These reviews were also published at Forced Viewing.

Upon first meeting the man, you’re not likely to think him particularly impressive or formidable. He is bedridden, paralyzed from the neck down, his head perched atop a body nearly wasted away to nothing. That head is a horror to behold. Clarice Starling, in the novel Hannibal, sees him as “noseless and lipless, with no soft tissue on his face,” and as being “all teeth.” He only has one eye, and no lips, which results in a peculiar speech impediment.

Yet he is quite possibly the sickest and most deranged character invented by Thomas Harris, creator of Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde and Jame Gumb.

His name is Mason Verger.

At some point in Harris’s version of the past, Verger pled guilty to what he called “trumped-up molestation counts” in exchange for therapy and five hundred hours of community service served at a dog pound. His court-ordered therapist was Dr. Hannibal Lecter. One night, Verger invited the psychiatrist to his mansion, hoping to lure Lecter into a compromising position he could later exploit. Lecter dosed Verger with a combination of amyl nitrite, LSD, PCP and various methamphetamines. In this suggestible state, Hannibal persuaded his patient to peel off his own face with a shard of glass and feed it to his dogs. Then he broke Verger’s neck with a noose intended for autoerotic asphyxiation.

The events of Hannibal, the television show, take place before these fateful events.

Bryan Fuller’s interpretation of Hannibal Lecter and Mason Verger’s shared history differs from Harris’s. The depths of Verger’s sexual depravity are merely hinted at, his incestuous sexual relationship with his sister Margot replaced with one of physical abuse and torture. But he remains a chilling portrait of sadism and psychopathy. Mason Verger denies himself no pleasure, and his greatest pleasure comes from hurting others. His great wealth guarantees that he has never suffered the consequences of his actions.

That’s about to change.

Mads Mikkelsen & Hugh Dancy in HANNIBAL: "Kō No Mono"

“Kō No Mono” (Season 2, episode 11; May 9, 2014)

“…seasonal pickled vegetables”

This week on Hannibal: Freddie Lounds turns up dead and the prime suspect is Will Graham. Margot Verger is pregnant, and she informs both Will (the father) and Hannibal Lecter. She keeps the pregnancy a secret from Mason, but he later finds out about it from Dr. Lecter. Alana Bloom’s growing paranoia becomes justified when she realizes Hannibal is a killer.

If the opening scene seems familiar, it should: it’s how Freddie Lounds died in Red Dragon.

Bryan Fuller isn’t accelerating events, though, at least not in this storyline. I can’t see Fuller greasing such an important character so early, before the events of Red Dragon, and he keeps all-but-telling interviewers that Frederick Chilton is still alive. I even laid out a more probable donor than Freddie for the meat eaten at the end of the previous episode. So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when Jack Crawford revealed to Alana Bloom that the BAU has Freddie under wraps, but I was. (“How was my funeral?” Freddie asks Alana.) Call me gullible, I guess.

This reveal comes on the heels of an important turning point. Someone digs up Freddie’s “corpse” and restages it, giving Alana the chance to do some profiling of her own. Freddie’s killer didn’t do it, and a light-bulb switches on over her head at the suggestion that the murderer might have a mentor. If Will killed Freddie, that makes his benefactor…

…that’s right, Hannibal Lecter. Alana confronts Jack, and Jack spills the beans: it’s all part of the plan to trap Lecter. Hannibal forced Will to kill Randall Tier, but he requires a greater sacrifice than that. He needs to believe Will is capable of murder on his own. Freddie is that sacrifice, and as such she gets the opportunity to embed herself deeper in her own story.

Alana has been the lone holdout among the regulars and important recurring characters when it comes to Will. Jack’s been in Will’s corner since his release. Freddie still thinks Will psychopathic, but sees Lecter as the greater evil. Now Alana understands what’s really going on. Like Jack, she needed to figure it out on her own; it wasn’t something she could simply be told. But she’s still in danger, seeing as she’s literally sleeping with the enemy. Hopefully her survival instincts will serve her well.

Meanwhile, the Verger family drama rises to operatic heights this week, with Mason scuppering Margot’s plan to produce an heir to the fortune by stealing her “lady parts.” Michael Pitt seems to think he’s the Joker in equal measures of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, and good for him. It really works, because as amusing as he is when he’s being silly (such as during his first session with Lecter, posing on the couch like a male model), he’s got the menace to back it up in three crucial scenes: two with Margot (at the stables, and later, in an operating theater), one with Will.

Pitt’s delivery of lines such as “I’ll say again, you have a bloom” and “You must be the baby daddy. Excuse me if I don’t offer you a cigar” drip with camp, over-rehearsed and over-acted. It’s only when he tells Will “I’m going to feed you to my pigs” that we see the real Mason, and that’s the genius of Michael Pitt’s performance. Hannibal may see Will as a protégé but it’s Mason who’s the real heir to Hannibal’s throne.

To quote Bedelia du Maurier, they’re both wearing “person suits,” but Mason simply isn’t as good at passing as human.

And, yes, it turns out that the ortolan bunting thing is something people actually do. Shudder.

★★★★☆

Michael Pitt in HANNIBAL: "Tome-wan"

“Tome-wan” (Season 2, episode 12; May 16, 2014)

“…a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice”

This week on Hannibal: Will tries to set Hannibal and Mason against each other, hoping for an opportunity to catch Lecter in the act. The BAU team locates and interviews Bedelia du Maurier, Hannibal’s former psychiatrist. Mason abducts Will and Hannibal, planning to kill them both, but his plans go awry when Will turns out not to be as predictable as Mason hoped.

The episode begins with the Stag-Man watching the Black Stag give birth to the version of Will that has antlers. (The production team apparently calls Will-with-antlers “Willdigo,” as in wendigo, the Native American cannibal spirit of the north.) Metaphor often? The implications are obvious: Will’s fantasized about the Willdigo before, but it hasn’t been fully realized until now.

The series and its publicity love to tease the idea that Will and Hannibal might join together in some sort of murderous ‘ship named Hanniwill. I don’t find it likely, and this episode seems to further prove that Will is on the side of the angels. But that might not necessarily make him an angel. Willdigo represents the “new Will,” and it is the child of the Black Stag–how Will imagined the Minnesota Shrike’s copycat, and later the Chesapeake Ripper, before he realized both were Hannibal Lecter. The new Will was fashioned from Lecter’s essence.

In her interviews with Will and Jack, Bedelia du Maurier seems to back up my “Will must become Lecter to catch Lecter” theory. (Can I mention how awesome it is to have Gillian Anderson back, even for one episode?) We finally get the skinny on what happened with du Maurier’s former patient, the one who attacked her–the one she herself killed, it turns out. Did Lecter force her to kill her patient? No, she says; she points out an important distinction. Dr. Lecter has never coerced anyone into murder. What he does is persuasion. “I convinced myself it was self-defense, and up to a point it was,” she admits, “but beyond that point, it was murder.” He persuaded du Maurier to kill, then he persuaded Abigail Hobbs, then Randall Tier. Next, he will persuade Will.

Meanwhile, Hannibal seems to have another itching to “eat the rude,” and Will has a pig in mind. Mason Verger has been very rude indeed, not just by sterilizing his sister but by cutting up one of Hannibal’s armchairs with the silver knife he uses to judge the thickness of a pig’s skin. “Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me,” says Hannibal, so it’s time for Mr. Verger to go. By a strange coincidence, Mason has decided it’s time for Dr. Lecter to go, along with Will, who he refers to as “the sperm donor.”

Will has a plan, a trap laid for Lecter, and Mason Verger is the bait. (If Mason doesn’t survive…well, it’s not as if he isn’t as bad, or even worse, than Lecter.) Or at least that’s what he tells Jack. It’s hard to know exactly what Will was thinking when he took the knife Mason wanted him to slit Lecter’s throat with and, instead, cut Hannibal’s bounds. Verger’s henchman knocks him out and he doesn’t witness the rest of the fight, although when he comes to, he gets to see exactly how well Mason’s swine-breeding program works.

In the interim, Hannibal has the upper hand and a cocktail of drugs for Mason, and a series known for being intense and disturbing delivers its most intense and disturbing sequence yet. The chemicals take effect quickly, Hannibal hands Mason a knife, and…we all know what happens next. It doesn’t play out exactly as Verger describes in the novel. There’s no noose, for one thing. The dogs aren’t Mason’s, they’re Will’s. The house is Will’s as well, and when the owner gets there, Mason is well on his way to becoming the disfigured monstrosity we know him best as.

Nice to see Mason hasn’t lost any of his sense of humor, though. When instructed to eat his own nose, he declares his flesh to have “a taste and consistency that’s similar to that of a chicken gizzard!” I’m going to miss this guy.

Somehow, he manages to survive the ordeal, and when he see him next, he’s confined to his bed at le maison Verger. “I’ve benefited greatly from Dr. Lecter’s therapy,” he says. “I will always be grateful for how he’s helped me. I only hope that I may repay him one day.” Meanwhile, Margot looks forward to taking care of her beloved brother just as he took care of her.

One final discussion between Will and Hannibal. It’s time to give Jack Crawford what he wants, the Chesapeake Ripper. Hannibal figures he’s Jack’s friend and owes him the truth.

I don’t think we need to ask what Hannibal intends to do to Jack after he tells him.

★★★★☆

Next on Hannibal: The lure is chosen, the line is cast. Can Will Graham and Jack Crawford finally land Hannibal Lecter? We’ll find out in “Mizumono,” the second season finale. Also, a look back on the second season.

Season 2 episode ranking:

  1. “Mukōzuke” (2.05)
  2. “Takiawase” (2.04)
  3. “Su-zakana” (2.08)
  4. “Tome-wan” (2.12)
  5. “Futamono” (2.06)
  6. “Sakizuke” (2.02)
  7. “Yakimono” (2.07)
  8. “Kō No Mono” (2.11)
  9. “Naka-choko” (2.10)
  10. “Kaiseki” (2.01)
  11. “Shiizakana” (2.09)
  12. “Hassun” (2.03)

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