When the FBI takes on a case of disappearing college girls, Jack Crawford recruits Will Graham, a gifted criminal profiler with a unique view into the psyche of serial killers, to consult. Jack also seeks the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist, who, unbeknownst to him, is not only one of the most successful serial killers of all time, but also a cannibal. After a copycat strikes, Will and Hannibal join forces to track down the culprit.
Will Graham is at the house of Thomas and Theresa Marlow, a recently murdered couple. Using his extreme focus and imagination to put himself in the mind of the killer, Will is able to determine the motivation behind the murder, and the methods used to to keep the authorities at bay. Some time later, at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Will lectures his students on the same crime, which remained unsolved.
At the end of the lecture, Will is approached by Special Agent Jack Crawford, the head of the Behavioral Science Unit. Crawford tells Will of a series of eight abductions that have been taking place over the past eight months in Minnesota, with the latest one occurring minutes before Crawford introduced himself to Will. Asking to borrow Will's imagination, Crawford recruits Will to the case as a special consultant. Will believes that the murderer has only one "golden ticket," while the other abductees are merely "candy bars" used to mask the murderer's obsession.
At the victim's house, her parents recall to Will and Crawford that she was supposed to take a train home and feed their cat. Will proposes that since the cat was behaving as usual, Emily did feed it, and was abducted from the family house. Declaring the house as a crime scene, Will enters Elise's room, and discovers her corpse lying in her bed. Realizing the killer brought her body back, Will uses his imagination to conclude that the killer bore down to Elise's ribs (same as a deer when attacking its prey), and strangled her to death.
His imaginative reenactment is disrupted by Beverly Katz, a forensics specialist from Crawford's BAU. She shares with Will that two of the other victims had antler velvet in their wounds, leading Will to believe that this was done by the killer to heal the girls and undo his doings as much as possible. The killer could not do to Elise what he did to the previous victims, which was why he brought her back home.
On his way back home, Will comes across a stray dog, and takes it home with him. Naming it Winston, he introduced him to his other eight dogs. That night, Will has a nightmare in which Elise's corpose is sleeping beside him. He wakes up, drenched in sweat. That next day, Will tells Crawford that this case, and this specific killer, has tested everything he knows about profiling.
One of Will's colleagues, Dr. Alana Bloom, tells Crawford that Will suffers from a large amount of fear while working, and warns him to keep Will away from that environment. In the BAU autopsy room, Katz, along with fellow investigators Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller discovers metal traces from the crime scene. Will concludes that the victim was mounted on hooks by the killer. It is also discovered that the victim's liver was removed, then put back. Will realizes that the killer is a cannibal, and theorizes there was something wrong with the meat. It is soon learned that the victim had liver cancer.
Crawford approaches Bloom's mentor, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an expert psychologist, whom he hopes to help Will cope with the stress caused by his line of work. At the FBI Academy, Will and Hannibal meet for the first time. Hannibal notices that Will prefers to avoid eye contact, and his ongoing analysis of Will's neurosis proves to be the wrong approach. Will leaves the meeting, but Hannibal still believes he can help Will find the killer.
In a field in Hibbing, Minnesota,, a female victim is found naked, impaled on a deer's antlers. Will believes that the killer, dubbed the "Minnesota Shrike," wanted the police to find her, and is very well mocking them. The lungs of the victim were removed by the cannibalistic killer, and Will believes that he is a copycat. By putting the facts together, Will concludes that the original killer has a daughter of the same age and physical attributes as the victims, whom he is afraid to lose. Meanwhile, in his kitchen, Hannibal cuts up a pair of human lungs and cooks them. Later that night, Will dreams of a deer.
Hannibal surprises Will at his hotel without Crawford, though with breakfast for the two of them. Throughout breakfast, the two engage in a conversation about the copycat killer, who according to Will, tried to show him the negatives of the killing so Will could see the positives of the real Shrike's murders. Hannibal subtly psychoanalyzes Will, and a friendship seems to be building between the two.
After breakfast, Will and Hannibal visit a construction site in relation to the metals found on one of the bodies. Going through the files, Will finds something odd in the file of a pipe threader, Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Besides his recurring absences, Hobbs listed no address in his letter of resignation from his job. Hannibal purposefully drops a box containing the files, and while Will and a secretary gather up the documents, Hannibal sneaks back into the office, dials Hobb's house, and warns him that the FBI knows about his crimes.
Will and Hannibal drive to Hobbs' house, just in time to watch Hobbs open the door and shoves his wife outside, with her throat slit. As Hannibal remains in the distance, Will breaks into the house and shoots at Hobbs, who slits his daughter's throat. Will shoots Hobbs six more times, killing him. Hannibal then aids Will to stabilize Abigail's bleeding. While Hannibal accompanies Abigail in the ambulance, Will arrives at the hospital later during the night. In her room, Will finds Hannibal and Abigail sleeping, with his hand holding hers.
- Will experiences a series of dreams relating to Elise Nichols' murder. (Dreams)
- Will uses his imagination and empathy skills to visualize the murders of Thomas and Theresa Marlow, and Elise Nichols. (Imagination)
- Will dreams of a victim's body being pierced by antlers of a stag, as well as a dream about a stag in a field; a body in a field is found mounted on the antlers of a stag; Katz mentions finding antler velvet in the wounds of the victims; Hannibal's office is decorated by statues and symbols of a stag. (Black Stag)
- The Incredible Hulk. Will's quote "Don't psychoanalyze me. You won't like me when I'm psychoanalyzed" echoes the Incredible Hulk's famous line "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Will constantly refers to Hobbs' obsession with one "golden ticket," while the other victims are just "chocolate bars."
Book to Show
- The pendulum motif comes from a brief mention of a silver pendulum swinging in darkness in Will’s mind before he enters the Leeds crime scene in Red Dragon.
- Thomas Marlow being shot while coming down the stairs echoes Francis Dolarhyde’s murder of Edward Jacobi in Red Dragon.
- The specifics of Garret Jacob Hobbs’s killing spree and capture are largely consistent with the backstory given in Red Dragon, including Hobbs’s last words, although Hannibal was not involved in the investigation in the book. The show adds the detail that Hobbs was a cannibal, as well as his motivation for the crimes. The nickname “Minnesota Shrike” was not explained in the book, and the show adds the “impaling” element of the crimes. Hobbs’s daughter is unnamed in the book.
- Will and Jack’s dialogue about the way Will thinks is slightly modified from dialogue in Red Dragon.
- Will having written the standard monograph on time of death by insect activity is a detail from Red Dragon (in the book, it’s Zeller who brings it up).
- Will and Beverly’s dialogue about Will not being “real FBI” due to the screening procedures references similar speculation by Freddy Lounds in a Tattler article in Red Dragon.
- The recurring antler/stag motif may have its origins in a sentence about Will from Red Dragon: “He viewed his own mentality as grostesque but useful, like a chair made of antlers.”
- Will waking up and seeing Elise Nichols’s corpse in his bed is inspired by a similar moment with Valerie Leeds in Red Dragon.
- Will and Jack’s dialogue in the bathroom is partially taken from the beginning of Red Dragon, when Jack tries to recruit Will at his home.
- Beverly saying “Gotcha” whenever she recovers a scraping is a detail from Red Dragon.
- The initial scene betwen Jack and Alana is taken almost verbatim from Red Dragon (where Dr. Bloom is a man named Alan). The dialogue occurs in the book when Jack is planning to use Will as bait to catch the Tooth Fairy. (In the book, Alan Bloom teaches at the University of Chicago. In the show, this is changed to Georgetown, presumably to keep Alana closer to FBI headquarters.)
- The use of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” for Hannibal’s introduction references its iconic use in both the book and film The Silence of the Lambs, when Hannibal escapes from custody. The piece has subsequently appeared repeatedly in the franchise, in the book and film Hannibal and the film Hannibal Rising.
- Hannibal having attended boarding school in Paris comes from the book Hannibal Rising, as does his internship at Johns Hopkins. (In the novel, Hannibal’s anatomical drawings earned him a scholarship to a French medical school prior to his Johns Hopkins internship.)
- Hannibal dismissing psychology departments as being filled with “personality deficients” comes from The Silence of the Lambs.
- The “layman” dialogue is modified from a memorable exchange between Will and Hannibal in Red Dragon.
- Hannibal and Will’s back-and-forth when Hannibal initially psychoanalyzes Will is more or less verbatim from a portion of Red Dragon which describes Will’s psyche.
- Hannibal’s line, “Perception’s a tool that’s pointed on both ends,” was delivered by Alan Bloom in Red Dragon.
- Jack being absent because he is deposed in court is likely a reference to the novel Hannibal, wherein Clarice frequently has trouble talking to Jack as he is being deposed on many cases due to his approaching retirement.
- On the audio commentary for this episode, Bryan Fuller says that Hannibal asking Will if he can enter is a reference to vampire myths. In the novel Hannibal, Thomas Harris implies that Hannibal may have more in common with Behavioral Science’s profile of vampires than cannibals, as he disfavors the cannibal’s nomadic existence.
- Hannibal’s line, “We’re just alike,” which will be revisited and recontextualized later in the series, has its origin in a line Hannibal says to Will in Red Dragon: “The reason you caught me is that we’re just alike.”