Hannibal season 2 episode 5 review: Mukozuke
Hannibal's creators deserve to be showered in Emmys for this week's spellbinding episode...
This review contains spoilers.
It is not difficult to entertain people, really. As human beings, we hate boredom so much that even the smallest distraction can be welcome, especially if it caters to the baser parts of ourselves. Reality television is palpable proof of that. What is more difficult is to create a thing of great beauty that can strike us silent with awe yet entertain us at the same time. But what Bryan Fuller has been doing in Hannibal is even more impressive than that. He manages to take something that we think of as base—our morbid fascination with death and mayhem—and elevate it to an art form. All while creating such spellbinding entertainment that it’s not that we cannot get away from it; it’s that that’s the last thing we can imagine wanting to do.
He has done this in a thousand visual ways, topping even himself this week with the image of Beverly Katz cryosectioned and placed between human-size slides—a gruesome allusion to her own profession as a forensic scientist. While we are sad to see the alive version of her go (there are strong suggestions that she will replace Garret Jacob Hobbs this series as a recurring spectre), it’s hard to think of a more memorable way of sending her off. After all, while her character’s development has been cut short, we certainly cannot complain that we have not gotten a peek into what makes her tick. Brutally, literally.
But despite having come up with such a powerful image, it is not actually the artistic masterstroke of Mukozuke (appropriately, “sliced sashimi”). The writing on Hannibal is almost uniformly brilliant, but this week’s episode is crafted so exquisitely, I look forward to watching it a fourth or even fifth time to see all its layers. Because it’s the writing that elevates this episode even amongst those of a show as good as Hannibal.
To say that Mukozuke is primarily a set of conversations does not separate it from most dramas, as a good portion of even action shows rely heavily on dialogue to drive the plot forward. But the conversations in this episode, while they do accomplish that, are another thing altogether.
One of the understandings established last series was that while Hannibal (the psychiatrist) and Graham were talking about his issues with the work the latter was doing for the FBI, Hannibal the psychopath was metaphorically listening in as well. And not just to those sessions…to the entire investigation. In yet another uncomfortable parallel, both the audience and the cannibal were there to see and hear everything.
This week, we got conversation after conversation where, again, we are often not the only eavesdroppers. The difference is that in these cases, at least one of the speakers knows that and turns it to brilliant use. He (or they) conducts the conversation speaking simultaneously both to the person in the room and the eavesdropper. And in most cases, at least one of the three is a psycho or sociopath.
Dr. Chilton routinely listens in on his patients, as we have seen in previous episodes. Will manipulates Chilton (and I’m betting again plays on Chilton’s exaggerated sense of himself by letting him think he sees through Will’s manipulation while Will is playing several levels above him) into giving him contact with Gideon by pointing out that Gideon knows the identity of the Chesapeake Ripper. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we both said it was the same man?” Graham baits his jailer. “You could be the one who catches him after all.” Chilton knows that Graham thinks Lecter is the serial killer, while he, in his supposedly greater wisdom, believes Lecter is not. Will sets Chilton up by letting the not-so-good doctor think he’s (metaphorically) killing two birds with one stone: by bringing Gideon back to the home for the “unworried unwell” and putting Graham and Gideon in the same room, the psychiatrist can both force Will to give up his delusion about Lecter (maybe because he expects Gideon to tell Graham that Lecter is not the killer) and do what no one else has been able to do: definitively prove who the Ripper actually is. And I’m not entirely sure that having Gideon around to torture in return for his own vivisection isn’t also a motivating factor.
Either way, this sets us up for a fascinating conversation between Graham and Gideon with Chilton likely listening. Gideon knows not only that Graham is not guilty of the murders but that Will was psychically driven by Hannibal in the same way he himself was by Chilton (with the difference being that Gideon was a killer long before Chilton got his hands on him). But Gideon the psychopath seems almost as interested in the workings of Will’s mind as Lecter (both are men of superior intellect, and Gideon has been limited to a cell; he’s likely dying for this kind of mental stimulation). So he uses the conversation to learn why he’s been brought here, to stick it to Chilton by reminding him what he’s done to the man on a surgical table, and to prod Will into trying to kill Lecter. Graham, on the other hand, tries to get Gideon to admit what Lecter really is not, as Gideon suggests, to use as evidence in court but more likely to flesh out his own swiss-cheese memory. And although both men know the essential truth of the situation, they must limit their discussion in such a way that if Chilton is listening, he will either not understand it or not believe it.
But while we are not completely sure Chilton is listening, we know that someone else definitely is. More on that in a minute.
We then get a wonderful scene in which Gideon and Lecter visit, this time with Chilton clearly eavesdropping. The two murderers put on an excellent performance of pretending this is their first meeting. But when Gideon says that he has never seen Lecter’s face before, he is both telling the truth and not: he has seen Lecter’s physical face, but he’s very aware that there’s far more to Lecter than meets the eye. The layers of meaning in a sentence so simple as “I’ve never seen yours before” are many, and since we know at least some of what those words communicate between the two psychopaths, it sends a chill through us. And Mikkelsen and Izzard’s performances are as complex as the dialogue, both of them able to strike the right balance between words and a tone that give away nothing and facial/body expressions that make up the difference in meaning. Their eyes especially make the game they are playing, both with Chilton and each other, palpable. What could not just one such mind but two working on Graham do?
In fact, Gideon already has his hooks into Will, having pushed him into seeking not merely justice but actual revenge against Mikkelsen (which just adds to our rapidly growing respect for the “pretender to the throne,” as Graham has labeled Gideon to his face), leading the profiler into yet another conversation, this time with the shameless Freddie Lounds.
In one of the most interesting performative acts, I’ve ever seen, Will strikes a deal with Lounds to give her exclusive rights to his “story” in exchange for her help in sending a message to his “admirer” making it clear he wants to open a dialogue. Lounds, who should be highly doubtful of such an offer from Graham of all people, all but leaps at the chance, even suggesting additional ways she can help beyond printing the invitation. But she needn’t have bothered since Will has already made the invitation—just by talking to her about it—to the one person listening: his guard. The same person who was party to the conversation between Gideon and Graham where Abel first implanted the idea.
When Graham asks his admirer to kill Lecter (while Gideon eavesdrops), it brings all these conversations full circle and reveals that, while the orderly killed the bailiff, he didn’t have a part in the far more imaginative spectacle in which the judge was murdered. Lecter is back in the running on that one (Fuller’s misdirection in a recent interview notwithstanding), which only makes sense given the other exhibition he treats us to at the beginning of this episode. Hannibal obviously enjoys putting on a show.
Working one such multi-layered conversation into a network television show in such a way that it substantially drives forward the action is a challenge. Creating an episode built almost entirely on this trope is more than a little awe-inspiring. While it is still early in the season and there may even better work on the horizon for this series, Bryan Fuller, Ayanna Floyd, and Steve Lightfoot certainly deserve Emmy consideration (preferably an outright win) for their writing in Mukozuke.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch it a couple more times. Like a great book, Mukozuke demands to be reread—and I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.
Read Laura's review of the previous episode, Takiawase, here.
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