[This is a review of Hannibal season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Season 2 of Bryan Fuller's sumptuous Hannibal opens up with a prolonged, brutal struggle between Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) that takes place on Lecter's home turf, both literally and figuratively. Lecter's kitchen becomes a battleground wherein the implements the good doctor uses to prepare his elaborate and refined meals are transformed into weapons, revealing their true nature to Jack as much as the man wielding them.
The scene begins in medias res, and is so incautious and out of context – considering where last season left off – it creates the sensation, or at least the belief, that it must all be a dream. And then Hannibal stabs Jack in the neck with loose shard of glass, and the arterial spray and Jack's panic suddenly begins to feel very real. At this point, the audience knows that, like so much else in the series, dream or no, things are going to get grisly.
Then the episode jumps back twelve weeks to a much more civilized meal between the two: "a beautiful presentation." The conflict between Jack and Hannibal is a portent of things to come, which sets the premiere of season 2, 'Kaiseki,' off with an erratic but harrowingly fateful set of circumstances that reconfigures the relationship of two main characters whose goals are at odds with one another, without upsetting the immediate objective of the narrative. That is: to answer the question of what's happened to Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) since the season 1 finale.
Suffering from wild hallucinations and fevers caused by an acute case of encephalitis that Lecter ensured went undiagnosed for as long as possible, Will has become the likely suspect in a string of murders gift-wrapped in evidence so indisputable his future was like Crawford's: rather grim. It seems much of Will's presence this season is destined to be spent in the company of Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza), who is not only short a kidney after his run-in with the late Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard), he is, as per usual, operating without a clue as to what is actually going on.
And that's the key to how Bryan Fuller arranged 'Kaiseki.' It is an acknowledgement of his characters that they were unaware as to what was going on, but are now cognizant of the fact that something was completely awry. If season 1 was spent in a gradually deepening dreamlike state, where the rules of logic seemed to be bent on a whim, then season 2 begins the lucid dreaming phase. Circumstances are still completely out of whack, and oftentimes incomprehensible to the major players, but there's a level of awareness involved now that's brought with little more than an induced hallucinatory state (and a hazy recovered memory of being force-fed the ear of Abigail Hobbes) for an embattled Will Graham to confirm – at least to himself – Dr. Lecter's culpability.
Will's increased lucidity is once more an advantage; he's able to help Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park) figure out what another bizarre serial killer is up to – he's making human models by collecting victims according to a specific color palette – but the time he spent losing time, drawing jumbled clocks, and seeing things that weren't there only help to reinforce the mountain of evidence against him. At this point, Hannibal season 2 has already established a compelling plot that's not only about disproving the evidence against Will, but also shifting the blame for the evidence's existence onto Dr. Lecter. It is a move that, like Crawford and Lecter's tussle, is a foregone conclusion – considering Hannibal is walking the path leading to Thomas Harris' Red Dragon – but as the series has already proven: knowing the destination doesn't necessarily spoil the journey.
Making Will and Hannibal adversaries also keeps the series from becoming too comfortable in any status quo it may have established in the 13 episodes prior. The two were far from besties, as Hannibal saw Will as more of an intriguing pet as anything else, while Will's disheveled state of mind excuses him from adhering to any bond that may have formed during his time in the doctor's care. But as Hannibal makes clear during his sessions with Dr. Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), Will's incarceration has not abated his former doctor's obsession with him. That establishes a throughline for the season: A dual obsession that keeps characters going back to a place they know they shouldn't. Hannibal is playing with fire, teasing a level of transparency that dares Crawford and his colleagues to stare directly into the abyss. In Jack's case, anyway, it seems the abyss intends to do more than stare back.
In a sense, that's precisely what happened with Will. His ability to commune with the darkness and come back with his soul and (until recently) his sanity intact is what drew Hannibal to him. Now, with his appetite suitably whetted, Lecter is on the prowl to see who else might be peering over the edge, waiting to be pushed. With that, Fuller has created an intriguing problem that needs to be solved, a problem that goes beyond the audience knowing what the characters do not; one that puts everyone on the same page, while also leaving them in the dark. It is the beginning of the conflict that will plot the course for the future of these characters, a sublime presentation of a story that uses blood, gore, and other viscera as its medium.
Last season, Hannibal was one of the best shows that not enough people tuned in for. As a result, its renewal came with a tremendous sigh of relief. If the season 2 premiere is any indication, Fuller and his cast aren't changing things up to make it more palatable to a wider audience, they're keeping this particular fare as haute as it ever was, knowing full well that quality often starts small, and is disseminated best through word of mouth. If you're not watching Hannibal, you're missing out on one of the finest, most viscerally entertaining programs television (network or cable) has to offer.
Hannibal continues next Friday with 'Sakizuki' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:
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