End of Season Report: Hannibal, Season 2

26 May

Hannibal and friends

Holy fucking shit. I thought the ending of the first season was about as bleak as any season of any show on TV, let alone a network show. The second season may have topped, or bottomed, that. There are four characters credited in the show’s opening sequence. Three of them ended the second season lying on the ground, bleeding to death (It’s worth taking a second to note that the only other character to appear in Hannibal’s opening credits, Beverly, was killed by Hannibal halfway through the second season). While none of them were clearly dead, any or all could be; if this ended up being the series finale instead of merely a season finale, it would have all but locked up the title of darkest series finale of all time.

Through all this desolation, horror, and gore, Hannibal put together an extremely strong season, superior to its first season, and generally more purposeful, though with a couple of bumps along the way. Week to week, I couldn’t wait for Hannibal to see what happened next, and that anticipation is only reserved for my very favorite shows. When people ask me what shows they don’t watch that they should be, and I assume they’re watching standards like Mad Men, and Game of Thrones, Hannibal is one of my go to recommendations.

The season was largely broken up into two halves. The first involved Will’s incarceration in a mental asylum where he was assumed to be the Chesapeake Ripper, and ended with his exoneration and the framing of Frederick Chilton as the ripper. The second half involved the story of Margot and Mason Verger, and their various interactions with Will and Hannibal, as well as a plot by Jack Crawford and Will to lure Hannibal out and trap him.

Both halves worked very well individually but the show felt a little bit disjointed moving from the first to the second; it felt as if the halves were two individual seasons. This isn’t much of a problem, but the Margot and Mason introductions felt abrupt rather than smooth, and this just meant it probably took me a little bit longer to get on board with.

I’m glad I did though, by the second episode, because both Margot and Mason were played by extremely strong actors, expanding the cast of fantastic acting talent, which along with the gorgeous cinematography are the two most standout aspects of Hannibal. Hannibal continued to be as disturbing as ever if not more so, graphic violence-wise, than any show on TV, and this was highlighted in the season’s penultimate episode when Mason fed his own face to Will’s dogs and ate his own nose. The events are every bit as gruesome as that sentence sounds, and it’s remarkable that the other gore on the show rarely feels over the top. In fact, the beauty of the cinematography makes some of the most gruesome tableaus assembled by Hannibal  out of his victors look disturbingly mesmerizing, and in sharp contract to how base and simply disgusting Mason’s self-harming act looks.

Show runner Bryan Fuller does a great job picking and choosing how to deploy the tools of Hannibal’s literary and cinematic universe. There’s a lot of tough choices to make when working with an existing property, particularly one that everyone knows as well as Hannibal’s and he’s very smart in choosing when to add entirely new characters, when to use existing characters to be something other than how Thomas Harris or movie adaptations used them, and when to stick closer to the letter of the books.

Mads Mikelson plays Hannibal as a seductive sociopathic genius, semisatanic but just human enough to add empathy and add a layer of depth to a character that could merely be pure evil. He exposes his most (and maybe only) humanity when dealing with Will Graham, who he appears to actually treat as the potential compatriot, rare in Hannibal’s world of clinical ubermench-like serial killing. That small bit of humanity makes Hannibal that much more engaging a character; at some level this sadistic and brilliant mass murderer is just looking for a friend. Mikelson manages to fuse the appeal of a terrifying force beyond good and evil with a needy middle schooler who is unhappy when he doesn’t get what he wants (Will’s friendship and trust, namely)

Even more fascinating to me is Will’s back and forth mental state, not fully seduced by Hannibal, but not immune to his charms either. Will stands strong in the end, sticking to the plan. However, he’s not all in the good. He goes farther than he has to for the trap him and Jack had set, and frequently mimics Hannibal, particularly in respect to Mason Verger, when he could well possibly have pulled back and kept the plan in check. His decision to keep some of this from Jack shows that he knows it’s wrong, but the power of Hannibal, while not enough to win him over in the end, tugs at him.  This ambiguity filling the relationship between Will and is beautiful. It’s impossible to tell who is leading who, and who believes what. The knots Hannibal and Will talk themselves into are sometimes rhetorical nonsense but lyrically enchanting at the same time.

Then there’s that last episode again. We knew some of the events of the last episode from the very first episode of the season, which opened with the flash forward of Jack and Hannibal fighting. It’s probably going to take me some time, and maybe even until the first episode of the third season to decide what I felt about it overall. It’s brutal. I like the idea of Hannibal getting away, and I like the idea of it being with Dr. Du Maurier, a side character who has recurred just enough for us to keep her in mind and whose return was quite welcome. Abigail is back for just long enough to wonder exactly what Hannibal has done to her right before Hannibal kills her, seemingly an act of revenge for Will’s betrayal. I’m fairly confident Abigail is dead, and feel like at least one of Jack, Alana, and Will will be dead as well, and most likely not Will. The events almost seemed surreal (and the Baltimore police sure seemed to take their sweet time) and I momentarily thought the entire sequence might be a dream or a hallucination. For sheer shock value, it’s hard to beat, and the events certainly turn the entire series on its head again going forward. Hannibal is certainly not afraid to shake up the status quo and that’s commendable.

Regardless of whether I fully come around on the finale, or am just satisfied but confused and baffled at the same time, Hannibal’s second season is superior television. The show has been elevated into must-watch territory, and is likely, unless a barrage of great programming invades the second half of the year, to move up in next year’s yearly rankings.

 

 

 

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