Hannibal season 2 finale review: Mizumono
Hannibal's season two finale is simply divine. Here's Laura's spoiler-filled review...
This review contains spoilers.
One of the Catch-22s of episodic television is that there are built-in expectations which are next to impossible to avoid. A series has X number of episodes. It’s built around specific characters and a specific scenario in most cases. And it is subject to cancellation. These in turn help to create certain unspoken rules in writing: Regular characters do not die. Stories are simple enough to be wrapped up in 22-60 minutes. And there will be a large gap in storytelling between series.
But it’s not just the writers and producers who know these things; it’s also the audiences. And this creates those built-in expectations. If regular characters do not die, then every time one of them is put into a deadly position, we know they will be saved or save themselves. The same with the length and complexity of the story: we know they will wrap up the narrative by the end of the episode. And because each series-end is followed by the off-season, we know that the writers are going to give us a reason, usually in the form of a cliffhanger, to come back for the next series.
Recently, however, more courageous (smarter) writers have played with those rules. Buffy may have come back from death so many times that it was made a joke on the series named after her, but when Joss Whedon killed off Tara, we were stunned - not because she was dead, but because she was DEAD. No mystical returnsies. Then there was Chris Carter, whose X-Files took the accepted carryover of a story across two or three To Be Continued episodes and turned into a nine-year myth arc. And Kitsis and Horowitz have revolutionized the often-sadistic cliffhangers that are the by-product of producers’ anxiety that they might lose their audience over the summer, and given us real endings that still have us salivating for more on Once Upon A Time. It’s been a revolutionary decade or so on TV.
But leave it to Bryan Fuller to take it one step further and use our now more sophisticated expectations against us. Where I think it was always fairly obvious that Will had not really killed Freddie Lounds, we were certain Abigail was dead, that there would be no similar miracle or sleight-of-hand, and had mourned the bright but disturbed girl’s death along with Graham.
Thus when Hannibal gives her back to Will only to then use her to punish his protégé by slitting her throat a second time, Fuller’s sadism has not merely subverted our expectation, but left us disorientated and completely bereft.
He does something else similar - giving us something we hoped and waited for only to strip it from us at the last moment. But rather than tie it to general conventions in narrative in television, we have been set up since the very beginning of this second series. In the first episode this series, we see Hannibal and Jack in a fight to the death in Hannibal’s kitchen. For thirteen episodes, we have been holding our breath waiting to find what happened, somehow sure that once Jack knew the truth and confronted Hannibal, that the good guys would finally win a victory.
But what is truly surprising is just how little that anticipated fight actually mattered in the grander scheme of things. What we thought was going to be a decisive mano-a-mano battle between the two powers was little more than a minor skirmish in the bloodbath we saw in Hannibal’s home. And with Fuller having so deftly played us, it’s anyone’s guess who will live - although Jack and Will seem obvious choices - and who will die. Alana’s death particularly might be less of a tragedy than Fuller intended.
Most of her actions in this episode follow the trend we’ve seen with her - Fuller alternating between using her as little more than a plot-moving pawn (as when she warns Will that the feds are coming for him), or as a sounding board for other characters (as with Kade Prurnell using her to explain her rationale fully enough to us that agent’s actions seem completely justified). When she confronts Hannibal, who warns her to remain as blind as she’s always been, and she’s forced to flee, it’s not even that surprising that, rather than run back out the door she came in and into the street where the cops should be showing up any moment, she heads up the stairs. Normally, this is precisely the kind of thing I would call the writers on - having a character who is otherwise smart do the dumb thing to advance the plot in a specific direction - but this kind of stupidity has not been out of character for Alana, so I have to give Fuller a pass on this one.
But for all the action in this episode, that’s not what’s really compelling here. Instead, it’s what’s happening in the quieter moments that’s really powerful.
One of the best is undoubtedly the moment where Hannibal realizes that Will is planning to betray him when he picks up the smell of Freddie Lounds emanating from his friend. While a good twist, what it reveals is going to be important for the show going forward - until that moment, most of us likely believed that Hannibal suspected Will and was already planning his revenge. Instead, we learn that Graham is absolutely good enough to fool even the master of manipulation. Whatever imbalance seems indicated by the carnage at the end of the episode, this has set up our understanding that the conflict coming between Will and Hannibal in the future will be between equals.
But that’s for later. In this episode, Will’s betrayal creates a Christ narrative around Hannibal. The scene opens with a discussion of the term imago, which Hannibal stresses is the “last stage of the transformation.” “When you become what you will be,” as Will replies. This conversation takes place over what they agree is a Last Supper of this life.
And that’s just the beginning of the Christian imagery. According to Luke 22, as Christ and the Apostles sat down at the last Supper, Jesus knew the fate that awaited him (just as Hannibal, at this point in the story, does), including the fact that one life was ending for him and another beginning. He breaks bread and distributes it to his followers, telling them that it is his own flesh they are consuming (a symbolic cannibalism that is all too literal in Hannibal). Jesus also reveals that he knows that his betrayer is there at the table with him (as Will is with Hannibal). And by the end of the episode, Hannibal will raise the dead (Abigail), forgive his Judas (Will) even to the point of offering him a new life, and resurrect himself (completing his own transformation) as he is bodily transported into the heavens with Bedelia Du Maurier.
Hannibal as Christ.
We should have seen it coming. After all, Hannibal hasn’t exactly been subtle in his parallels between himself and God, casting himself as a somewhat less capricious and cruel alternate deity. But as always, Bryan Fuller hides the truth in plain sight, relying on us to use our supposed sophistication to cloak the truth for him. Hannibal is just a psychotic making unhinged narcisstic claims, right?
But what is truly surprising, what Fuller really reveals to us in Mizumono, is the utter humanity of the cannibal under all that suggested divinity. Hannibal may well be a god, but like Jesus, he is one made flesh and who shares our vulnerabilities, including sadness and disappointment. His heartbreak at the Will’s betrayal, his desire for his friend to accept his forgiveness and join him on the lam, and his grief when his offer is rejected - Mikkelsen making us feel it in every look and syllable - even as he slits the throat of Graham’s quasi-daughter before the profiler’s eyes, Hannibal has never been more human or more divine.
It’s hard to even imagine where Fuller will take us next series or how he will outdo this one. But I’ve rarely found myself looking forward to a show’s return more. Regardless of who lives or dies.
Read Paul's review of the previous episode, here.
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