These reviews were also published at Forced Viewing.

Transformation is a consistent theme in Thomas Harris’s first two novels featuring Hannibal Lecter.

In Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde discovered William Blake’s painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun and experienced an epiphany. By killing, he believed, he could, eventually, become the Great Red Dragon. He even called the act of killing “transformation.”

In The Silence of the Lambs, Jame Gumb loathes his own identity and erroneously believes himself transgender. Judged too unstable to qualify for gender reassignment surgery, Gumb stalks women and skins them. He is tailoring a new skin to wear over his own, a female skin. “A woman suit, made out of real women,” according to another character.

On Hannibal, several killers sought by the BAU also reflect the theme of transformation. In “Coquilles,” Elliott Buddish flayed the flesh from his victim’s backs, fashioning from them wings he used to turn his victims into angels. In “Shiizakana,” Randall Tier constructed a set of mechanical wolf-bear jaws, so he could hunt and kill like the feral beast he knew he always was. In “Entrée,” Dr. Frederick Chilton’s psychiatric malpractice led his patient, Abel Gideon, to believe himself the Chesapeake Ripper, a notion he never quite overcame even after meeting the real Ripper.

As the series’ second season comes to a close, it’s evident that its protagonist, Will Graham, is undergoing a transformation of his own, guided by his therapist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It’s clear that Lecter sees Will as a kindred spirit, albeit one in need of wisdom and guidance, and as such acts as a dark mentor.

But what kind of killer will Will transform into? Not even Lecter can say. “I can feed the caterpillar, I can whisper through the chrysalis,” he tells Will, “but what hatches follows its own nature, and that’s beyond me.”

The new Will Graham is soon to emerge. The old Will’s most recent obsession was bringing Lecter to justice. Certainly the new Will will share that obsession. But have Hannibal’s whispers tainted him? Will he follow a new, darker nature in pursuit of his goal?
Mads Mikkelsen & Mark O'Brien in HANNIBAL: "Shiizakana"

“Shiizakana” (Season 2, episode 9; Apr. 25, 2014)

“…a substantial dish, such as a hot pot”

This week on Hannibal: The BAU team investigates the death of a truck driver whose body was found torn apart, as if by a large wild animal, trained to kill on demand. But when further research fails to determine what kind of animal it was, Will realizes the killer is in fact a human who believes himself a bestial predator. Margot Verger pays Will a visit, and the two discuss Dr. Lecter’s treatment–leading Will to question if he’s the first patient Hannibal has psychologically manipulated.

Werewolvery. Is there any better metaphor for the human condition? Each of us has two faces, the one we wear in public and the one we only show in private? Your friends, neighbors and relatives, the pillar of the community, the respected police officer, the trusted minister: what secrets do they hide? What secrets do you hide? And what would others think of you if they knew those secrets?

Of course, Hannibal being Hannibal, the lycanthropy isn’t supernatural, it’s the result of species dysphoria. And while mild-mannered Randall Tier doesn’t literally turn into a wolf, he does have a set of mechanical beast jaws constructed for the express purpose of rending human flesh from bone. (What kind of beast? “Bear-wolf,” Peter Bernardone eventually determines. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jeremy Davies.) As a child, he had emotional problems and entered therapy, but these days he has a clean bill of mental health–the modern, secular equivalent of being pure of heart and saying one’s prayers at night. (Care to guess who treated him?)

“Shiizakana” takes a different approach to the horror than most other episodes. Hannibal is more about tableaux than murder as a process. When we see the episodes’ central murders in progress, it’s usually through Will’s mind’s eye. (Maybe always?) Here, though, we see severed limbs flying, blood spraying. From its first scene–Will fantasizing/dreaming about killing Lecter, the imagery a callback to Hannibal Rising–the episode operates in full horror-movie mode. It’s effective, but it’s not really what Hannibal does best, is it?

Tier’s story dovetails nicely with Will’s transformation arc when Lecter sends the animal-man to kill his prodigal patient. When Will delivers the corpse to Hannibal, there’s a lot of talk of “even-steven” and “reciprocity” as the two pretend that this is somehow Lecter’s revenge for the Matthew Brown incident. Don’t believe a word: I’ve no doubt that Hannibal expects, even wants Will to triumph. Like so many roles on this show, Randall Tier isn’t really a character; he’s a milestone on Will’s journey into whatever the profiler is turning into. Mark O’Brien’s performance is still terrific, though.

Margot Verger gets the B-plot this week, getting time with both Will and Hannibal. Like everyone on this show these days, Margot’s got a plan, one that gets more complex when she learns some of the details of Papa Verger’s will. Confused by the advice her therapist gave her, she meets up with Will, and the two compare notes. We know the scope of Dr. Lecter’s manipulations, of course, but now it’s time to clue the characters in.

Strains of film noir have been evident in the series’ tone this season (most notably in “Yakimono”), and Katharine Isabelle, slipping into character a bit more comfortably than last week, plays Margot as a femme fatale. The costumers dress her exquisitely, by the way, even better than they did Gillian Anderson.

And thank goodness the dog survived. I think there would have been riots in the streets if Buster bit it.

★★★☆☆

Michael Pitt & Katharine Isabelle in HANNIBAL: "Naka-choko"

“Naka-choko” (Season 2, episode 10; May 2, 2014)

“…another palate-cleanser; may be a light, acidic soup”

This week on Hannibal: The BAU becomes involved in the case of Randall Tier’s death when parts of his body are put on display at the museum, combined with the skeleton of a saber-toothed tiger. Margot visits her sadistic brother Mason, who reveals his latest pig-breeding program to her; later, she visits Will again, and the two have sex. Later, Dr. Lecter pays Mason a visit. Freddie Lounds, having concluded that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper, further researches the connection between the psychiatrist and his star patient, Will.

And now it’s time to meet Mason Verger, someone so evil that he actually drinks the tears of children. (Don’t believe me? Take a gander at Hannibal, the novel, or check out next week’s episode.) He’s not a man, he’s a Card Against Humanity who walks and talks and wears a fur-trimmed coat.

So of course the proper introduction of the character is going to dominate the episode. Even a five-way sex scene can’t top that. Of course it’s not a literal five-way sex scene: it’s Will fucking Margot, but fantasizing he’s cutting in on Hannibal fucking Alana. This is probably meant to show that Will still harbors feelings for Alana Bloom, although I’m sure hundreds of fannibals with Tumblr accounts disagree. And then the Stag-Man shows up and joins in the fun, because…well, do we really need a reason?

And before the sex scene, a theremin solo, because this is Hannibal.

Eventually I’ll get back around to Mason, but the phrase “Will fucking Margot” probably raised a red flag in your head if you know anything about Margot. If you don’t know anything about her, the writers are dropping hints, but I can’t blame you for not picking up on them. Last week, Margot mentioned having “the wrong parts, and the wrong proclivity for parts,” I knew what she meant (because I’m reading Hannibal at the moment) but it still took me ten minutes to parse the sentence. This week, she admits to having an interest in “button-stitching,” which is not exactly the most intuitive euphemism for lesbian sex.

Personally, I think NBC should have let Bryan Fuller write “muff-diving” like he meant to in the first place. This show airs at 10pm Eastern on Friday nights. It’s not like anybody’s actually watching, after all.

Yes, Margot is gay and yet she rode Will like he was California Chrome. Sadly, she cannot simply bump Mason off any time she feels fit, at least not if she expects to inherit the Verger fortune. Her father’s will indicated that, for want of a legitimate male heir, the sole beneficiary of his estate shall be the Southern Baptist Convention (and why I am I not surprised at that?). Therefore, she screws Will and hopes she conceives a boy.

I can’t see this ending well for…anyone, really.

But, yes, Mason Verger, the sickest fuck in the Thomas Harris canon (Lecter doesn’t really count). The writers need to write him big and the actor needs to play him big, and oh boy, does Michael Pitt (famous for Boardwalk Empire and the Funny Games remake) deliver. Most of the time I find that underplaying villains makes them scarier than overplaying them–personalities tend to become less menacing the more over-the-top and cartoonish they get–but Pitt’s performance is a resounding success.

Mason’s explanation and demonstration of the swine-breeding program is one of the most chilling scenes of the season. Let’s just say it involves a human-sized meat statue, dressed up in Margot’s clothes and wearing Margot’s perfume. Mason sends his sister a message, and it’s a clear one: fuck with me again and I’ll feed you to the hogs, family or no.

If my mere words cannot convince you of Pitt’s awesomeness, there’s always this. I am totally looking forward to seeing this asshole receiving his comeuppance.

And if you still don’t think we’ve crammed enough incident into one episode, well…remember how, a few weeks ago, we stepped into the Bizarro World Where We Actually Take Frederick Chilton Seriously? Well, this week, it’s the Bizarro World Where We Actually Take Freddie Lounds Seriously!

Seems she’s the one character this season who’s reached the conclusion that Hannibal Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper on her own, without needing to have Will scream “Crispy lemon calf liver is people!” in her face. Her caution to Alana Bloom comes from a more altruistic place than usual, but that doesn’t mean she’s not still working her own (profit-oriented) angle here. That angle brings her to Will Graham’s barn, where he seems to have what’s left of Randall Tier on ice.

Then there’s a confrontation, which (of course) we don’t see the resolution of…and, later, Will shows up at le maison Lecter with a cut of what he claims is pork, but later admits is “long pig,” with several implications that the supplier of the meat was female. Could Will and Hannibal be eating Freddie Lounds…?

Probably not: remember the contents of the deep-freezer in Will’s barn? But a crucial component of the thematics is the old saying about the relationship between the abyss and the one who gazes into it, and Fuller clearly means us to think that, at this point of the game, if he’s not capable of killing and eating Lounds then he’s damned close. And it’s not like the dinner is somehow made less grisly by the meat coming from Tier.

The bottom line here is, if Will expects to catch Hannibal Lecter he may well have to become Hannibal Lecter. Obviously, I know that’s not going to happen…but I don’t find that fact reassures me much.

★★★★☆

Next on Hannibal: In “Kō No Mono” and “Tome-wan,” Will and Lecter continue their involvement with the Vergers, while Jack Crawford and the BAU investigates the death of a minor adversary and interviews a figure from Hannibal’s past.

Season 2 episode ranking:

  1. “Mukōzuke” (2.05)
  2. “Takiawase” (2.04)
  3. “Su-zakana” (2.08)
  4. “Futamono” (2.06)
  5. “Sakizuke” (2.02)
  6. “Yakimono” (2.07)
  7. “Naka-choko” (2.10)
  8. “Kaiseki” (2.01)
  9. “Shiizakana” (2.09)
  10. “Hassun” (2.03)

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