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Published on June 1st, 2015 | by Vyctoria Hart

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An Introduction to NBC’s Hannibal

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NBC’s critically acclaimed television horror series Hannibal begins it third season on the 4th of June (10th of June on Sky Living for viewers in the UK). If you missed the first two seasons, or you need a refresher, here’s everything you need to know before the season premiere.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR ALL FOUR THOMAS HARRIS BOOKS, THE FILM ADAPTATIONS AND SEASON ONE & TWO OF HANNIBAL

Thomas Harris first introduced the world to the charismatic cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter in his 1981 novel, Red Dragon. The quintessential, evil psychiatrist wasn’t the main focus of the story. In the 1986 movie adaptation, Manhunter, Dr. Lecter was portrayed by Brian Cox. Though the movie was relatively successful at the box office, the character truly became a cultural icon when he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the Oscar award-winning sequel, The Silence of the Lambs. Harris returned to Lecter’s story with the 2001 follow up novel Hannibal, and went on to detail much of his traumatic early life in the the 2006 prequel Hannibal Rising. Rather than simply create a straight adaptation of each book in turn, Bryan Fuller has taken the four novels to combine them into a single, more linear story. Characters and events that were only briefly mentioned in the books have the opportunity to be developed into much greater depth, adding clarity to matters that were previously only framed in the unreliable narrative of a notoriously devious character.

Adapting any murder story that relies on police procedure and forensic science for modern audiences requires either a consciously period accurate approach or some changes to the source material. With 30 years between the original book and the current time setting for the show, the character of Dr Lecter has had to become a smarter psychopath to keep up with the technological advances in modern police work. The FBI in Red Dragon are still relying on blood types, fax machines and fingerprints to identify their suspects, whilst the laboratory in the television series is able to find literally microscopic clues. Advances in technology work both ways, however, allowing Lecter and others to produce quite spectacular murder scenes, as well as widening the net of potential victims.

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Much of the critical acclaim around the series focuses on its deeply artistic approach to every element of the production. Hannibal Lecter, as well as being a surgeon, a psychiatrist and a cannibalistic murderer, is an accomplished visual artist and a connoisseur of fine art, music and food. The design team have gone out of their way to capture this- a wardrobe filled with sharp, dramatic suits; impeccable interior design in both his office and his home, both bedecked with classical art and symbolic object arrangements; elaborate gastronomic feasts so subtly but realistically mimicking human flesh that even the actors sometimes can’t bare to touch it. If you have an interest in food, art or special effects I recommend spending an hour or two on Janice Poon’s blog where she explains the design and production process for Hannibal’s cooking. Things are rarely what they seem in that kitchen. This sense of artistry is also carried across to the many weekly murder scenes, whether they are intended to be suspected as part of Hannibal’s portfolio or not. The art of creating realistic gore and props has come on leaps and bounds since the Silence of the Lambs movie was made, but being able to build a believable totem pole of body parts in various stages of decomposition and then light and film so that it becomes weirdly beautiful is a skill that takes effort beyond the average police procedural TV show. In the Red Dragon and Hannibal novels Lecter’s affinity with classical art is shown through his most famous murder based on the Medieval medical illustration ‘Wound Man’; however the new Hannibal is not above referencing more recent artistic movements, such as the nod to Damien Hirst in season two.

In addition to the much expanded storyline and the updated technology, more diversity has been to the cast by modifying some characters from their initial appearances in the Red Dragon novel. For example Dr Alana Bloom, originated in the novel’s barely mentioned forensic psychiatrist – Dr Alan Bloom – a small, round, sad-eyed man; rather than the fiery love interest to both leading men that we see in the television series. Similarly the sleazy tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds, originally a “lumpy and ugly and small man” who wrote for the the Tattler newspaper, becomes the sleazy female tattlecrime.com blogger Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki – Camelot) who although small is certainly neither lumpy nor ugly and can easily rival Hannibal in terms of sartorial excess. At the moment, it isn’t currently clear whether Clarice Starling will be appear during the Silence of the Lambs phase of the story due to some issues with the rights that particular character; however Hannibal has been provided with a new unwilling confidante in the form of Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson – The X Files, Bleak House). The addition of a trio of forensic scientists (and occasional comic relief) in the FBI labs and a ready supply of killers-of-the-week makes for a less claustrophobic atmosphere, but the wider range of characters also highlights Hannibal Lecter’s inherent inhumanity.

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Since the title character of the show is so well recognised, and there has never been any doubt about his guilt, Hannibal as a television programme functions primarily as an inverted detective story. Whilst there is a great deal of mystery in identifying the various other criminals that are investigated throughout the series, the viewer knows immediately that Hannibal Lecter is the main villain of the piece. The question is how, and when, the heroes will discover this for themselves.

The original Red Dragon novel followed the retired FBI profiler Will Graham as he pursued the title character, serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, helped and hindered by Dr Lecter from his position in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Known as the Chesapeake Ripper, Hannibal Lecter was an inmate in the secure hospital having been caught by Graham three years previously. The novel is relatively sparing of the details of the past between the two characters, only briefly touching on the artistic tells that gave Lecter away as the murderer and the struggle in which the FBI profiler received a near fatal injury that led to his original retirement. The book also briefly touches on Graham’s first major murder case from years earlier, the serial killer known as the Minnesota Shrike, and this is where season one of Hannibal begins.

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Season One – Apéritif to Savoureux

Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne – Matrix trilogy, Predators, CSI) Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioural Science Unit (BSU)of the FBI is investigating the disappearance of several similar college girls.He brings in profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy – Ella Enchanted, Elizabeth I, King Arthur),   who is able to mentally recreate murder scenes and empathise with the perpetrators in incredible detail, to assist when another girl is reported missing. Graham is suspect of being unstable and at the advice of his friend, the psychiatrist Dr Alana Bloom (Caroline Dehavernas – Wonderfalls, The Pacific), Crawford recruits an outside psychiatrist to monitor Graham’s mental state. Of course this is the title character, Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen – Rejseholdet, King Arthur, Casino Royale) who, in edition to fascinations with art and speciality cuisine, develops an immediate obsession with his patient.

The most recent victim is discovered in her parents home, her body apparently returned as an apology from the killer, who, after impaling her on deer antlers, discovered that she had cancer. The impaling element leads the press to dub the murderer ‘the Minnesota Shrike’ (an American bird that impales its prey) and leads Graham to the conclusion that the killer is ritualistically consuming his victims but was unable to do so in this case due the diseased meat. This is why the other victims had not been recovered, they had been completely consumed. This theory seems to be disproved when a girl is found displayed on a stag’s head in the middle of a field. Graham, however, believes that this ‘field kabuki’ is the work of a copycat, possibly the notoriousserial killer known as the Chesapeake Ripper, as he has not treated her with reverence and has only taken her lungs. This cuts immediately to a scene of Hannibal preparing said organs in a lavish kitchen, setting the tone for the series as a whole. Lecter is frequently on hand at murder scenes or invites the various agents to his upmarket home where he serves them beautiful meals crafted from a variety of mystery meats. When the forensic team finds evidence that allows Graham to identify the Shrike as construction worker Garrett Jacob Hobbs, Lecter engineers an opportunity to alert Hobbs to the FBI’s imminent arrival. Graham finds the Hobbs residence too late to save the man’s wife, whose dying body is thrown from the front door to slow him down, but he does manage to shoot the Shrike while he is in the process of cutting the throat of his own daughter, Abigail (Kacey Rohl – Fringe, The Killing). It is only at this point that Hannibal steps in and helps to save the girl.

Across a background of killers-of-the-week, including a pharmacist who turns diabetics into mushrooms and a cancer patient who is literally making angels, the next few episodes follow the recovery of Abigail and Will Graham, both of whom are haunted by the Shrike murders and the fallout of the press coverage. Whilst Abigail struggles with her own involvement in the killings, Graham finds himself simultaneously disturbed at his feelings satisfaction at having shot Hobbs and plagued by visions of the man’s last words – “See?”.

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Graham sees all too well being unable to separate himself from his empathy with the Shrike and suffers nightmares to the point of sleepwalking far from his rural home. In these nightmares, he is often accompanied by a sinister feathered stag, who begins to appear in Will’s waking world as well. Through all of this,Hannibal subtly influences them both; suggesting to Graham that his satisfaction at killing is comparable to being God and encouraging Abigail to confront her trauma head-on. When Abigail returns to her family home and accidentally kills the brother of the copycat victim, Dr Lecter convinces her that no one will believe that it was self defence and helps her hide the body. Meanwhile, he further insinuates himself into Jack Crawford’s life by counselling his secretly terminally ill wife Bella (Gina Torres – Firefly, Matrix)  and using this to destabilise the Agent-in-Charge. 

Episodes six and seven introduce a character familiar from Silence of the Lambs,  the fame hungry Dr Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza – Law & Order: SVU)  administrator of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.He believes that one of his patients, Dr Abed Gideon (terrifyingly played by British comedian Eddie Izzard) is the true Chesapeake Ripper after he kills one of the staff in exactly the same way as the Ripper’s most famous murder, “The Wound Man”, which is itself based on a medieval anatomical diagram. This is the murder which lead Will Graham to capture Dr Lecter in the original Red Dragon text. In the new universe it is the last known murder committed by the Ripper, with flashbacks revealing that a young trainee agent Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky- My Girl, In The Loop)  traced the victim back to Dr Lecter, who had treated the victim in his role as an ER surgeon several years previously. Unlike Will Graham in Red Dragon, she was immediately overpowered and has been missing for two years. Dr Bloom and Jack Crawford do not believe that Gideon is the true Ripper, but hope to antagonise the real murderer into revealing himself by publishing a news story attributing all his killings to Gideon. In retaliation, the Ripper leaves Crawford the gift of Lass’s severed arm, and he begins a new intense cycle of murders. This is partially to prove the quality of his work, compared to further impostors and misattributions, but mostly to supply a lavish dinner party that Hannibal has been challenged to hold. “Nothing here is vegetarian” and there are cannibal puns for miles.

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Episode eight sees Dr Lecter considering the true nature of friendship in general and his specific relationship with Will Graham. Facing unwanted advances from his patient, the neurotic and hopelessly besotted Franklin, Lecter realises that his murderous nature has been recognised and accepted by Franklin’s friend Tobias, who is currently being investigated over the murder a musician whose corpse has been made into a functional cello. Hannibal rejects his offer of friendship and alerts Will Graham to Tobias’ location. When a bloodsoaked Tobias storms Lecter’s office a short while later, he believes that he has caused Graham’s death, but after a brilliantly choreographed fight scene that puts Mikkelsen’s extensive dance training to excellent use, he expresses genuine relief upon finding that Will has escaped with his life, all though two police officers, the patient, and the suspect have died in the process. This episode also introduces Hannibal Lecter’s own psychiatrist Bedelia Du Maurier who has retired from psychiatry after an attack by one of her patients but who cannot free herself from Dr Lecter.

As Will Graham hunts two more killers-of-the-week, with cameos by Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millennium)  and Ellen Muth (Dead Like Me) , his disconnect from reality becomes more pronounced. He finds himself losing time, hallucinating the nightmare stag everywhere, and unable to perceive space properly (hemispatial neglect), though he is unable to perceive this last symptom for himself. Lecter theorised that this was due to the trauma of the crimes he investigates, but the psychiatrist’s sense of smell, accurate enough that it could detect lung cancer in Bella Crawford, catches the scent of fever.

SNightmareStag

When medical testing proves that Will is actually suffering from encephalitis – causing swelling to the brain – Lecter kills the medical professional who performed the test, framing one of the other killers for the death. Meanwhile, the body of Abigail’s own victim has been uncovered and Hannibal admits his own involvement to Will, using the sick man’s guilt at having killed Abigail’s father to ensure his silence and thus binding the three of them together in guarding Abigail’s future. Abigail goes on to admit to Hannibal that she had an active role in her father’s murders, having helped to select and lure his victims in the hope of keeping herself alive. As Graham’s untreated medical conditions worsens, driving his hallucinations into greater severity, Dr Gideon escapes from the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and begins targeting his own doctors, mutilating but not killing Dr Chilton before setting his sights on Alana Bloom.

Will manages to intercept the killer, only for Hannibal to convince him that the encounter was another hallucination. Graham manages to find Gideon a second time and incapacitate him but collapses himself in the process. Whilst recovering in hospital but still suffering from severe hallucinations and loss of time, Will begins to piece together the natureof the various copycat murders and Abigail’s involvement in the Shrike murders. Abigail turns to Lecter for comfort and he admits his own murderous habits and apologises for being unable to protect her.

The season finale begins with a delirious Will Graham vomiting up a portion of Abigail’s ear. He is promptly arrested by Crawford for her murder. The Agent-in-Charge believes Hannibal’s assertion that there is no medical cause for Graham’s condition (apparently this wasn’t investigated by the hospital) although Alana is unconvinced, having seen evidence of his hemispatial neglect for herself. When he forensic team searches Will’s home, they discover a collection of handmade fishing lures featuring pieces of the copycat’s victims. Graham escapes from custody during a prisoner transfer, going to Lecter, who describes exactly how Graham could have committed the murders without being aware of it. The two of them return to the Hobbs house, where Will finally realises that Hannibal has been manipulating him all along. Crawford stops Will from killing the psychiatrist and the first season ends with Will Graham incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.WillPrison

 Season Two – Kaiseki to Mizumono

This season begins at the end, with an extremely tense fight scene between Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter in the psychiatrist’s home kitchen. After much dramatic leaping over counters and knives going through butcher’s blocks, Crawford manages to lock himself in the pantry to nurse a stab wound to the neck. This is a flash forward by three months to the season finale and it is most unfair to make the viewers wait 13 episodes to find out what happens next. A device that some viewers might recognise from season 2 of Breaking Bad.

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Back in the present: Will Graham is still languishing in the secure hospital awaiting trial; the FBI, Crawford, and Bloom disagree on how to proceed with his case and how his illness was handled; and Hannibal is helping the BSU trace a killer who preserves and sews his victims to one another. The murderer is revealed to be making a human palette inside a grain silo; impressed with his work, Lecter kills the man and makes him part of the palette, rather than informing the FBI team of the situation. The man is found in situ and initially mistaken for a victim. Will knows that Hannibal set him up and asks Bloom for help in retrieving the memories he lost during the encephalitis fever. Though they are sparse, they do include Will being force fed Abigail’s severed ear by Dr Lecter. Due to Hannibal’s seeming lack of progress with the current investigation,  one member of the BSU forensics team, Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), maintains contact with Graham for help on the case and promises to look for evidence of his own innocence. Meanwhile, Bedelia, who is revealed at the end of season one to know more about Hannibal’s proclivities than she originally let on, cuts all ties and goes into hiding, after a single visit to Graham to express her support. It is revealed that Hannibal killed the patient who attacked Bedelia by convincing him to swallow his own tongue, a reference to Lecter’s defense of Agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs.

By episode three, Will Graham’s trial has begun, after he refused a deal to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty. It quickly becomes clear that someone is trying to prove his innocence when Graham’s lawyer receives an ear in the mail, cut using the same knife as the one that cut the ear from Abigail Hobbs. The ear is immediately followed by the dramatic gift of an courtroom bailiff, mounted on a stags head in the middle of a burning apartment, showing injuries similar all the victims that Graham has been accused of killing. However the similarities aren’t accurate enough and the trial continues briefly, before being interrupted by the judge also being murdered and displayed in the attitude of Lady Justice, but minus a brain and most of his skull. Sadly for Will, this only causes a mistrial, so he remains incarcerated and agrees to further treatment with Dr Chilton, leading to the realisation that Lecter intentionally left the encephalitis untreated and encouraged its development. Chilton informs Hannibal of his knowledge of the situation but does nothing with it.

In the meantime, Hannibal has continued his own treatment of Crawford’s wife, encouraging her to commit suicide rather than face a long, slow death from her cancer. However, when she actually attempts the act using morphine in his office, Lecter chooses (via coin flip) to save her with an anti-opiate, leaving her angry and Jack frightened by the choices she has made without consulting him The forensic scientist Beverly recognises the link between the final victim in the human palette case and suspects Lecter’s involvement. Against the advice of Graham, and every viewer shouting at the screen, she ventures into Hannibal’s cellar and finds the freezers full of human flesh. We next see Beverly in the pre-title sequence of the next episode, sliced thinly and suspended in glass frames, which seems to be a reference to the artist Damien Hirst’s Formaldehyde period, specifically the piece Some Comfort Gained from the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything, which has a rather appropriate title in the circumstances. 

Beverley

Will discovers that the bailiff was killed by one of the hospital orderlies with the aim of proving Graham’s innocence (though he denies responsibility for the judge), the orderly then offers to ‘serve’ Will who takes the opportunity and asks for Lecter’s death. This conversation is overheard by Abel Gideon, who has been returned to the hospital in the hope of gaining further information on the Ripper. Gideon alerts Bloom and Crawford is able to save a speedo-clad Hannibal from a pool side hanging/crucifixion. Graham denies his part in the failed murder but uses the meeting with Crawford to convince him that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper, pointing out the patterns of grouped killings and signs of trophy taking from the bodies. He advises Jack to watch for Hannibal hosting another lavish dinner party, which he does right on cue, leading to an hilarious sequence in which a paranoid Crawford and a disgusted Chilton try to surreptitiously take samples of the various hors d’oeuvres. Naturally, no evidence of human meat is found. Gideon has told Graham that he remembers the last time they met, including details that Hannibal had insisted were a delusion. Although Chilton overhears this, Gideon denies it when questioned by Crawford. Lecter then kidnaps Abel Gideon, murdering one of his guards in the process using fishing lures made from pieces of all his previous victims. Gideon is murdered at Lecter’s dining table having been forced to consume his own cooked leg. Hannibal has been cultivating a physical relationship with Dr Bloom during the course of the season and uses her as a trustworthy alibi in the eyes of Jack Crawford. 

Hannibal - Season 2

Further evidence in the fishing lures proves Graham’s innocence and also leads to a farmhouse where Miriam Lass (see season one) is found alive, with no memory of her confrontation with Dr Lecter. Although she has few memories of her captivity, Miriam insists that Hannibal was not her kidnapper; however, discussions with Graham about his psychiatric treatment at the hands of both Chilton and Lecter are familiar to her, placing them both as suspects. Hannibal leaves Gideon’s mutilated corpse in Chilton’s home and kills the agents sent to detain him. After a failed attempt to flee the country, Chilton is brought into custody where a confused Miriam identifies him as her captor and then promptly shoots him the face.

Will seemingly reconciles with Lecter at this point, returning to their therapy sessions and the pursuit of further killers-of-the-week, including a social worker who buries his victims alive and a man who believes he is an animal trapped in a human body. This second killer is a former patient of Lecter’s whose delusions he encouraged rather than treating. In retaliation for the orderly, Hannibal asks this man, who wears a mechanical exoskeleton to better function as a beast, to kill Will Graham for him. Lecter is pleasantly surprised to find that Graham has killed the beast man himself and displayed the body on Lecter’s own dining table. Graham declares that they are now even in both attempting to have one another killed and suggests that they ‘honour’ the dead man by combining his remains with a Smilodon skeleton at the local museum, thus making him in death the animal he believed he was in life. Lecter welcomes this new-found understanding between them and, when he plans to kill Freddie Lounds, a journalist who still believes him to be the Chesapeake Ripper, he is delighted when she vanishes on the way to a meeting with Graham, who later brings ‘long pig’ for the psychiatrist to prepare for dinner.

Unhappy families: Mason & Margot Verger

Since his release from custody, Will has been romantically involved with one of Lecter’s other patients, Margot, who has been systematically abused by her brother Mason Verger, an obscenely rich and dangerous sadist. The character of Mason first appeared as the crippled villain in the novel Hannibal   and although he was ably portrayed by Gary Oldman in the film adaptation, Michael Pitt (The Village, Boardwalk Empire)  does an excellent job of capturing his twisted, darkly terrify youth as he first meets Hannibal Lecter. Concerned that Margot will be indiscreet concerning Mason’s own proclivities, he approaches Dr Lecter who agrees to take him on as a patient, since any of his actions would then be covered by the rules of doctor-patient confidentiality. It soon becomes clear that Mason’s perversions are wide reaching, including incest and using his family’s wealth specifically to breed pigs to eat human beings alive. Margot is in therapy after trying to murder Mason, which in itself was a reaction to Mason’s sexual abuse and his demands to father an heir with her. Mason in incensed when he discovers, via some hinting from Dr Lecter, that Margot is pregnant with Will Graham’s child instead and has her forcibly sterilised, ensuring that she cannot produce an heir and take control of the family fortune. Graham threatens to feed Mason to his own pigs but does not follow through on the threat. Hannibal suggests to Margot that revenge would be more satisfying than murder in this case. After his encounter with Graham, Verger begins to suspect that Lecter is manipulating them all and attempts to have Hannibal fed to his pigs. His employees underestimate Lecter and Graham, who overpower them and capture Mason instead. Using psychedelic drugs, Hannibal manages to persuade Mason to eat his own face before snapping the man’s neck, leaving his paralysed and at the mercy of his sister’s care.

Meanwhile, the body of the journalist has been recovered, leading Alana Bloom to suspect that Will was involved in the woman’s death. Attending the funeral, he further implies his involvement before the gravesite is disturbed with the body posed in apparent praise of the woman’s killer. When Alana confronts Crawford about the situation he reveals that the journalist is actually alive, the whole thing is a ruse. Jack has also traced Bedelia and discovered the truth about her retirement. Will suggests, that since they will both soon be caught, Hannibal should come forward to the FBI. Lecter disagrees and as he begins destroying his patient records, lest the FBI realise how many of his patients have actually been murdered or manipulated by him, Hannibal recognises the journalist’s distinctive perfume around Graham. Having shared a last meal, Will leaves only to be contacted by Alana to say that the plan is failing, the FBI top brass have been alerted to the plan to entrap Lecter and Crawford has been suspended. Graham calls Hannibal to warn him of the danger, as Hannibal once did for Hobbs, but Crawford is already at Lecter’s home. The season has come full circle and we are back at the opening sequence. All pretence of humanity gone, Lecter attacks Crawford, stabbing him in the throat and hand before the Agent can retreat to the pantry. Alana has also found her way to Lecter’s home, confronting him at gunpoint when he reveals that “Jack is in the pantry”. Given their relationship, Hannibal offers her one chance to leave. She rejects the offer and attempts to shoot him with a gun that he has already emptied. Fleeing through Lecter’s house, Alana finds herself on a landing confronted by an unexpected houseguest, the one eared Abigail Hobbs. With an apology, Abigail pushes her through a window. Will finds her bleeding on the pavement outside Lecter’s home and calls for backup before entering the house to look for Crawford. Graham instead finds Abigail, who apologises for following Hannibal’s lead after her own crimes were uncovered. Lecter then embraces Will, explaining that he saved Abigail as a surprise gift whilst simultaneously stabbing Graham in the gut for his betrayal. Will collapses as Hannibal says that he forgives him and wonders if he’ll ever do the same, cutting Abigail’s throat in the process. Lecter casually leaves Jack, Alana, Will and Abigail to bleed, and the season finale ends with him and Bedelia on board a flight to France.

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Vyctoria Hart

Vyctoria Hart

Steampunk illustrator, disabled cosplayer, cat wrangler, maker of terrible puns. I draw under the name of Phantoms Siren.
Vyctoria Hart

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