Previously on Hannibal: Hannibal kills an IT consultant, an independent medical examiner, and a crap-ton of other people and turns them into delicious noms; Will Graham is a dog hoarder who sleep-eats Abigail Hobbs’ ear; Abigail gets a mild Electra complex for her fake fathers; Bedelia du Maurier can’t decide if Hannibal loves Will or love loves him; Jack Crawford bullies Will, then acts petty when Alana calls him on it; Alana continues to not be Jay Tyler no matter how much I keep hoping she’ll start talking to anthropomorphic inanimate objects; Freddie Lounds remains alternately obnoxious and frustrating.
Look, I’m not going to talk about how great Hannibal is. You already know how great Hannibal is. If you don’t know how great Hannibal is, just trust me, it is, so stop reading this review right now and watch the first season and don’t come back until you’ve finished “Savoureux,” because there will be spoilers below. The rest of us looked forward to the return of Hannibal as much as the return of Orphan Black and Game of Thrones (or The Americans and Mad Men, for some non-SFF fare).
Any hesitation or anxiety you may have had about whether or not the show would be able to sustain its winning streak for another 13 episodes was chopped up and turned into sushi. “Kaiseki” doesn’t waste time catching the new viewer up, and kudos to Fuller for going straight for the kill rather than rehashing the whole last season. The cold open fight sequence between Hannibal and Jack Crawford is easily in my top 5 favorite scenes in any show so far this year, sandwiched in between the 6 minute tracking shot in True Detective and Dark!Stiles killing elevator Oni with a flick of the wrist in Teen Wolf. I’m fairly certain I didn’t breath the entire scene. It was spectacular from top to bottom, and a fantastic way to start the new season.
Fuller pulled quite the switcheroo on the audience at the end of season 1. It’s obvious where the show will eventually end up—with Hannibal behind bars teasing Will about fava beans—but the journey is far less ordained. Season 1 wound up putting Will in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, having been set up by Hannibal. Fuller is intentionally toying with popular culture by framing shots and placing Will in accouterments and settings evocative of the Silence of the Lambs. But they're less outright homages than subversive irony. By taking our pop culture knowledge of Hannibal the Cannibal and inverting it, Fuller keeps the audience on its toes and full of suspense and suspicion.
Will is no longer fooled by Hannibal’s games—it’s very telling that Will refuses any hint of familiarity when speaking with Hannibal this season, calling him only Dr. Lecter during their conversations, the polar opposite of the close friendship Hannibal imagines they share—and this season looks to be all about how Will eventually bring his colleagues around to his way of thinking. But how many people he can convince and whether or not his new allies will get the chance to defend him are the bigger questions.
When Hannibal says he misses Will, that Will is his friend, that he admires him (especially the aspects that mirror Hannibal’s), he genuinely means that. It’s not just a show for Bedelia. He’s sincerely saddened to lose his intimacy with Will (he looks so forlorn sitting across an empty chair in his office), but still curious to see where he can push his “friend” next. Now that he’s taken Will’s role in the FBI investigations, he has a whole new opportunity to get inside Will’s head. If friendship is symbiotic, Hannibal’s relationship with Will is parasitic. Or, as Mads Mikkelsen said, “I can say really, really honestly that Hannibal really does love Will Graham. That doesn't mean he won't eat him, of course. But he loves him. He'd prefer to have him as a friend for the rest of his life. If that doesn't work out, he'll find something else.”
Fuller isn’t interested in a mass market serial killer mystery series. We’ve plenty of those on air already (from the trashy Criminal Minds to the atrocious The Following). Not that Hannibal’s murders are any less visceral or violent. The bloated, discolored, half-mummified corpses floating in the water in the season 2 premiere are truly grotesque. But Fuller specializes in bizarro deaths so outlandish they trade realism for Grand Guignol. It’s also gorgeous to look at, as creepy as that sounds. The episodes are visually stunning. I could just as easily watch True Detective's Rust Cohle wander through an abandoned church in complete silence for 42 minutes as I could watch Will daydream fly fishing. Not a plot in sight, and it would still be emotionally and visually satisfying, both because of the gorgeous cinematography and the astonishing acting. Hell, even the score, sound mixing, and foley are shudder-inducing.
Hannibal is a one-of-a-kind miracle show. It’s the sort of show where if anyone else but Bryan Fuller was in charge and anyone else but Mikkelsen, Dancy, Fishburne, Dhavernas, etc. were starring, it would fail miserably. As with True Detective, it’s not the particular story being told that makes Hannibal great, but the look, feel, and emotional push crafted by the cast and crew. Bryan Fuller isn’t making a campy spin off of a 90s movie anymore than Nic Pizzolatto is making a show about a southern serial killer. There’s so much more to Hannibal than its origins.
- “You are obsessed with Will Graham.” “I am intrigued.” “Obsessively.”
- “I saw death how I imagined he would see it.”
- “You maintain an air of transparency while putting me in the position to lie for you. Again.”
- “In that case, you’re dining with a psychopathic murderer, Frederick.” Hannibal isn’t even trying to be subtle anymore.
- When Beverly Katz says to Will “Tell me what you see,” that’s the same line Jack Crawford says to Clarice.
- The Big Bad creating human models by doping his vics with heroin then pumping them full of silicone and preservatives has whiffs of Buffalo Bill to it...Could be interesting to switch up the Killer of the Week format for a season-long manhunt.
- If you can’t get enough of Gillian Anderson playing a tough-ass, get on The Fall. Just don’t make the mistake I did of watching every episode one day then chasing it with the entire season of Top of the Lake. You will be wretchedly miserable for days after.
- Balance out the darkness with some Caroline Dhavernas/Bryan Fuller mastery with Wonderfalls. Also, Lee Pace.
- Bryan Fuller's fascinating breakdown of the season 2 premiere is a must-read.
- Speaking of Bryan Fuller, he’s the perfect example of a showrunner who gets, likes, and respects the fandom. He’s never patronizing, condescending, or insulting (like some showrunners whose name rhymes with “Shmoffat”...).
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.