This review contains spoilers.
When I wrote an article last month positing Hannibal as the best network television show in more than a decade, I have to admit to being a little worried. It’s unusual for the first series of any show to be truly great – most are still trying to find their footing. And of the few that are that good, it’s not unusual to find that the quality cannot be maintained (think Twin Peaks). So I’ve largely been holding my breath for the last few months, hoping that Fuller would be able to match in series two the powerful yet subtle storytelling of series one, and not make a liar out of me.
I should not have worried. Fuller’s problem has never been his creativity; it’s been that the powers-that-be have stepped in and cut it off. So once we knew that Hannibal’s showrunner was going to get a second series from NBC, we should have known that it would be everything we’ve come to expect.
I really did not expect the opening: an all-out brawl between Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford and the psychopathic Hannibal Lecter, played by Mads Mikkelsen. But while I might not have seen it coming, it is a great set up for Fuller’s story this series for several reasons. For those who may not have seen the first series, it was a great way to introduce us to Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter. For those familiar with the franchise, what we will see in this episode after this scene would be really confusing without that fight: Crawford and Lecter apparently on the same side. By framing the series (likely even bookending it) with this fight, we know that Crawford’s belief in Lecter’s innocence of the things Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) has accused him with is misguided and temporary.
It’s also a great way of showing a new audience that whatever they may see of Hannibal’s always cultivated, always polite behaviour, he is dangerous, not just intellectually but physically. Fishburne may have a good three or more stone on Mikkelsen, and yet they are clearly evenly matched – Lecter fights exactly like someone used to subduing others. And what made it even better was the visceral quality of the fight. It didn’t come off as overly choreographed nor did it suffer from the temptation to turn a character with no reason to be a martial arts expert into one. Instead it was an old-fashioned anything-goes slugfest—which is hard to choreograph precisely because it needs to look like it wasn’t.
To then top it off by letting us know that this is what will happen in twelve weeks sets off the entire series with an energy unlike the first one, creating an entirely new kind of anticipation: how will we get to that deadly confrontation?
What followed was also quite different from what we saw last season, but in the best possible ways.
First, although much of the joy of the first series was bound up in not knowing (how much of this mayhem was Lecter’s doing, whether his meats were self-procured, how much of Graham’s rapid loss of touch with reality was the direct result of Lecter’s interference), now that we’re pretty clear on most of those issues, this knowledge doesn’t seem like it will limit the show. We largely know the outcome and who and what most everyone is in our cast of characters. Now we find out how they learn the truth and how that affects them. It’s more overtly about the journey than the destination this series.
In fact, it seems like Fuller is going to be actively leveraging the difference between what we know and what various sets of characters know in order to heighten our experience of that journey. It was hard not to laugh, for example, when Dr. Chilton (Ra úl Esparza) says he can’t enjoy Hannibal’s culinary treats so fully now that he has to limit his protein after losing a kidney. “You didn’t lose it, Frederick; it was taken from you.” Never mind (or rather, giggle ironically) that Gabriel took his kidney in response to something Chilton and Lecter are both guilty of (“pushing”). It’s even funnier when you realize that it’s only a matter of time until Frederick’s host eats the rest of him.
Probably the best change is that the playing field on which series two will occur is now far more level. Yes, Will Graham is in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. But we have to remember that Graham prefers to be isolated. Isolation helps him block out everything that torments him. And we have to assume that it’s only a matter of time before the neurologically-based reason for his breaks with reality is diagnosed.
We can already see, however, how Will’s change of circumstance has changed him. Last series, he behaved like a caged rat most of the time, scurrying about nervously, as though he would be attacked at any moment. He may be literally in a cage now, but his clarity over the source of his misfortunes and the quiet of the hospital has allowed him to find a center he lacked. Last season’s Graham was ripe for Hannibal’s manipulations. This series, the empathetic agent is resolute, clear-headed, and no longer feels out of his mental weight class. The prospect of the conflict between newly empowered Graham and an almost-revealed Lecter has us practically salivating.
The one thing that concerns me looking ahead is the possibility that the women on the show will continue to be largely wasted. Aside from Kacey Rohl’s Abigail and the all-too-brief appearance of Ellen Muth’s Georgia, there’s been little for the female actors to work with thus far. They have primarily been used to explicate the men around them rather than as characters in their own right, which is a real shame. It would be lovely, for instance, to see Gina Torres return so we can watch her and Jack struggle with her terminal illness. Or even to get a real glimpse behind the curtain that is Lara Jean Chorostecki’s Freddie Lounds.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge amount of potential laid out in this episode for the women to step into the forefront. Certainly Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) is now a woman on a mission that no one around her shares but which it’s hard to imagine her failing at. Hettienne Park’s Beverly seems to have very mixed emotions about Will, and Lecter has suddenly focused his dangerous attention on her. And considering the fairly overt threat that Hannibal made at his own therapist, Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Du Maurier, I would not be surprised to see her emerge as a player on roughly Graham and Lecter’s level, which would be fascinating to watch. Only Cynthia Nixon’s monotone Kade Prurnell seems like she has nowhere to go.
But as to the rest, series two of Hannibal looks prepared to deliver on the promise of Fuller’s work last year. He evidently has seven series’ worth of story to tell. Here’s hoping that the show finds the audience it so richly deserves and we get to see all seven.
Read Laura’s review of Hannibal’s season one finale, Savoureux, here.
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