No Spoilers but Viewer Discretion Advised
May Contain Triggers
Bryan Fuller’s innovative adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon and other Hannibal Lecter novels and films has become one of the most intriguing television shows ever. And it’s on network television, no less, doing such daring things that I’m constantly amazed that it gets by the censors. Season 1 introduced us to Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) as an ER surgeon-turned-practicing psychiatrist with a penchant for violent and disturbed patients.
In that capacity, Lecter was asked to “unofficially monitor” an “unofficial” FBI consultant Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), whose “empathy disorder” allowed him to connect with the killers at horrific crime scenes, but opened him up to emotional instability through the very connection that helped him stop said killers. Throughout Season 1, a close relationship developed between Hannibal and Will, though Hannibal’s reasons for pursuing this “relationship” were ambiguous and questionable, at the very least. Season 2 continues that relationship, while drawing others into this macabre emotional dance with Hannibal.
Season 2 begins more slowly than did the first, if only because of the trial trope. Fortunately, however, this element of the show didn’t last too long, and Hannibal returned to its dealings with the FBI’s BSU members, headed by Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), who’s not only attempting to determine Will’s role in Season 1’s killings while solving new crimes, but getting physically and emotionally closer to Hannibal himself.
As in the first season, the FBI members investigate the crimes of several different serial killers, but none seemed as compelling as those in season 1, though the writers certainly attempted to make them as imaginative. I don’t know how much of these crimes come from the books themselves, but season 1’s killers were more gruesome, somehow, and discovering them seemed more imperative.
The storyline concerning the killings in the grain silo was one of the most compelling of any season, especially with one victim awakening before he was dead. What followed was horrific yet masterful writing, storytelling, special effects, and acting.
When Hannibal gets involved, that storyline takes an unexpected and most gruesome turn, as you might imagine, but one that challenges the FBI investigators in their thinking. They’re forced to think “outside the silo,” you might say, in order to question their own assumptions about each other, about the killer, and, eventually, about Hannibal.
Danger, Hannibal, Danger
While the silo killer/killing was interesting, the show became even more compelling once Will let some of his darker impulses out, intent on harming Hannibal.
Even though we knew — from films and books — that Hannibal wouldn’t be killed in this scenario, he could have been seriously harmed. After all, the series is departing as much as it can from the books while staying true to the spirit of them. Besides, it was a chance for brilliant acting, especially on the part of Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal — a cannibalistic serial killer who’s been caught off-guard a few times in the series when someone out-thinks him, or when circumstances over which he has no control present themselves and he has to make quick decisions.
In season 2, Michael Pitt (Jimmy Darmody from Boardwalk Empire) enters the scene as Mason Verger, heir to his father’s pig-breeding/butchering empire. Though there are some hints of pedophilia in Mason’s character, he is much more sadistic to his sister than to any children. (His sister is one of Hannibal’s patients from the beginning of Season 2).
Everyone is manipulated by Hannibal is season 2. Everyone thinks he’s Hannibal’s “special friend,” even minor characters such as Jack’s dying wife. Everyone gets betrayed in some way or another, as you might imagine, even though s/he may not become part of Hannibal’s gourmet buffet.
Stag-man, the personified version of Raven-Stag from Season 1 — Will’s animal-vision of one of season 1’s killers — returns, appearing more visibly (and is somewhat less threatening because of this visibility).
Hannibal the Cannibal
Of course, Hannibal continues to have dinner parties. He dines with virtually every major character in the series — only some of whom express anxiety about eating the “meat” course, though Hannibal himself jokes about it. He even has his long-awaited “spectacular” dinner party, requested by a character who appeared only briefly in season 1 at a concert.
Hannibal continues to be threatening, alluring, dangerous, exciting, deadly, and vulnerable — all at the same time. I attribute this phenomenal feat to Mads’ acting: I don’t even think that the great Sir Anthony Hopkins could have pulled off such a complex character for such a sustained period. Every character in the show seems to trust Hannibal, and to be attracted to him in some way as well — as a lover, as a friend, as a trusted colleague, as a confidant, as an arts lover, as a dinner host.
In a strange and amazingly successful twist, however, virtually everyone seems to get involved in some sort of erotic dance with Hannibal, whether or not the relationships are actually sexual or involve some other sort of intimacy.
From Will Graham to Dr. Alana Bloom (Carolina Dhavernas), from Jack Crawford to Lecter’s psychiatrist Dr. du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), from Lecter’s patients to Lecter’s victims — including other serial killers — erotic tension abounds between the characters and Hannibal.
The relationship and tension between Will and Hannibal becomes powerfully erotic, though not in a sexual way, as far as I can determine.
The Finale’s “Dance”
The entire season, with all of its conflicts, investigations, crimes, duplicity, betrayals, love, and interconnected emotional relationships, heads toward a powerfully brilliant finale that is as erotic as it is violent. The final, extended scene is so gracefully choreographed that you feel as if you are watching a ballet rather than a scene in a show about serial killers, and about a cannibalistic one, at that.
Everyone is hurt, emotionally and physically.
Yet, Hannibal appears in the penultimate scene that is highly symbolic (don’t even get me started on all the potential symbolic interpretation of this view of Hannibal right after the last “dance” because I promised no spoilers, and, besides, I wouldn’t want to influence your own interpretation of Hannibal in the rain).
And whatever you do, whether you’re watching the DVDs or on Amazon Prime Instant, do not turn off the final episode when the credits come on (as I usually do for each show). If you do, you will miss one of the most stunning and outré cliffhangers ever. So, just don’t do it. Watch it all the way through even after you think it’s all over.
Hannibal, Season 3
Hannibal Season 3 starts Thursday 4 June at 10pm ET, so you have plenty of time to catch up on Seasons 1 & 2. Both are available on Amazon, and, as of this writing, Season 1 is free for Prime members, and Season 1, Episode 1, “Aperitif” is free (with ads) for everyone. Season 2 is also free for Prime Members, with the “First Look” free for everyone. Others can view either season via streaming for $22-30 (SD v HD) or for roughly the same price on DVDs. The DVDs contain some great extra commentary by Bryan Fuller, the special effects team, the production design team, wardrobe team, and some of the actors.
I’ve elected not to include the official trailer for Season 3 as I believe it contains Spoilers.