I'm on season three of The Fall, and I'm loving it. It's the most Feminist perspective on crime fiction I've ever seen. Every time I think it's going to turn back to the usual sexist perspective, it teaches me about my own assumptions. The writers are deeply knowledgeable about Feminism. They also seem to know a great deal about psychology--that's important when your show is about serial killers. The psychological aspect of crime is one of the reasons why I enjoy stories like this. (Psychology was one of my majors, after all.) Now that I've hit season three of the The Fall, the reason why I bounced so hard when I hit Hannibal became clear.
I'm going to attempt to discuss this without spoilers.
Throughout, The Fall has always made the non-standard choice with its POV character Stella Gibson. When she sleeps with men she treats them as men have historically treated women. She limits the intimacy. She keeps well-defined boundaries. When men cross lines, she calls them out on it. (And if they ignore the warning, she breaks their nose.) She points out that rape is rape and so is attempted rape. She doesn't let men fool themselves into thinking that just because they're not wearing a black mask and lurking in the shadows doesn't mean it's not assault. Over and over, when the men around her exhibit sexism she calls it out. Her consistency is amazing and brilliant. We've all internalized misogyny. It can't be helped. So, Stella even surprises me from time to time. For example, when one of her sexual partners tries to imply that she's sexually attracted to the killer, Paul Spector--because, You know, powerful men are hot. Am I right? [wink, wink, nudge, nudge] Her response is perfect. She talks about the study where men were asked why they hate women so much? What do they fear? The answer was: they were afraid women would laugh at them. When women were asked the same question the answer was: they were afraid men would kill them. The bed partner blinks, not understanding what this has to do with his question. She then says, "I'm not attracted to Spector. I hate him with every fiber of my being." Hearing that story trope (Beauty and the Beast) juxtaposed with that interview data made something click in my brain. And that's why during the last episode of The Fall's season two I wasn't fooled. Stella is very clear about sexism. She's also very clear about herself and her own motives--too clear to be easily sucked in by the very thing that her bed partner implied.
Whenever women are placed in scenes with men for an extended period of time it's assumed they will become romantically involved no matter how inappropriate the match. It's a trope.
And that's the reason why I hated Hannibal suddenly clicked into place. I'd read Silence of the Lambs. It's brilliant. In fact, it's one of my favorite novels. It's one of the few times a female protagonist is matched against such an intelligent and horrific antagonist, and not only does she come out on top--they never fuck. Clarice Starling is not a man in a woman suit, nor is she a Fighting Fuck Toy™. She's a complex character. She's real. And when she falls hopelessly in love with Hannibal in the next novel it rang false. It felt like a betrayal of the character. She was never in love with Hannibal. He scared the shit out of her. I believe Hannibal could fall for her. Sure. He's every bit arrogant enough to assume that. But Clarice would never fall for Hannibal--he's everything she stands against--everything she worked her whole life to fight. There is no way in hell. There just isn't. The assumption that power is what attracts women and trumps (pun intended) every other repugnant quality is a sexist myth. It's one that is internalized by women, certainly. (see Beauty and the Beast) However, that doesn't mean it's okay or even that it's truth. It needs to die.
Many thanks to the writers of The Fall for doing their part in that effort.