As a horror aficionado and leader of TV’s horror renaissance, Bryan Fuller appreciates the art of subtext. The prolific writer and producer’s new Shudder docuseries, “Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror,” makes a strong case for horror’s queer origins, finding hints of homoeroticism in almost every corner of the genre. Fuller brings an appreciation of queer subtext to all of his work, as fans of “Hannibal” know all too well.
The psychological thriller series, which ran for three seasons from 2013-2015 on NBC, starred Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy as serial killer Hannibal Lecter and criminal profiler Will Graham, respectively. With such highly skilled actors, the tension between the characters was ripe. Last year, Mikkelsen shared that he and Dancy shot a few takes where they kissed, but Fuller thought it would be too “obvious.” As fans held out hope for some confirmation of their suspicions that never came, opinion seems fairly divided on whether “Hannibal” is an example of artful queer subtext or network TV queerbaiting.
As an out gay television creator who often features LGBTQ+ characters in his work, Fuller does not take kindly to the latter accusation.
“I was trying to tell an authentic story because I think exploring queerness from a heteronormative point of view is a complicated path,” Fuller said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “It certainly started out as a non-sexual same-sex couple experiencing a greater intimacy than they’ve ever experienced before. Then being able to transition through that to an intimacy that was qualified as love. Then a physical intimacy between them, where they are both penetrating a man, that is a culmination of their relationship with each other. Then falling into each other’s arms and over a cliff. I never felt that I was queerbaiting. I think that’s a buzzword for a lot of folks to find something to complain about because it feels like they were duped or misled.”
He singles out the character Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), a psychology professor and former student of Lecter’s who develops a relationship with a woman in Season 3.
“I’m just as proud of the explicit queerness of that relationship,” Fuller said. “The growing queerness of what’s happening between Will and Hannibal never felt exploitative. It felt authentic about somebody who once identified as heterosexual having a complex, intimate relationship with somebody of the same sex. Then going on a journey with those feelings to what lies down the path felt less coded and more authentic to the story of this man on this journey. Because it became explicitly queer in terms of the conversation about loving each other and where that love was going to take them, I think to dismiss it as queerbaiting is cynical and a little bit of assholery, honestly.”
Talks of a Season 4 revival have circulated for years, with Mikkelsen saying he’d happily return to the role. The cult classic gained renewed attention when all three seasons arrived on Netflix in 2020, reigniting buzz over a possible fourth season. Fuller says Mikkelsen, Dancy, Dhavernas, and Hettienne Park have all indicated they’d love to continue the series.
“There’s a fantastic future for these queer characters, for the murder husbands and the murder wives,” he said. “There’s a lot more story to be told, and I hope we get a chance to do it. We just need somebody to want to put it on their airwaves.”