped out, which he told his actors. Dancy told Collider that the creator pitched the season to him, and called the idea “fantastic.”

“It was a complete restart, without describing it—because who knows, God knows, maybe some way we may be able to do it in the future—but it took us back to the first season in a very unexpected way, and made total sense of that cliffhanger ending; it seemed justified,” Dancy said. “It was born out of a part of one of the books so it was still coming out of that universe, but it wasn’t the Clarice/Silence of the Lambs storyline.”

Indeed, Fuller planned to pull even more content from Red Dragon, which was partially explored in season three. But he hoped to incorporate Lambs content as well. He even had some ideas about casting.

Clarice Starling and the reflection of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.Orion Pictures

A non-white actress would have played Clarice

Fuller stated his plans for the casting of Clarice, made famous by Jodie Foster in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation. He had Elliot Page in mind, but also considered making the character non-white.

“If we get the chance to tell The Silence of the Lambs, I think it would be very interesting to have a Black or non-white Clarice because as much as you want to say, ‘Oh, race doesn’t matter!,’ race totally matters. Race totally changes your point of view. It’s a different experience. That would be something that would make that story worth telling again, in a way that we could do what we did with Red Dragon and Hannibal with that character. I hope we get the opportunity to do that. I would love to see Hannibal: The Silence of the Lambs and see Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal with Clarice Starling. As long as I’m alive, I’ll be trying to do that.”

Fuller also wanted Lee Pace to play Buffalo Bill.

If you recall, Anna Chlumsky played a character named Miriam Lass in the show’s first season. She was an FBI trainee and in many ways a spiritual tribute to Clarice Starling. Fuller had plans to bring her back for season four as well. Maybe as some kind of mentor to Clarice?

Hannibal holds Will's head in his hands.NBC

The Hannibal/Will relationship would evolve

Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham were a popular ship in the fandom, and rightfully so. The chemistry was absolutely there, and Bryan Fuller wasn’t shy about emphasizing their fascinating connection. That relationship was set for even more Hannibal/Will goodness in season four.

“Season four would be a reexamination and reinterpretation of the Will Graham–Hannibal Lecter relationship in a fashion that is unlike anything else we’ve done in the show,” Fuller told Vulture in 2015. “So it is, in many ways, a whole reinvention of the show, in an exciting way.”

We can only guess as to what, exactly, that meant. In 2017, Fuller told Rolling Stone that season four of Hannibal would be “Inception meets Angel Heart.” So…freakishly mind-bending and horrific? That sounds absolutely in keeping with the rest of the series. But he also mentioned that he intended to play with point-of-view, specifically Will’s. Which would likely factor into the whole Hannibal/Will thing.

“There’s going to be considerable mind-palacing and obfuscating of reality, or at least the perception of reality,” he explained.

Sadly, the release of CBS All Access’s Clarice—which started this week—means that a season four of Hannibal is even less likely. But we’ll never say never. Maybe those rights will get figured out, and ten years from now we’ll finally see what Bryan Fuller had in mind. (Maybe it’ll still be set in Cuba, like he teased during Nerdist‘s Hannibal reunion last year.) Anything is possible with the fantastical world of Hannibal.