Hannibal, season 2: “Takiawase,” “Mukōzuke,” & “Futamono”

Hannibal Lecter is many things. Cultured. Intelligent. Calculating. Creative. Ruthless.

One thing we’ve never seen him be, though, is vulnerable. In his cell at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where we see him in Red Dragon/Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs, he’s a powerful figure, arguably holding more power than any other character in either of the stories. We must never believe that his imprisonment makes him inferior to those around him. It certainly doesn’t make him any less dangerous. It just prevents him from acting directly. He’s a hungry spider sitting at the center of an elaborate web.

So how did he end up serving nine consecutive life sentences in a mental institution?

Thomas Harris gives us a few details. “I know I’m not smarter than you are,” Will Graham tells Lecter in Red Dragon. Then how did he catch him? “You had disadvantages.” Such as? “Passion. And you’re insane.”

Hannibal is the story of how Lecter got caught. That makes it the story of his passion and insanity. Over the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes of the second season, we will see Hannibal Lecter be something we’ve never seen him be before: vulnerable.

*   *   *

Once again, Wikipedia’s kaiseki article provides definitions of Japanese culinary terms.

Hannibal: "Takiawase"

“Takiawase” (Season 2, episode 4; Mar. 21, 2014)

“…vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu”

This week on Hannibal: The BAU team’s next case involves the corpse of a man found in a meadow, a beehive inside his half-empty skull. Will Graham conditionally agrees to Dr. Frederick Chilton’s therapy, recovering memories of the night he shot Abel Gideon. Bella Crawford admits thoughts of suicide to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. With Will’s help, Beverly Katz continues to investigate James Gray, the Human Mural killer, and begins to suspect Lecter.

So, how about this week’s tableau? Kinda makes you hungry for a bowl of Honeycomb cereal, doesn’t it?

In all seriousness, though, this is pretty much a flawless episode that will be difficult for the season to top. The human beehive–and, later, the lobotomized, eyeless second victim, whom Jack describes as not dead but “may as well be”–haunt the memory in a way that some of the season’s gaudier tableaux (specifically, the judge in “Hassun” and the city councilman in the upcoming “Futamono”) aren’t. Flamboyant stagings are essential to Hannibal’s format: they’re one of the things that makes this series what it is. But in this episode Bryan Fuller and company dial that flamboyance back a bit–not a lot, just enough for the audience to notice–and it’s very effective.

Indeed, this is one of the prettiest and most visually striking episodes of a series dedicated to revealing the art in horror. The first flashback sequence, in particular, is a real gem. I particularly enjoyed the distortion of Lecter’s face. Like that one picture of Patrick Stewart with four eyes and two mouths, it’s difficult to look at because the brain rejects it as being wrong. And I love how the re-arrangement of Lecter’s references mirrors Will’s clock face.

Other great scenes include the coin flip which decides the fate of Bella Crawford, the chilling acupuncture session, the altercation in the hospital room, and Beverly Katz’s search of Dr. Lecter’s secret cellar. (Incidentally, what exactly is it that causes her to exclaim “Oh, my God”? My bet is that it’s what’s left of Abigail Hobbs, especially considering her presence in the opening fantasy sequence.)

“Takiawase” is the first directorial contribution of Buffy and American Horror Story vet David Semel; it’s a triumph, and I hope to see his name pop up in the credits again.

But, as always, the real meat of the episode comes from their characters, their motivations and interactions. Fuller serves up a fine slab of that figurative flesh in this installment, plenty for the cast (welcome back Gina Torres and Kacey Rohl!) to sink their teeth into–the double-act of Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams get some real gems this week.

The script, credited to Fuller and staff writer Scott Nimerfro, deftly contrasts Lecter with this week’s killer, acupuncturist Katherine Rimms (in her performance, Amanda Plummer demonstrates why she’s the go-to actress for characters like Rimms). Both, it turns out, see death as a cure. But Lecter, it seems, serves a higher philosophical purpose: whether it’s scientific curiosity or pure unadulterated chaos isn’t yet clear. (My money’s on the former, based on the conversation Will has with Gideon in the next episode.) The simple flip of a coin denies Bella the “mercy” Rimms shows her patients.

And of course there’s that final sequence. Will plants the seeds of doubt in Beverly Katz’s mind, and tells her to take the evidence to Jack Crawford. Because Bella tried to kill herself, Jack wasn’t available when Beverly needed him–he was at the hospital with Dr. Lecter–and she takes it upon herself to search Lecter’s home on her own. But because Dr. Lecter saved Bella’s life, she wants nothing more to do with him…which means he gets home earlier than Beverly counted on.

Goodbye, Agent Katz. It was nice knowing you.

Hannibal: "Mukōzuke"

“Mukōzuke” (Season 2, episode 5; Mar. 28, 2014)

“…a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi”

This week on Hannibal: Freddie Lounds, acting on an anonymous tip, finds Beverly’s body on display at the observatory where Gideon attacked Dr. Chilton. Jack Crawford brings Will to the site; Will determines that the Chesapeake Ripper is the murderer, and is also responsible for the Minnesota Shrike copycat killings. Will convinces Chilton to return Gideon to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, so they may discuss Dr. Lecter. Will makes a deal with Lounds to try to flush out his “admirer.”

So, how about this week’s tableau? Kinda makes you want to see a Damien Hirst installation, doesn’t it?

Just when I thought Hannibal couldn’t get any better, it goes ahead and does this. “Mukōzuke” is this season’s “Sorbet,” the Hannibal-est episode of the season. Just about everything that makes the series what it is is on display here, used to its peak effectiveness.

Let’s start with the death and display of Beverly Katz. I feel like I’ve done Beverly and actress Hettienne Park a bit of a disservice in these write-ups, because I’ve not given either the character or the actress much of a spotlight. And I really appreciate what both have brought to the series: this season, Bev often served as a secondary audience-identification character.

On the other hand, I’ve only got a 700 or 800-word budget per episode, and the writing staff used Beverly more to drive plot than to serve as a dispenser of character moments (the way her underlings Price and Zeller do). I’ve tried to shy away from in-depth dissection of plot in my reviews, partly because it’s character, not plot, which tends to drive Hannibal’s narrative, and partly because I’ve no desire to become Television Without Pity.

But it is a loss, for both the audience and the fictional characters. And her place in the series’ most memorable and striking tableau to date comes dangerously close to smacking of cheap exploitation (indeed, Beverly’s death sparked an intense conversation, which Park addressed in a blog post). Especially in the current cultural environment, where certain fandoms seem to fetishize creators’ willingness to wipe out characters, and where series are almost obligated to kill at least one major character off in the first twenty episodes.

But I feel Fuller and company treated Beverly’s death with respect, and the characters’ reactions to it are credible. So, as much as I’ll miss her, I’ll acknowledge her passing as a dramatic necessity.

Moving on, this episode also develops two of Thomas Harris’s best-known second-string villains, Freddie Lounds and Dr. Frederick Chilton. As portrayed in the novels Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs and their film versions, neither character is evil in the same sense that Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde and Jame Gumb are, but they’re both blindly ambitious, selfish, narrow-minded, easily manipulated and out of their depths.

Hannibal doesn’t try to make either of them actually sympathetic, not really, but it does give them dimension they don’t have in the books or movies. Lounds earns a bit of respect by dint of her reaction to Beverly’s tableau, while it’s hard not to like Dr. Chilton for his drive, wit and sense of self-preservation. This doesn’t just come from the writing but from Lara Jean Chorostecki and Raúl Esparza’s performances.

Indeed, every cast member is at the top of his or her game here, especially the guests. I get that Abel Gideon is a deliberate reference to the Anthony Hopkins version of Lecter, but Eddie Izzard turns down the camp several notches, with a performance that says “I’m Abel Gideon” instead of “I’m Eddie Izzard playing a serial killer!” and is more effective as a result. This makes way for Jonathan Tucker’s scene-stealing portrayal of Matthew Brown, the “admirer” killer, which he digs into with gusto, leading to a final sequence that’s as shocking as the episode’s first: the attempted murder of Hannibal Lecter.

It’s a powerful scene, one of the series’ best, not just because of the actors’ performances but because how skillfully it uses the theme common to the first half of season two, that of reversal of the expected. It’s what makes “Mukōzuke” the high-water mark of the season so far. I literally have no idea how the producers can top this. The only thing it’s missing is a dinner party, and as it so happens…Hannibal: "Futamono"

“Futamono” (Season 2, episode 6; Apr. 4, 2014)

“…a ‘lidded dish’; typically a soup”

This week on Hannibal: The Chesapeake Ripper claims another victim: a Baltimore city councillor is found surgically grafted to a tree in a parking lot. Will believes that Hannibal is planning a dinner party, and sure enough, Lecter soon invites Crawford to a gathering at his home. Chilton records Will and Gideon discussing the night at Lecter’s home…but when Crawford questions Gideon, he denies ever having been there, and attempts to deflect suspicion to Chilton. After the party, Lecter has sex with Alana Bloom; while she sleeps, he abducts Gideon from the Baltimore State Hospital. Evidence gleaned from the councilman’s body leads to a shocking discovery.

How fucked up must things be when Frederick goddamn Chilton is the voice of reason? Seriously, though, that meeting between Chilton, Jack Crawford and Abel Gideon is…just…wow.

Starting with the opening confrontation between Will and Jack, and ending with the shocking discovery of Miriam Lass, missing an arm but otherwise very much alive, “Futamono” is an awesome episode packed with awesome moments. “If the Ripper is killing again,” Will tells Jack, “you can bet Hannibal Lecter is planning a dinner party.” At said dinner party, Chilton looks askance at a specimen of haute cuisine.

Afterwards, Hannibal and Alana get it on. Can’t say I blame her. I’d do Hannibal Lecter if I were Alana. Hell, even if I weren’t her I’d probably do Hannibal Lecter. Mads Mikkelsen really is that compelling. From a plot and character perspective, however, it’s not a development I feel very good about. I see the dramatic necessity of turning Alana against Will, but…I dunno, it seems a bit exploitative.

However, the sight of Caroline Dhavernas wearing Hannibal’s dress shirt and nothing else renders my argument invalid.

Later, Hannibal holds a private dinner whose guest of honor, Abel Gideon, also turns out to be the main course. It’s not exactly as stomach-churning as Anthony Hopkins feeding Ray Liotta his own prefrontal lobe, but the look of wry resignation on Eddie Izzard’s face more than makes up for it.

The episode is more black comedy that psychological horror, and as such, it’s a great showcase for Izzard and Raúl Esparza, both of whom put in their best performances in the series so far. In Izzard’s case, it looks like it’ll also be his last performance on the show, save for possible flashbacks. I’ve enjoyed Gideon more this season than in the previous one, but honestly, the character’s probably run his course.

Esparza’s Chilton, on the other hand, is hilarious by dint of believing himself a bastion of sanity unexpectedly thrust into a situation that just keeps getting crazier and crazier. He’s the lone straight man in a comedy filled with funny men, everybody holds him in contempt, and his ambition’s at war with his self-preservation. He’s still a jackass–Channel Awesome’s Rob Walker once described him as “the greatest douchebag character since Walter Peck”–but Esparza’s version of the character is a jackass worth rooting for, and that’s something I thought I would never do.

Miriam, though…who could have guessed that she was still alive? Only everyone who saw “Entrée,” that’s who. Still, since it gives us more Anna Chlumsky, everything probably evens out.

“Futamono” often seems more like a collection of set-pieces than a three-act drama, but when the set pieces are this good, who am I to complain?

Next on Hannibal: Will is released from custody while the BAU team locates a victim of the Chesapeake Ripper, previously thought to be dead, in “Yakimono.” In “Su-zakana,” Will returns to the field, while Hannibal treats an interesting new patient. And in “Shiizakana,” an apparent animal attack turns out to be something far stranger. Jeremy Davies, Chris Diamantopoulos and Katharine Isabelle guest-star; Anna Chlumsky returns.

Season 2 episode ranking:

  1. “Mukōzuke” (2.05)
  2. “Takiawase” (2.04)
  3. “Futamono” (2.06)
  4. “Sakizuke” (2.02)
  5. “Kaiseki” (2.01)
  6. “Hassun” (2.03)
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