Bryan Fuller's Three-Course Meal (Not For Vegetarians)

by Arthur B

As showrunner for Hannibal, Bryan Fuller took the Thomas Harris oeuvre and ran amok with it.
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Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is an expert in psychological profiling with a great record in serial killer investigations. This is largely because he has a unique gift for analysing cases by putting himself in the shoes of the killer themselves, because apparently we exist in a world where the idea of constructing a psychological profile and imagining “if I were this sort of person, what would I do and what would my motives be?” is somehow unusual rather than usual routine. This process is startlingly vivid - why, it’s a roleplaying exercise that puts Mazes & Monsters to shame! - and as a result it causes a great psychological strain on Graham, who has tried to get out of the field by settling into a career teaching at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

However, Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of the Behavioural Science unit, wants Will active as a field investigator, and draws him into the investigation of a killer who becomes known to the media as the Minnesota Shrike. Will seems to be making progress, but is also becoming erratic, so Crawford decides to get him some support - a little aid from an expert psychiatrist who can both give Will the counselling and personal help he needs to digest all this grimness he’s exposed to, and who might also be able to pitch in with his own observations on the investigations from time to time. The man he chooses for the job is Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen)...

This is the setup we get in Apéritif, the first episode of Hannibal - Bryan Fuller’s tastefully bizarre reimagining of the Hannibal Lecter mythos as established by Thomas Harris’ novels and the various movie adaptations they’ve enjoyed over the years. In this initial 45 minutes, Fuller sets the parameters of the series brilliantly. More or less the first thing we see is one of Will’s crime scene analyses, and more or less the first thing we notice about those is that they are absolutely fucking bizarre. Whereas previous movie adaptations of Will Graham’s story like Michael Mann’s 1986 Manhunter - and, for that matter, the source novel Red Dragon - at most satisfied themselves with a mild ambiguity as to whether Will’s capabilities constituted finely-honed competence or something much darker, Hannibal is much happier to declare that Will Graham is Not Like Other Boys - not in how he lives (isolated with all the runaway dogs he rescues), and certainly not in how he thinks.

This allows Fuller to give himself and his directors and co-writers carte blanche in how surrealistic they want to get with the depictions of this mental process, which comes across as something in between an uncontrolled compulsion and an honest to goodness superpower, with images and ideas emerging sometimes from Will’s meticulous reconstruction efforts but just as often unbidden from his subconscious. It also lets the creators give themselves permission to skip the slow parts of the police procedural process; whenever it would help the pacing for the FBI team to discover something and there isn’t a convenient evidentiary route to it, they can have will make an intuitive leap in order to take the FBI in the right direction.

Will is essentially psychic in this rendition of the Hannibal Lecter universe, and what’s more most of the serial killers he’s pursuing are (as a good friend who finally persuaded me to watch the series puts it) Kult-style murder wizards. There’s a bit in Apéritif where the Minnesota Shrike infiltrates the home of one of his victims in order to return her body safe and sound to the bed he took her from; how he managed this bit of prestidigitation is never explained, and never needs to be explained, because the series isn’t even bothering with the veneer of realism which Thomas Harris applies to his novels in favour of exploring the weirder undercurrents of the whole thing.

To be honest, both the worse Harris novels and the less successful adaptations have been hurt by the attempt to walk the tightrope between police procedural realism and garish weirdness; to my mind, only the movie of Silence of the Lambs has really nailed it, and Harris only catches the balance point fleetingly in his books. Manhunter succeeded by going hard for the realistic police procedural angle; Hannibal, instead, is going for the full-bore weird angle. Bryan Fuller has more or less directly said that “What would David Lynch do with this material?” was his guiding principle in writing the series.

(As a little bit of fun linkage, I’m told that when Chris Carter was writing the X-Files in its early stages, before he had a handle on Mulder and Scully’s characters, he used Twin Peaks’ Dale Cooper as a model for Mulder and Silence of the Lambs’ Clarice Starling as a model for Scully - and lo and behold, Gillian Anderson shows up in Sorbet as Hannibal’s psychiatrist Dr Du Maurier, who ends up becoming a recurring character.)

Later on both in this season and in the series as a whole, serial killing is basically treated like a cult or an obscure religion - Oeuf has the series’ first full-blown cult, in terms of a group of people with a shared ideology which they recruit others into, showing up in only its fourth episode, and Hannibal seems to regularly try to encourage others to accept serial killing as their way of life. Just like in any subculture, of course, you have fierce schisms and disagreements; in episode 8, Fromage, Hannibal encounters a fellow active serial killer and interacts with them for a sustained period, for the first time in the series; at first they seem to get along swimmingly, but by the end of the episode they are at each others’ throats. It’s the problem of running into people who are into your hobbies and have views close to - but not quite - congruent with yours; because both of you have very developed ideas about the subject matter at hand, the upshot of that is that the importance of small differences becomes magnified. “How can someone who’s otherwise on the ball be so wrong about this?”, we ask ourselves.

There is a somewhat problematic dimension to Will’s characterisation, in that it’s yet another mass media use of the “super genius with mental health issues” trope. In fact, it explicitly sails close to the whole “autism = genius powers” trope when Will says in the first episode that he is probably closer to being autistic than neurotic. That said, the same episode also uses Hannibal to diagnose Will with an essentially entirely fictive condition by way of explaining his ability - Will has “pure empathy”, to the point where he can identify wholly and entirely with the motives and emotions of the people he is investigating, though this also brings the emotional baggage of identifying with both the killers and the victims in the course of an investigation.

On the one hand, this feels like Bryan Fuller having his cake and eating it - giving Will a fictive condition which allows Fuller to use all the “troubled genius” tropes he likes whilst having the get-out clause of being able to say “Well, Will doesn’t have X and so his character can’t be read as reflecting on people with X”. On the other hand, deliberately distancing Will from any specific real-world diagnosis does undeniably help - that get-out clause doesn’t excuse all sins but doesn’t carry zero weight either - and also helps underscore the idea that we are not in a realistic mode here but are on a phantasmagoric roller coaster ride and Will’s mind is our cart. (Later, in season 2, it is more directly stated that Will has refused to take any sort of test which would result in a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.)

The deeper we get in the more divergences we get from the Harris canon. In episode 2 we get introduced to this iteration’s incarnation of Freddie Lounds, tabloid journalist. In the original novel and in its movie adaptations, Lounds is introduced and then extinguished over the course of the story as a plot complication, though one with loudly-signposted links to Graham and Crawford’s backstory. Specifically, he’s a sleazy tabloid journalist for the sleaziest supermarket tabloids of the 1980s, muckraking the most sensational stories on the crime beat, getting in the hair of Graham, Crawford, and eventually the Red Dragon serial killer, which is how he meets his end.

Here, Fuller has the genius move of casting Lara Jean Chorostecki as Lounds - but keeping the character just as low, unethical, and underhanded in seeking her stories as the original interpretation. The delicious added twist is that Lounds now runs her own website - TattleCrime - which is a great way of updating the character for the modern era. The original Freddie Lounds existed as a critique of hacks who use the noble journalistic crusade for the truth as a justification for unethical, and intrusive behaviour which seeks largely to exploit the most prurient aspects of a story for the titillation of the general public, and then uses the deep pockets and capable lawyers of their publishers to stay one step ahead of the consequences (well, the legal ones at least).

Here, she turns into a troubling look at the blogging era - on the one hand, we all like the fact that we can say whatever the sweet fuck we like on our own blogs and pages on the Internet and it’s difficult in the extreme to censor us, but on the other hand that exact same freedom gives us Breitbart, 4Chan, resurgent flat Earth theories, fuckwad conspiracy theorists who harass the relatives of school shooting victims because they don’t believe school shootings actually happen, incels, and a range of monsters which if Fuller invented them for the show, we’d write off as being entirely too unrealistic even for this bizarre vision. As her own employer, Lounds has no ethical oversight and nobody who can say “no” to her except her own conscience, which she shows no evidence of actually possessing. (The character is not entirely disconnected from old media either; Chorostecki was nudged to look at Rebekah Brooks of News of the World phone-tapping scandal fame for inspiration, and by season 3 her blog’s become big enough to have a dead tree spinoff edition.)

In contrast to Will, who finds himself thrown off-balance by all the horrible mayhem he has to wade through, and Lounds, who if anything seems to get tremendously overexcited by all this, you have the utterly unflappable Hannibal. It seems almost impossible to upset Dr. Lecter, because - and he says as much in the first episode, though not in so many words - he’s a man who is entirely comfortable and at peace with who he is and what he does in this world. The problem is that who he is is Hannibal Lecter, and what Hannibal Lecter does is kill and eat his enemies and gaslight his friends for his own shits and giggles. We get snatches here and there of what that means from the beginning, whilst episode seven, Sorbet, offers us an in-depth look at his routine when inspiration strikes and he goes a-harvesting for food purposes (and also gets pestered by a patient who wants to get creepily over-friendly with him).

Honestly, the whole Hannibal Lecter/Dexter/Breaking Bad convergence that the series represents is pretty brilliant. Having Lecter be out there, active as a killer, but also close to Will Graham well before Will or anyone else ever considers investigating Lecter is a great setup for precisely the sort of investigative cat-and-mouse games that characterised the best of Breaking Bad. I was wondering whether Fuller would wait a while before Hannibal got up to any shenanigans, but no - he’s 100% in Hannibal mode from the first episode onwards, the most obvious example of which is his deft use of a telephone call to give a tip-off to the Minnesota Shrike suspect, a gambit which guarantees an appallingly messy culmination of the investigation (which, of course, would naturally make Will more dependent on Hannibal to process).

I was reminded in that moment of how Hannibal’s most chilling moment in the original Manhunter was his solitary phone call to the outside, an acting tour de force which has Brian Cox setting the highest possible bar for portraying the character in what he’s able to convey with his facial expressions, tone of voice, and mannerisms during the scene in question. (The equivalent scene, much later in the series, feels slightly truncated - possibly because Fuller realised that he couldn’t beat the original.)

Most TV shows work on fridge logic, where something which seemed tight ends up turning out to be a plot hole once you actually have time to think about it - it’s just that the pacing of the show doesn’t let you think about it. Over its entire run Hannibal presents its own share of these, but at its best it also offers up the reverse - call it “fridge illogic” - in that a gap in the story actually turns out to be entirely logical once you figure out where it fits. In the run of Minnesota Shrike killings, one murder simply doesn’t seem to fit the pattern, only superficially matching the modus operandi. It’s a killing which takes place after Hannibal decides to help Will figure out who the killer is, and Will attributes to the killing his ability to figure out what the actual killer is all about. The thing taken from the body was a pair of pristine lungs… and it was only about ten minutes after the episode ended that I recall that we see Hannibal preparing sausage out of some lungs and bringing it to Will’s place to share for breakfast, as a peace offering after their rocky introduction in Crawford’s office, a breakfast over which they germinate the kernel of their friendship. Of course… Hannibal killed the odd-victim out, purely for the sake of giving Will a nudge in the right direction. (Here we come straight back to the way that the show delights in having Hannibal be full-bore Hannibal from episode 1.)

Part of the reason the connection wasn’t immediately glaringly obvious to me was that I’d genuinely expected that the series would show Hannibal’s killings and, at least for much of the first and second seasons, it actually doesn’t. In fact, the series is very sparing in showing murders early on, except when we are seeing Will’s mental reconstructions of murders - in which case we watch them unfold in bizarre, surrealistic detail, with Will himself in the place of the killer. The gradual shift from this to the more frequent depictions of killings outside of Will’s head is, of course, tied to Will’s psychological transition from someone who merely imagines violence ot someone who is entirely immersed in it.

So, once the first couple of episodes get all these moving parts in place, Potage comes in to emphasise that there is absolutely no way the series is going to take the cheap, easy, killer-of-the-week approach where, aside from glancing references and the ongoing relationship between the man characters, we’re going to leave behind the murders from previous episodes and make out like they’re all tidied away and done and there’s no lasting consequences in anyone’s lives. (The series does slip in the odd killer-of-the-week during the first couple of seasons, but it’s rarely cheap or lazy about them.) Going back to the Minnesota Shrike well so quickly in order to look at what role, if any, his daughter had in his killings would in other contexts come across as Fuller running out of ideas already, but here it seems necessary to bring that particular hammer down on Will Graham nice and quickly.

That said, the script for the episode, whilst a powerful character study of the daughter, also goes a little too far into the blissful disregard for realism. For one thing, it establishes that the police are utterly fucking terrible at securing crime scenes, and are particularly lax when it comes to sending someone ahead of the daughter’s visits to check to see whether, say, someone’s spraypainted “CANNIBALS” on the garage door, or left a murder victim behind - you know, the sort of stuff which they might not want a psychologically traumatised young woman to encounter. (It’s all the more absurd when this happens literally a scene after where they talk about how they worry about how they’ll react when she sees the house and they don’t know what she’ll be confronted with there. Um… can’t they check ahead and control what she’ll see there?) It also establishes that the police are dense as fuck when it comes to searching crime scenes, failing to find human remains left in the Shrike’s home-made cushions when they already knew from the get-go (or at least suspected) that he had a hunter’s use-every-part-of-the-body attitude to the business. It’s just about worth it for the weird fun of Hannibal being a sort of fatherly/elder brother mentor to a fresh young talent in the field, helping her come to terms with herself and flower in the art.

The series also develops a knack for giving us these disarmingly engaging little side-stories which are nothing to do with the central murder-sleuthing action but which at the same time the murder-sleuthing offers an odd commentary on. (For instance, Coquilles features a story around Jack and his wife Phyllis Crawford which seems to exist mostly to allow Laurence Fishburne and Gina Torres to do some fantastic character work, and it’s a joy to watch them doing it; the ramifications of the story get tied in closer to the central action later.) That said, I kind of wish we got more early on from the beautifully laconic forensics team who help Crawford and Graham do their schtick; in particular, Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park) is a great character who doesn’t get enough spotlight time; it starts looking like she’s going to come into her own in episode 10, Buffet Froid, but beyond a scene with Will where she promises to help him figure out an enigma surrounding the murder of the week and his memory lapses she doesn’t get to do very much. It’s like the writers regularly wrote more material across season 1 for her, only for time constraints to repeatedly put it on the cutting room floor.

It only takes six episodes for the series to display an absolutely fabulous sense of humour about itself in the amazing Entrée, which casts Eddie fucking Izzard as Dr Abel Gideon, a troubled surgeon locked away in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for the spontaneous rage-murder of his wife. Dr Gideon’s been acting up - and by acting up I mean “he very theatrically murdered a nurse” - in order to back up his claim that he’s the Chesapeake Ripper, an infamous uncaught serial killer. The real Ripper is, of course, our pal Hannibal, and in fact Gideon’s playing out a fantasy - and so we have Izzard turning in his best parody of Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins’ takes on Hannibal Lecter, confined in surroundings which delightfully mash up the ridiculously gothic mental hospital of Silence of the Lambs with the sterile padded surroundings of the one in Manhunter.

The dark humour of the episode reaches its height as Freddie Lounds, 100% full of herself, struts towards his cell to attempt an interview with Gideon which clearly, in her head, is going to be as impactful and unmissable as Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins’ confrontations in the movie, when in fact she’s just been set up to issue some bullshit in order to irritate the real Ripper. The episode also introduces us to the show’s interpretation of Dr. Chilton, the mental hospital director; played here by Raúl Esparza. Chilton as a character is a shitbag of a subtly different flavour in each different adaptation he appears in; here, he’s kind of like the psychiatric equivalent of an unethical Pokemon trainer, who wants to be able to claim to have a really exciting specimen in his selection. In keeping with the in-jokes for long-standing fans with the series, we have Hannibal wheeling out that classic “having an old friend for dinner” line here in a friendly chat with Chilton.

(On the subject of in-jokes, I’m also semi-convinced that the human totem pole from Trou Normand, the ninth episode, is a really sly Captain Beefheart reference. That’s also the episode where the killer-of-the-week subplot is so absurdly secondary to the main story that they give up attempting to do any clever police procedural stuff around it at all, and just resort to having Crawford and Graham show up at the killer’s house and then explain the plot to him, including the plot twist, rather than actually unravelling the story through any more interesting dramaturgical route. It’s also the episode that has the least plausible crime scene reconstruction sequence - I am reasonably sure that a single person would have an incredibly difficult time actually erecting the totem pole without ruining part of the, ah, sculpture they’ve attempted with it, particularly when they are as elderly and apparently frail as the perpetrator here. It’s pretty apparent that Fuller and his team just went for the totem pole as an image and then regarded the job of explaining it as a chore that they didn’t really want to attempt.)

As season 1 draws to a close, episodes like Rôti - in which something very nasty happens to Dr. Chilton - give loud, clear warning signs that Fuller does not intend to be even remotely bound by the canon as established by Harris and various previous adaptations. (The episode is also notable for Gillian Anderson having some astonishing highlights in her hair, made even more incredible by the juxtaposition of them and her jacket.) The penultimate episode of the season, Relevés, takes the chance of shaking up the series formula by having Jack Crawford and his forensics team take the investigative lead for much of the episode, whilst Will and a friend behave in increasingly incriminating ways and Gillian Anderson rekindles my teenage crush on her by projecting an astonishingly arousing air of professional authority.

We now hit a point where any coherent discussion of the series - both the season 1 finale and the subsequent two seasons - necessarily involves major spoilers. In particular, the series undergoes an extended and strange transformation during season 2, to the point which calls for an almost episode-by-episode breakdown, so my discussion of that is going to be especially spoiler-filled. So, I’ll round off this less-spoilery section of the review by heartily recommending the rest of the series if the above sounds like an attractive prospect and you don’t mind everything getting weirder and less grounded in reality as matters progress.
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So in the season 1 finale, Savoreaux, Will ends up arrested for the copycat killings thanks to Hannibal’s manipulation, though not before he susses out that Hannibal has been the copycat all along. This plot development had been spoilered for me some time before seeing the series, but I actually don’t mind that much; it’s very evident by the end of the preceding episode that this is the direction that stuff is going in, and the way Savoreaux, well, savours the process is enjoyable. There’s also the moment in Relevés where Will discovers that Abigail Hobbs had been an active accomplice in her father’s slayings, where it feels entirely possible that Will might have gone ahead and actually killed her - so, at least in terms of that particular frame-up, Hannibal’s lie might carry with it a sort of truth.

This takes us well out of canon for the purposes of season 2, and into a very dark world indeed - so dark that the first scene of the season’s first episode, Kaiseki, is a flashforward featuring a brutal fight between Hannibal and our hero Jack Crawford, which both provides us with reassurance that Hannibal is not going to fool everyone forever and the viewers’ favourite uncle is going to ride in to make everything OK, but also fills us with trepidation about Jack’s ultimate fate. This episode and episode 2, Sakizuke, take us through a weird topsy-turvy inversion of the basic premise of the Hannibal Lecter series as originally envisioned by Harris; here Lecter is in the Will Graham role, visiting crime scenes and offering his comment on them, whilst Will is in the Hannibal Lecter role, sat in the mental hospital offering his own commentary at the request of Beverly, who steps up to be his Clarice Starling in terms of seeking his input on a particularly wild crime (perhaps the most audacious shown in the series yet, though it makes sense that such an extreme one would be the one that prompts Beverly to seek Will’s help). The parallels reach the point where Will and those he’s conversing with are speaking lines and variants of lines that long-running followers of Harris or his various movie adaptations will recall coming from Hannibal in similar circumstances. Will even dons a version of the famous no-bitey facemask at one point.

This in turn allows Fuller and his team to up the ante on the surrealism, providing new nuance and layers to Will’s visions as well as giving some vivid depictions of Hannibal’s own more sense-focused deductive technique. At point some of these motifs risk becoming overused and silly; the ash-black features of the occupants of Will’s imagination don’t quite resemble blackface, but risk cutting close to it, whilst his tendency to see Hannibal as a drow with giant antlers verges on the comical.

The upshot of all the new dynamics involved, with characters variously trying to find Will guilty, find him innocent, or just plain find him useful, is that Jack Crawford ends up substantially more central to proceedings (not least because our previous main protagonist, Will, is greatly constrained in his actions as a result of being stuck in the mental hospital), which is just fine by me - “Jack Crawford, Actually Competent Investigator In His Own Right” was one of my favourite aspects of the last few episodes of season 1 so it’s quite nice that it starts out as a major feature of season 2.

Once the “new normal” has been established, Fuller presents us with a little departure in the form of Hassun - a courtroom drama episode centred on Will’s murder trial. Naturally, the episode doesn’t end with Will convicted of murder and executed (though Fuller is happy via Will’s dreams to give us a good long look at Will in the electric chair), and ultimately the series isn’t going to go down that route in the long run - but the twists and turns of the case are enjoyable, and the gruesomely direct way in which the trial is finally derailed in order to give Will more time is delightfully realised.

Whilst the ongoing plot remains important, we do still get the odd killer-of-the-week, mostly where they would add something of substance to the story. For instance, the killer in Takiawase is essentially murdering out of a misplaced sense of sympathy, performing unasked-for euthanasia through an excessive sense that they know best for their patient, which parallels Bella Crawford’s acceptance of her coming mortality and her bid for a dignified death. (Though this is a bid she is nudged towards subtly by Hannibal, which raises the question of how we can be sure that euthanasia is wholly the settled will of the dying and how much the opinions of others and societal pressures affect the matter.)

Beverly’s initiative and curiosity which leads to her becoming a sort of Clarice Starling figure also leads to her being the first of the gang to die at Hannibal’s hands comparatively early in the season, which annoyed me - not least because the forensic team contains two basically interchangeable nerdy dudes, either of whom could be lost without damage to the team’s chemistry. That said, Fuller and crew do at least have the decency to make sure her death doesn’t just act as a reason for Will Graham to lash out or for Crawford to deploy Will to the field despite still being under suspicion (though it’s that too); they go out of their way to make sure we get shots of all her colleagues mourning what happened, including her key lab colleagues sobbing in Crawford’s office as he informs them.

That said, the aftermath episode - Mukōzuke - degenerates very quickly into various characters grandstanding at each other - it ends up being a very talky episode, and an episode in which lots of people are chewing the scenery to a wild extent. You get Will himself, you get Eddie Izzard coming back, you get Freddie Lounds, you have Dr. Bloom, you have an entirely unexpected serial killer emerging from the shadows, you have Dr. Chilton, and all of them feast upon the scenery, to the point where Hannibal himself almost gets crowded out until the final sequence, where for once he is put in a truly vulnerable spot and the series’ tendency to look to art for inspiration starts verging on the self-parodic. It’s like Beverly was the series’ anchor to reality, and with her gone it inevitably spirals away into a vortex formed of its own excesses.

Eventually the other shoe has to drop and Jack Crawford and gang need to realise that they should be looking at Hannibal, and it happens in the sixth episode of the season - Futamono. This is abruptly accomplished but quite nicely done - one of several irons that Will has in the fire by this point finally comes up with something which Dr Chilton can’t ignore, and Dr Chilton breaks the habit of a lifetime and decides not to be a secretive asshole, letting Jack Crawford know the details. There is, of course, a big gap between a conversation overheard between Will and Abel Gideon and a case that can stand up in court - both in terms of convicting Hannibal and exonerating Will - but it means that the “new normal”, which could have been kept percolating along indefinitely with numerous killers-of-the-week to pad it out, swiftly starts drifting away, just like the “old normal” of series one turned out to be a fragile thing that didn’t last at all long. In television it’s rare to find a showrunner so willing to steer so clear from the ruts, particularly since the American TV market greatly prefers shows that chug along in a viable steady state indefinitely - much easier to syndicate that way, I understand.

The same episode also depicts some of Will’s most alarming visions - including a vision of a private conversation that Dr Bloom and Jack Crawford are having in a forest miles away, which only helps reinforce the whole “serial killing and extreme psychological states as magical powers” angle which sometimes feels like a hidden layer to the series. It also has Dr Bloom sparking up a romantic connection to Hannibal which seemed to me to come out of the blue as much as Crawford’s crucial clue did, and I’m not sure the preceding material had quite done the legwork to make me buy it as anything other than a bit of extra intrigue for intrigue’s sake. (It also has Hannibal making a passing reference to a census taker in perhaps the weirdest circumstances you’d ever refer to one, which made me feel like Fuller and his team’s game of dropping in references to previous Thomas Harris books and adaptations has started to wear thin.)

The grandest of all the episode’s absurdities, however, is the resurrection at the end of a character that we all had every reason to believe had been dead for years (though, to be fair, we never had truly definitive proof that they were dead), their return throwing a molotov cocktail into the already utterly disrupted interpersonal chemistry of the characters - there’s a certain irony that when, in the following episode, Yakimono, Will is able to emerge from Chilton’s hospital it is into a world which has actually gone completely mad in his absence. (Will even comments on how sudden this all is in the scene he’s released in.)

Perhaps the most effective moment in Yakimono is the bit where Will has Hannibal at gunpoint in Hannibal’s kitchen, and after a moment of severe temptation ends up deciding not to pull the trigger. On the one hand, we have to wonder whether this is down to Hannibal deftly playing on his curiosity to see where everything is going, but on the other hand it also offers perhaps a central moral conclusion for the series as a whole - namely, that it would be wrong for Will Graham to kill Hannibal, even if he believes himself to know full well that Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper, because it’s better that he follow the steps he needs to take to convict the Ripper.

This is important precisely because Will, having been subjected to severe psychological tampering, shouldn’t trust his own knowledge no matter how much he erroneously believes he can - in the same way that institutional biases and the infamous fallibility of witnesses means that we can’t just let the police throw people in jail indefinitely on the basis of mere supposition. Will’s own severe unreliability as a narrator in this case becomes a stand-in for the general unreliability of our subjective instincts, assumptions, and prejudices

Oh, and the episode also includes a fat dose of Dr. Chilton getting thoroughly dicked over, which I guess makes that a delightful little tradition of the series. (In order to set this up, mind, Hannibal would have required a nigh-superhuman ability to slay FBI agents at a whim and then set everything up at Dr. Chilton’s home just as he needed to do in the time available before the agents’ failure to check in became suspicious and backup was sent.) There’s a particular pleasure to be had in how Chilton’s post-arrest shakedown from the forensics team parallels Will’s own one so delightfully.

Overall, the episode feels so much like a season finale, despite coming halfway through the season, that I do wonder whether Fuller and his team were rushing things just a little in case they were going to be cancelled. (This season-of-two-halves approach would become more formalised in season three, with the episode-naming convention changing partway through and a three-year timeline jump happening halfway in as Fuller brings forward his treatment of the Red Dragon story in order to polish off the series.)

Su-Zakana inaugurates the second half of the season with both another killer-of-the-week episode to establish a new working pattern for Crawford’s team and a brand new patient for Hannibal - Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle), whose sartorial choices make her every appearance a treat even as she’s describing harrowingly abusive behaviour. Her brother Mason, as readers of Hannibal will know, is a killer and manipulator with the skills to be a fit opponent for Lecter himself. Mason coming into the series at this point is, I suspect, a gambit to allow Will’s pursuit of Hannibal himself to be delayed in coming to fruition until Fuller is good and ready to put Hannibal behind bars, since Mason’s antics would naturally tend to complicate matters there - in particular, giving Hannibal another way to cover up his murders by making them seem to be associated with Mason’s activities.

(As far as Margot’s depiction goes, Fuller steers sharply away from the direction that Thomas Harris originally went in firstly being rather blurry on whether she’s a lesbian or a transman, and secondly on whether that status is down to her abuse at the hands of Mason. As Fuller has noted in interviews, that’s not how being a lesbian or being transgender works, so he junks a lot of those implications.)

Perhaps foregrounding Mason a bit more earlier would have been sensible; by this point in the series the writers’ ideas for killers-of-the-week have become downright wacky. Shiizakana, the ninth episode of the season, involves - and I swear to God I am not shitting you here - an honest-to-goodness cyberbear. This does, however, set up the payoff of Naka-Choko, in which Will becomes Hannibal’s accomplice if not in murder then at least in his theatrical displays of corpses postmortem. It also has perhaps the most tangled sex scene of the increasingly prominent sex scenes that had been worked into the series, prompting me to wonder whether Fuller and his team hadn’t received a directive from someone to spice things up a bit. (Or possibly they were just at a loss for something to do with Dr Bloom at this point.) There’s a polyamory-would-solve-everything love triangle involved, but the trippy way the sex scene is structured seems to mildly acknowledge that.

It’s also an episode where the show starts semi-directly lying to us, for the sake of helping sell Will’s carefully-set trap for Hannibal - a gambit that particularly hinges on exploiting what we know about Freddie Lounds’ fate in Red Dragon and remixing it here. There’s a point where this start feels like narrative cheating - constructing a story which works solely because it’s tricking you into thinking it’s following the precedent of a different, but connected story, rather than because the story works on its own internal logic and premises. They at least don’t sustain it over-long, mind - the bait-and-switch is revealed in the following episode, Kō No Mono, which at least reassures me that it was planned as a bait-and-switch all along rather than being an unpleasant plot point that they later chickened out on and retconned.

It’s also this episode where Michael Pitt botches his performance as Mason Verger. (Joe Anderson takes his place in season 3.) When your portrayal of a character who seems supposed to be semi-serious, despite the grand guignol scale of their crimes, seems more parodic and over-the-top than Eddie Izzard’s performance in the same series, that’s a sign that you’ve badly misjudged your performance. We’ve only had snippets of Mason so far, but now that he comes to the foreground the shortcomings of Pitt’s performance become all too apparent, and it only gets sillier in Tome-Wan. Bryan Fuller describes Mason as the Joker to Hannibal’s Batman, and Pitt for my money takes that parallel too literally, effectively doing a tiresome imitation of Heath Ledger’s Joker (especially once he gets some scars on his face).

On the whole, for the purposes of season 2 a lot of this Mason stuff seems to be busywork designed to put off the confrontation between Crawford and Hannibal that episode 1 promised us, though the revelation at the start of the season finale that Will had prepared both parties for that confrontation, and each of them thought they had Will in their corner, adds a nice new dimension to that. What’s perhaps oddest about the ending is how powerless the investigators seem to be before Hannibal, which is strange given that he’s one dude and they have the resources of the federal government behind them; indeed, in the last phases of the season it’s like the forensics team fade away and it’s just Crawford, Will, and the others on a lonely crusade to take down Hannibal, like they’ve somehow forgotten that conventional investigative technique is even an option.

The final sequence of the season is a piling of tragedy on tragedy that’s as over-the-top as the convoluted labyrinth at precedes it, and throws in yet another resurrection of a character thought long-dead for extra shock value. (By season 3, we will learn that we can’t even trust that characters that we’ve seen shot directly in the face are dead; unless an entire corpse is put on gaudy display, we are to assume that there’s still hope that someone’s alive.) It’s all quite dramatic, but part of me feels like it was constructed in such a way as to hedge bets in case the series was cancelled - or as a dare to the networks. (“See, if you cancel us now, this is the ending you leave the viewing public with…”)

We therefore enter season 3 with the attempt to catch Hannibal thoroughly botched, and Hannibal having escaped to Europe with Gillian Anderson. This is as close to a win condition as anyone can get in this life and he should really have quite while he was ahead; instead season 3 offers us a more starkly formalised game of two halves, Fuller and his team perhaps realising that their second half plan for season 2 really was kind of messy. (Were they going to riff on the backstory to the novel Hannibal, were they going to concentrate on Will and Jack catching Hannibal, were they going to abandon the thread of canon entirely and bite the bullet on turning Will into a murderer? It feels like they never quite definitively decided.)

Perhaps feeling the hot breath of cancellation on their neck, Fuller and his team take the season to tell the last stories they want to tell: in the first half, the tale of Hannibal finally being captured, and in the second half their own glorious six-part rendition of the story of Red Dragon, now dripping with additional new context that previous renditions of the story lacked thanks to the 33 episodes that have preceded it.

To tackle the first half of that sandwich first; the season’s debut episode includes a flashback with Abel Gideon which almost directly encourages us to treat Hannibal’s jaunt in Europe as a weird fairytale, a bizarre American fantasy of what sophisticated, history-laden, artsy-fartsy old Europe is like rather than anything resembling what it actually is. Certainly, Hannibal’s life of gadding about, showing off his art knowledge, and having Gillian Anderson as his travel and romantic companion, with only the occasional murder to spice things up, feels like his happily-ever-after. Everyone knows, of course, that happily ever after only remains the case so long as you stop narrating at the right moment, but for much of the episode we don’t even get sight of Will and Jack, leaving their fate following the reckoning at the end of season 2 open and dangling the possibility that the entire season will turn into Hannibal Dines In Europe.

When we catch up with Will, that special friend who we thought had died at the end of season 1 and then discovered was alive and then thought had died at the end of season 2 turns out to be alive anyway. Abigail Hobbs, the Girl Who Won’t Stay Fridged, seems to think that if she and Will went looking for Hannibal then they could be a happy family together; as nonsense as this seems to be, it might be Will’s best lead, especially since his visions have become particularly wild. Then again, so is everyone else’s; Fuller and his team seem to have decided to go full Lynchian for the purposes of this season; the first really coherent scene of the episode comes when Abigail and Will are visiting a cathedral in Europe on their Hannibal-seeking holiday, at which point Will psychologically profiles God. This is a season where Fuller and company show us a vivid scene of Hannibal and Will butchering Jack Crawford at Hannibal’s dinner table, I suspect just to show us what it would have looked like because it was a cool old scene.

(It’s around this point that Will runs into someone who ran into Hannibal decades ago, by way of establishing the conceit that Hannibal was the real-life serial killer known only as the Monster of Florence; this feels like a major step across a boundary for the series, which has so far dealt only in fictional killings.)

Meanwhile on the “killing as occult power” angle, Abigail talks at the end of the episode how Hannibal would have made a place for all the murderpals in “some other world”, so we’ve got otherdimensional realms of murder-havens involved here. The sense of otherworldliness is only underscored when the episode ends in a long dungeon crawl sequence in which Will and Hannibal sneak around the catacombs under a cathedral, not actually finding each other, and in which it turns out that Abigail died at the end of season 2 after all because she’s also The Girl Who Won’t Stay Unfridged. Subsequent episodes continue the descent into plot-minimal tone poetry as we get some insights into Hannibal’s personal history and Jack Crawford lagging behind on Will’s trail.

On that personal history: Hannibal was born to an aristocratic family in Soviet-era Lithuania, the Lecter family apparently maintaining an incredible degree of personal autonomy during Lithuania’s incorporation into the USSR. Hannibal had a sister called Mischa, who Hannibal ate; he blamed this on a handy caveman, who is kept prisoner by his aunt and her Japanese attendant Chiyoh (Tao Okamoto) in the crumbling family manor. That’s… kind of it. It seems somehow more profound when Fuller presents it with lots of weird cinematography and meaningful silences.

Perhaps the weirdest and wildest return this season, though, is that of Dr Chilton and Mason Verger (recast as Joe Anderson, who instead of sounding like he’s riffing on Heath Ledger’s Joker sounds like he’s riffing on James Cagney), who have a bit of friendly male bonding by removing their various bits of makeup and masks and showing off all their facial scarring to each other before they discuss their various plans concerning Lecter. This kicks off the fourth episode, Apertivo, in which Chilton’s perambulations actually help whip the season’s diverse weird strands into something more coherent. It’s here, right in the middle of the tracking-down-Hannibal segment of the season, that we finally jump back in the timeline and take a good, long look at the direct aftermath of the season 2 finale, and how that changed those involved - from Jack Crawford’s transition into retiree and widower to Dr Bloom starting to dress like a film noir villain and flirt with Margot in the process of getting in with the Vergers and their plans.

After this, the hunt comes to a suitable culmination, as personal vendettas, vengeance and greed all play their part in complicating the hunt for Hannibal - to his advantage. We are treated to, among other things, an absolutely delightful fight scene between Jack and Hannibal set to classical ballet, Mason’s extended fantasy about eating Hannibal, a sex scene between Bloom and Margot which to be honest actually seems to have been better signposted than that between Bloom and Hannibal but which also kind of gives the game away for Margot’s endgame against Mason, a conversation between Will and Hannibal portrayed as a sequence of hallucinatory inkblots, a fetus being implanted uselessly in a horse, a riff on Face/Off, and Bloom and Margot exploiting a loophole in the Verger family inheritance by shoving a cattle prod up Mason’s arse and going to town on his prostate.

Having passed through the frankly rather muddled second half of season 2 and first half of season 3, the series finally tackles the Red Dragon story, and in doing so finds a new focus for itself. Naturally, parallels to previous adaptations are rife, but Fuller uses them artfully; for instance, Mann’s sparsely-used but very effective light-shining-through-the-eyes motif is used to excellent effect, and the meeting between Jack and Will that brings the latter in on the hunt is recontextualised by shifting it from the pure, sunny beach that Mann placed it in to a delightful log cabin in some chilly, snow-bound woodland.

At first it seems like everything is going to be much more straightforward than it has been for a while; Dr Chilton, who having lost control of the mental hospital to Dr Bloom has now become a muck-raking true crime author barely a rung above Freddie Lounds in the journalistic credibility stakes, even quips to Hannibal that all those fancy allusions and refined aesthetics made Hannibal a niche taste, whilst the so-called “Tooth Fairy” has more mass appeal. If there were any risk of Hannibal the series going mainstream, though, the magnificent handling of Will’s reconstruction of the Leeds family crime scene quickly puts paid to that. After all, the Tooth Fairy isn’t the Tooth Fairy - he’s the Great Red Dragon of William Blake, as immersed in artistic inspiration as Hannibal himself was.

On the latter point, one of the issues with adapting the story in a 2010s context is that our man, Francis Dolarhyde, selects his victims in the original story through a defunct technology - namely, film photography. Whereas in Manhunter Michael Mann places Dolarhyde in achingly modern surroundings (because everything Mann did in the 1980s was as modern as it could possibly be - we’re talking a director who incorporated a Tangerine Dream soundtrack and a laser light show into a World War II horror movie) - Fuller instead has Dolarhyde surrounded absolutely with archaisms. In his darkened lair we see big dusty books, gilt-lined paintings, photographs developed from film, music played on vinyl, and old-fashioned home movies projected from a film reel. We see no sign of anything with a screen - not a television, not a computer, not a cellphone. And in this place which seems to have gotten lost somewhere late in the 20th century, we follow along closely as Dolarhyde seeks to become the dragon he envisions, to the point of hearing its roar issue from the false teeth he uses in his attacks.

(A major exception in the technology-light approach comes in when Dolarhyde reaches out to Lecter, though without this it would be near-impossible to have an onscreen conversation between the two. And it’s notable that he doesn’t bring the laptop into his private space.)

Fuller also makes sure that Dolarhyde’s relationship with Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley) is exactly as heartbreakingly almost-viable as it needs to be; it’s very crucial for his story, both as something which could have potentially steered him out of the darkness - but precisely because he’s already gone as far as he has, it’s too late for him to snatch that lifeline. The other major relationship in the story is, of course, that of Will and Hannibal, and in the penultimate episode Fuller’s subtext is finally made text when Will asks Dr Du Maurier whether Hannibal loves him. (For much of the rest of the episode we’re treated to a lot of talking, in which we’re shown how all the characters - even those who seemed grounded and worldly at the start of the series - have become pretentious weirdos of various flavours as a result of the bizarre nonsense they’ve lived through.)

Another crucial plot point from the original story - Dolarhyde’s attack on the Graham residence, having been tipped off to the address by Lecter - is handled especially interestingly. In the original novel it’s the climactic confrontation; in Manhunter it’s a threat that never actually comes to fruition, probably because Mann rightly realised that constructing the climax around an attempt on Reba’s life made better use of the character. Here, Fuller has to change it up again, and does so in such a way that makes sense for the overall shape of the series so far - which is that when the Red Dragon calls, Will isn’t at home, leaving his wife and stepson to bear the trauma alone. This is by far the most vicious version of events, but is crucial in alienating Will again and driving him away from the stable family home life which, after all that’s happened in the previous seasons, we should have realised was never a long-term option for him.

With the end of the series bearing down on them, Fuller also takes the opportunity to use the Red Dragon story to offer a coda to the various stories told over the past two and a half seasons, from the way Hannibal’s cell keeps manifesting as his old office from the first two seasons to the extended flashbacks we’re offered showing such treats as how the false death of Abigail Hobbs was accomplished.

Hannibal’s explicit declaration that the Dragon is Dolarhyde’s “Higher Self”, and the way it manifests to Dolarhyde sometimes as a separate spiritual entity, feels like another occult layer - the whole “communication with the Holy Guardian Angel” business that was the point of the Golden Dawn’s magical system.

Chilton’s designated horrible experience this season involves him suffering (but surviving) the fate that takes out Freddie Lounds in Red Dragon, which is a smart call. The confrontation between Lounds and the Dragon in the original is a long and important conversation which is crucial enough to the whole presentation that it couldn’t be removed from here, but were it done to the gender-flipped Lounds of the TV series it would be a very sustained process of a man terrorising a woman - a more sustained one than the series had done so far - and it wouldn’t include the implied rebuke of the homophobic baiting the authorities indulge in when trying to draw the Dragon into the open.

Finally, in the very last episode, Fuller actually has the temerity to go for the Sherlock Holmes ending for Will and Hannibal. If that’s not an admission of how grandiosely silly the show had become by this point, I’m not sure what is.

Rumour has it that Fuller is contemplating doing a fourth season, though at this stage I’m not sure what the purpose would be. Sure, they could do The Silence of the Lambs, but you really need Clarice Starling to make that story work, and whilst you could have Jack and Clarice start out by recapturing Lecter and eliminating Will (who has pretty clearly succumbed to his dark side by the end of season 3), once you take away Will then you lose most of the point of Hannibal - he’s that crucial to the series. On the other hand, Will knocking around in any capacity more or less makes it impossible to do The Silence of the Lambs at all. Then you have the fact that the whole “Oooh, the killer isn’t transgender, he just thinks he is” angle in Silence was called out for the transphobic nonsense it was even when the original 1990s adaptation happened, and whilst I entirely trust Fuller not to be that regressive, I don’t know how he’d do it short of just plain not touching that plot altogether.

On the other hand, if they don’t do Silence, what do they do? The Thomas Harris well is otherwise drained dry, whilst a season devoted to hunting down and exterminating Will and Hannibal after they survived their personal Reichenbach Falls would either end in frustration or some form of massive downer. Allegedly Fuller has some sort of exciting idea for where he wants to go with it, and on the strength of the three seasons I am sure it will be worth watching, but I am not sure it will necessarily make an awful lot of sense or be “good” in a conventional sense.
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