Time and Taboo Two, or, Hey Everybody! I Watched That Unaired Episode of Hannibal

Some thematic spoilers ahead, I guess, for the first season of Hannibal. It should also be noted that if you haven’t seen “Ceuf,” the unaired episode of Hannibal, and you aren’t aware of the major story elements that resulted in it being pulled from NBC’s schedule, you may want to hold off on the below post until you’ve had the opportunity to watch the episode, as I suspect the episode is more enjoyable the less you know going into it. Or whatever.

In the spirit of Halloween I thought it appropriate to follow up on a post I wrote several months ago regarding an episode of NBC’s Hannibal being pulled from air due to its decidedly dark content.

It's Hannibal.

It’s Hannibal.

The episode in question, entitled Ceuf, was initially set to air the week after the Boston Marathon bombing but was pulled at the behest of show-runner Bryan Fuller, citing the “social climate.” As the media and Fuller were both quick to explain, the story of Ceuf involved a creepy lady, played by SNL-alumni Molly Shannon, who kidnaps young boys and brainwashes them into returning home and murdering their biological families.

You know, sitcom stuff.

In lieu of airing the Ceuf NBC skipped ahead to the next episode and edited together the sections of the unaired show that were deemed important to the overarching narrative of the season, posting them in a compilation to their website as a webisode. I did not watch it.

The full episode later appeared on iTunes and the like. I did not watch it.

I’m not an animal.

Last month, however, the complete first season of Hannibal was released on Blu-ray, and at long last I was able to sit back with months of hindsight and watch Ceuf.

Ceuf is a solid effort, though it falls short on the scale of hook-in-gut tension the later episodes of season one blew clear through. It should be noted, however, that there are important enough details and character moments in Ceuf that viewers that didn’t watch the episode, or the abridged webisode, missed out on.

Not only does the episode shed light on both Will Graham and Hannibal’s respective childhoods as well as their budding will they/won’t they sex/murder tension, in its own quiet way it sets up a fairly significant aspect of the season finale that had previously seemed to me to have come out of left field.

There are also some noteworthy interactions between Abigail Hobbes and Hannibal that directly correlate to the major events that transpire between them in the episode prior. Ceuf is an important stepping stone between Hannibal sleeping at Abigail’s hospital bedside in the end of the series premiere and the creepy Will/Hannibal/Abigail parents-triangle that comes to define the season.

STORY ELEMENT ATTACK!

STORY ELEMENT ATTACK!

These nuances and a single piece of major setup aside, the actual “Killer of the Week” content in Ceuf is significantly tamer than some of the other murderers and crime scenes displayed in most episodes of season one. Given the caliber of violence in the episodes that did air, one would suspect the episode that did not to wield some substantial amount of blood and guts and terror. But considering the episode prior to Ceuf featured a teenage girl impaled on deer antlers and the episode after Ceuf, which aired in its stead, centered on a killer who split his victims’ backs open and folded them out into angel wings suspended with fishing line, Ceuf was actually something of a respite from the visceral imagery that has become the show’s calling card.

There are some dead bodies and bullet wounds, but any true controversy revolving around Ceuf isn’t so much visual as it is conceptual. It’s the idea of the perversion and corruption of youth, the premise of children being emotionally manipulated into violence, that Fuller and NBC decided was a no go in April 2013.

Considering the facts that came to light regarding the Boston Bombing and it culprits, it may have turned out to be a wise call not airing Ceuf so close to those events, but I can’t shake the feeling that had Ceuf aired as scheduled, I probably wouldn’t have connected the two.

I’d be hard pressed to agree that pulling Ceuf from air was a necessary action but I’d be equally unlikely to condemn NBC and Fuller for their decision. They aired on the side of caution and it’s hard to fault them for that.

Anyone preparing to watch Ceuf expecting wildly inappropriate, heinous cultural offenses is going to be disappointed. In fact, anyone who read a press release about why exactly the episode was pulled is likely to end up flat out bored. That it is in fact children being fooled into murdering their own families (which you never actually see happen) is a realization left to the later part of the episode, one that was abundantly given away months ago when the show was first pulled.

Bryan Fuller and NBC feared upsetting viewers in the midst of an extremely upsetting time. Right or wrong, six months later I think it’s safe to say they can leave that fear behind. Between the passage of time, the mystique of vague controversy, the violent heights later episodes would soar to and Ceuf essentially being laid bare in the stale environment of entertainment news posts the episode is, I would argue, anything but controversial, upsetting or dangerous.

I still don’t know what Ceuf means.

And I’m still not going to look it up.

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