Thoughts on Hannibal, Season Two

Sorry for the delay. I had to graduate from college among other things.

If I could tell my past self that the second season of NBC’s Hannibal would be even better than the first, I’m not sure I would believe it. It has been more than two weeks since the finale and I still find myself pondering what happened. On par with HBO’s Game of Thrones in traumatizing its audience week by week, the second season of Hannibal was a slow, steady burn that built to something that felt more like a series finale than anything else. Game-changing, world-shifting decisions were made in the final episodes, setting the stage for what will be a very different third season. I’m extremely happy that the chronically cancelled show runner Bryan Fuller will have the opportunity to bring us deeper into the twisted world that he has created in Hannibal.

Throughout the second season, the performances from the principal cast remained impressive. Mads Mikkelsen in particular has further cemented himself in my mind as one of the best actors around; his Hannibal Lecter is chilling and capable of great cruelty, but the writing is so brilliant that it allows Mikkelsen to explore the humanity concealed within that near impassive shell. In the second season, we see Hannibal as a terrible, unstoppable force of nature, but we also see the deeply disturbed man at the center of that maelstrom as well. His relationship with (the excellent) Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham grows and develops in ways that defy storytelling conventions, especially in television. Will and Hannibal’s relationship remains the foundation of the show and their mutual obsession with one another grows even stronger, becoming something of a romance in itself, though in a completely cerebral sort of way. In his pursuit of justice, Will begins to make compromises in order to get closer to Hannibal, though how far he is willing to go becomes a mystery as the viewer becomes less sure of who Will truly is and whether or not Hannibal’s influence has really taken hold.

Laurence Fishburne remains a powerful presence in the form of Will’s FBI boss Jack Crawford, who finds himself continually torn between following the law and following his gut; his determination to catch the Chesapeake Ripper has never been stronger, but he’s also never been under such scrutiny given his history with the troubled Will Graham. Caroline Dhavernas continues to impress as Dr. Alana Bloom, Hannibal’s oldest colleague and friend. Though a romantic relationship begins to form between the two, neither can escape the specter of Will Graham, who has become intrinsically linked with them both.

On the supporting side of the spectrum, Hettienne Park’s Beverly Katz becomes a major player and supporter of Will Graham despite doubts from the FBI and Jack Crawford. It’s almost a relief to see Will Graham have an ally this season, though as with everything in Hannibal, good things do not follow. Fans of the Thomas Harris books that inspired the series will enjoy the appearance of Mason Verger in this season as well, whose presence and involvement in the world of Hannibal is very important for the future of the series. Mason, the wealthy heir to a massive slaughterhouse empire, becomes something of Hannibal’s nemesis this season despite Hannibal himself being a despicable human being. Michael Pitt’s manic and cruel depiction of Verger is as arresting as it is disturbing, coming off as more heightened than any character before him, but still completely believable within the world that Bryan Fuller has created. Katherine Isabelle plays Margot Verger, Mason’s sister, with just the right amount of mystery and determination. Having suffered years of both mental and physical abuse from her brother, Margot is a survivor looking to finally make a play at seizing her family’s sizeable assets. Though she does not want to be a murderer, it never helps to have the likes of Hannibal Lecter counseling you when it comes to major life decisions. The Verger arc that takes up the second half of the season is truly something to behold, setting the stage for the finale that left me open-mouthed and silent long after the credits rolled.

Though brilliant in both its writing and performances, Hannibal continues to shine as an artistic endeavor. Aurally unsettling and visually striking, Hannibal embodies the pinnacle of craftsmanship in every way. Its sets are gorgeous, the music is memorable and unsettling, and the death tableaus this season are even more gruesome and extreme than before. I thought I’d seen Hannibal stretch the limits of what can be shown on primetime television. I was very, very wrong.

To avoid the risk of sounding like I’m repeating my praises for Hannibal’s first season, I’ll end this post here and simply say, if you haven’t seen this show, season two is a great place to start. And if you still have doubts, I shall leave you with this: Can a show that features the line, “Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude,” really be bad?

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