The popular-cultural image of Hannibal Lecter, the one we all see in our heads, is of the Anthony Hopkins version of Lecter in his cell, leering out at Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling.
The front half of Hannibal’s second season delights in reversing familiar concepts, twisting them from what we-the-audience see in our heads as the “proper” way for them to be. “Savoureaux” already gave us a glimpse of this. It ended with Lecter outside the cell, peering in at Will Graham, incarcerated for crimes Lecter committed.
The series will gain a lot of mileage out of placing certain characters in other characters’ roles in the first half of season two. But we know it can’t last. We know how things are going to end; we knew before we even turned on the TV to watch “Apéritif,” we knew even before we knew Hannibal was going to be a real show that someone was going to produce.
Because we know, we’ve always known, that the FBI will eventually catch Hannibal Lecter.
We don’t know exactly how that’s going to happen. But there’s only one course this story can take. Will’s innocence and Hannibal’s guilt must both be proven. Lecter ends up in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, there to consult with Will on the Tooth Fairy case, and later with Clarice Starling when Buffalo Bill strikes.
We’re not there yet. But the show’s second season gives us a glimpse of it, and the first three episodes lay the groundwork for the journey.
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As with the first season, the episodes take their titles from culinary terms. In this case, they come from Japanese (a reference to Lecter’s aunt, Lady Murakami?) tradition of kaiseki, which gives the first episode its name. Wikipedia’s article on kaiseki supplied definitions of the terms.
For a quick refresher on the events of season one, read my Season 1 Recap.
“Kaiseki” (Season 2, episode 1; Feb. 28, 2014)
“…a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner”
This week on Hannibal: In the wake of Will Graham’s arrest and incarceration, the FBI Inspector General’s Office opens an investigation into Jack Crawford’s conduct. Half-a-dozen artificially preserved bodies are found in a river, and Jack brings Dr. Lecter in to consult. Lecter theorizes that the killer is making a human model collection. But the connection between the victims remains a mystery until Beverly Katz shows the evidence to Will–without Jack’s sanction. Meanwhile, a therapy session with Dr. Alana Bloom gives Will the first tool he needs to prove his innocence.
Hannibal’s second season kicks off with a bit of a dirty trick. First it shows us Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter trying to kill each other. Then, after the fight’s not entirely decisive climax, it flashes back to TWELVE WEEKS AGO to Jack and Hannibal chowing down in the Chez Lecter dining room, as if nothing in the world were wrong with their relationship.
Often times, shows offer a brief glimpse into the narrative’s “future” to witness a particularly dramatic event to generate interest in the following material set in the “present.” In theory, this makes the material more exciting because the viewer wants to see how things progress from the status quo to the game-changer. I call this a bit of a dirty trick because too much of the time, the narrative “present” can’t stand on its own unaided and is only compelling because we know what it’s leading up to.
Of course, that’s not what Hannibal is up to at all. The Crawford/Lecter fight isn’t a game-changer. The game-changer has already happened. It happened when it was clear that Will was going down for those five murders. It’s the familiar dynamic in reverse: Hannibal plays Will’s part on the outside (he even tells Dr. du Maurier that he “got to be Will Graham today”), while Will consults from the inside.
Most of the episode concerns itself with the characters coming to grips with the new state of play, and in terms of story-arc advancement, doesn’t rock the boat too much with the similar goal of allowing the audience to get used to the regime change. The exception is the relationship with Lecter and du Maurier, which is clearly coming to some sort of breaking point–albeit an exceedingly mannered one; this is Hannibal, after all. The body language between Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson is exciting in this episode, and their “confrontation,” such as it is, is the highlight of the episode, a triumph for everyone involved: not just the actors, but the writers and director as well.
And have I mentioned Mikkelsen shoving a tube down Hugh Dancy’s throat yet? I guess I just did.
The case-of-the-week–the killer who’s making lacquered human models out of his victims (not too far removed, then, from making a woman suit out of real women)–doesn’t come into play until well into the second act. As usual, it’s less interesting as a plot than it is as a vehicle for the show’s theme of reversal. Ditto with the “internal affairs” investigation: it’s just there to help Jack feel tortured over what happened to Will, and it’s pretty clear that Cynthia Nixon’s Kade Prurnell isn’t going to play all that important a role.
It seems fitting to end this with a fishing metaphor. At this point, I’m hooked (you are too, ideally), and I’m looking forward to seeing how Bryan Fuller and company decide to reel me in.
“Sakizuke” (Season 2, episode 2; Mar. 7, 2014)
“…an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche”
This week on Hannibal: The muralist strikes again, and Lecter correctly deduces the killer’s base of operations–but keeps the information to himself for his own, unsanctioned investigation. Will continues to analyze evidence for Beverly, but on one condition: she must investigate his innocence. Dr. Bedelia du Maurier breaks off her therapist-patient relationship with Lecter.
Over the past four years I’ve watched at least four hundred and fifty horror movies and episodes of horror-oriented television series. I’m not totally desensitized to ickiness to the point where I can watch a Lucio Fulci movie and walk away asking, “That all you got?” but I do like to think I’m no longer squeamish.
But goddamn, is it ever hard to watch the cold open to “Sakizuke.” The sight of poor, doomed–and, not incidentally, lacquered–Roland Umber tearing himself out of the human sculpture makes me flinch every time. Once again, I’m gobsmacked by what NBC will let Bryan Fuller get away with. Indeed, if the series lasts, its Friday night time slot and perennially in-the-toilet ratings might be a boon to the production team. Fringe spent two years on the same night, an hour earlier, numbers only slightly higher than Hannibal’s, and was able to take creative risks that a more popular show might not have been.
The episode keeps the upward momentum flowing. Umber’s suffering isn’t even the most powerful scene in the episode, or even the most powerful death. The most memorable moment is also its centerpiece: Lecter, in resplendent in his transparent plastic jumpsuit, peeks through the top of the grain silo, down at the muralist, and says, “I love your work.” The philosophical conversation Will later imagines Hannibal having with the dying artist (including a reprise of the “Killing must feel good to God, and are we not created in His image?” line) is almost as good. This is Mads Mikkelsen’s world, people. We’re only living in it.
The rest of the cast get a few good ones in as well, particularly Hettienne Park and the always-welcome Raúl Esparza, but mostly Hugh Dancy. (Bedelia du Maurier introduces herself to Will as Hannibal Lecter’s therapist, to which he responds, “What’s that like?”) Will’s working out how to influence events on the outside, and he realizes he’s not as powerless as he–and everyone else–think he is.
And, of course, there’s the apparent departure of Gillian Anderson. Writing out du Maurier was almost certainly a necessity demanded by Anderson’s commitment to Crisis, and her departure subplot seemed a bit rushed, but it was all worth it for that sad puppy dog look on Lecter’s face at the very end, when he broke into du Maurier’s house with the presumed intent to kill her, but only found rooms full of covered furniture. One hopes we haven’t seen the last of her, and not just because one has had a crush on her since the glory days of The X-Files.
But before she goes, she confirms what I’ve long suspected: that Hannibal didn’t frame Will because he needed a patsy; he’s testing Will. Can he be the friend that Abigail Hobbs wasn’t, and that Tobias Budge never had a chance of being? Time will tell.
“Hassun” (Season 2, episode 3; Mar. 14, 2014)
“…the second course, which sets the seasonal theme”
This week on Hannibal: Will’s trial begins, with the prosecution painting him as an intelligent, creative psychopath, and the defense claiming that Will’s encephalitis rendered him not responsible for his actions. Will’s lawyer receives a suspicious package, sowing seeds of doubt in Will’s guilt. Does Will have an “admirer,” someone willing to tamper with the trial to get Will off the hook?
There’s always some camp at play in Hannibal but it’s a bit too close to the surface in “Hassun,” starting with the scene where Will’s lawyer opens the package and a severed ear falls out. “Think I opened your mail,” he says to Will. Ho-ho! Or how about Freddie Lounds’s getup? Or the Stag-Man taking the stand? “I swear to eat the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with some fava beans and a nice chianti?”
Okay, maybe I’m overstating things just a bit. But the episode tends to go a tiny bit over-the-top a few too many times. Not to say that the show’s not flamboyant, but its sweet spot is just a couple of inches below the top, not above it. Even the episode’s first tableau (the victim killed and then mutilated in a ways that suggest all five of Will’s supposed murders) seems like it belongs more on American Horror Story than Hannibal, and that’s before the lawyer describes it as “Will Graham’s greatest hits.”
Not to say that the episode doesn’t have a lot going for it. I liked the sly social commentary in regards to the legal system (Will’s best chance, pragmatically speaking, comes not from proclaiming his innocence but from insisting he doesn’t remember whether he did or not). The scene where Alana denies ever having been romantically interested in Will crackles with tension, at least until the lawyer comes in with the line about tracking Young Adult all over the courtroom floor. Raúl Esparza and Lara Jean Chorostecki perform most of the heavy lifting for Chilton and Freddie because the script doesn’t really bother.
And, of course, there’s the second tableau, which skates right up to the line separating good-ridiculous from bad-ridiculous but knows which side it needs to be on.
But I think the basic, fundamental weakness of “Hassun” is that it’s a filler episode when it doesn’t need to be: we’re going to have to do the trial at some point so let’s just get it over and done with. That’s probably not fair but that’s how this episode feels, like it should be more essential but somehow isn’t.
On the other hand, I can’t deny that even a weak episode of Hannibal is better than most of what the networks churn out when they’re running at full steam.
Next on Hannibal: Will agrees to an unconventional form of treatment while Bella Crawford’s condition takes a turn for the worse in “Takiawase.” In “Mukōzuke,” tragedy strikes the BAU team, while Will finds himself making strange alliances. And the Chesapeake Ripper kills again in “Futamono,” giving Will his best chance to prove his claims to Jack. Amanda Plummer and Jonathan Tucker guest-star; Eddie Izzard and Gina Torres return.
Season 2 episode ranking:
- “Sakizuke” (2.02)
- “Kaiseki” (2.01)
- “Hassun” (2.03)