SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE SERIES FINALE
One of Flame Con’s most passionate panels was undoubtedly its collection of Hannibal fandom, which choked New York Marriott’s Room B to the brim. Its six-person panel arrived adorned in flower crowns, but it honestly felt less like a panel speaking to an audience and more like friends talking to friends about their favorite show.
Panelist Cecil Baldwin of Welcome to Night Vale perfectly captured the spirit of why everyone was here: “Hannibal is queer because [its thesis] is basically ‘Those who don’t recognize the beauty in who I am? Fuck ‘em, I’m gonna eat ‘em!” The queerness of Hannibal progressed rapidly over the course of its three seasons, mainly centering on the sexual chemistry/frustration between its leads—good(ish) guy Will Graham and bad(ish) guy Dr. Hannibal Lecter. According to out creator Bryan Fuller, this wasn’t a conscious choice from the start, but it changed after seeing what the actors brought to their scenes and—most importantly—listening to what fans were picking up by reading between the lines.
“Season One’s queerness was light subtext,” said Baldwin. “Season Two’s was strong subtext, but Season Three was like TEXT!”
The series finale brought Will Graham and Hannibal to their most overtly romantic place yet, embracing and all but kissing as they toppled together off a cliff. “Their relationship is filled with conflict not because they’re gay,” said Hannibal cookbook panelist Aimee Fleck, “it’s because one of them is a serial killer!” The other panelists agreed that Hannibal avoided the pitfall of the Evil Gay trope by making all their characters vaguely sexually fluid. “Also [same-sex couple] Margot and Alanna balance out the iffy Will/Hannibal relationship,” continued Fleck. With so much death and despair, the two women get a happy ending far away from the madness.
But on the panel, it was artist Fyodor Pavlov and burlesque performer Lewd Alfred Douglas who pinpointed the engine behind Hannibal’s greatest superpower—its fanbase. “Hannibal is fan fiction,” said Douglas. “Bryan Fuller came from fandom. He pays closer attention when fans see something in his work that he doesn’t and knows how to work that in a constructive way.”
“Instead of being dismissive and cruel to his audience,” Pavlov said, trying hard not to name any names, “Fuller listened to his audience and felt their temperature about Will and Hannibal.” In the end, Room B agreed that when an artist puts out a book or a show or a movie, it’s only halfway finished. The rest is filled in by the audience—regardless of what its creator wanted or intended.
So what is Hannibal really? Hannibal exists purely in a kind of massive collab between Fuller and the world. In trying to describe the show to friends who hadn’t seen it, Pavlov explained, “It’s about Hannibal Lecter, but also there’s a baby inside a pig, but also gay.”