Recurring Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park and Laurence Fishburne
If I had to pick a buzzword for Hannibal, it would easily be atmosphere. The show revels in it. We are often giving montages of Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal, preparing a mouth-watering meal, arranging every detail exactly how he wants them. This is how Bryan Fuller prepares his atmosphere, orchestrating every small piece of his direction, the soundtrack, the lighting, the faintest of tics in his actors’ faces: each single movement building to his overall tone and mood. It is direction at its very best.
The first half of the season sees Will Graham behind bars and Jack Crawford trying to prove that he is the Chesapeake Ripper. All the while, Hannibal Lecter watches, almost as if he is aware of the irony that in the book, he and Will have changed places. Hannibal as always been the one behind bars, divulging in case files and talking to his devoted followers; here Will Graham is the cornered animal and focused to rely on his wits to manipulate events outside of those four walls. Dr. Lecter is so mysterious and all-knowing, it is a very conceivable concept that he is Meta enough to know of the parallel universe of the books. This half of the season plays around with our conceived knowledge of the books and builds up the conflict between Lecter and Graham, others caught in the crossfire. A lot of the time you could be forgiven for assuming that the season has no idea what it is doing. It brings characters back from the dead, purely to give them a few more scenes, and resets the clock so often that it could arguably purposefully trip itself up on most of the main pitfalls of a popular TV series all in one go. However, when the midway point, and the finale, comes about with shocking revelations, we realise that these are not mistakes or appeasing the audience, but small chess moves in a much larger picture. This season is no longer a prequel; the books are a guideline for the show and definitely not a strict set of rules.
The second half of the season almost settles down, back to where we all started. This happens just in time to introduce another major part of the Hannibal origin story: the dastardly Vergers. I didn’t think much of Mason Verger in the novel; it didn’t help that it was the weakest book in the trilogy, but it also hurt that Dolarhyde and Buffalo Bill were much stronger villains. I looked forward to the show reinventing the characters. But honestly, they didn’t change a thing about Margo and Mason; they handed the characters back to me and went: look again. Mason is a despicable stain of a human being yet with a nasty streak that makes him almost impossible to truly hate. Margo is a really complex character and out of all of the new actors to enter the season, Katherine Isabelle understands the style of acting better than most. She is wonderful here. The show dissects the pair of them, or more aptly Hannibal dissects the pair of them, and we get to see their family troubles, vengeful deeds and their cannibal pigs. Even the eel gets a cameo. Here the show stays truer to the book, but it makes proceedings no less awful. Their story develops in a brutal and gut-wrenching way.
But these new characters never take away from the true story here: the blending of Graham and Hannibal. One of the stronger elements of the show is that it shows incredible restraint on the supporting cast. Sure, Laurence Fishburne, Hettiene Park and Caroline Dhavernas are great characters, but the show never lets them get in the way of the two leads. This is their story and it works best focused intensely on them. The story unwraps in a way where you are unsure where Graham ends and Lecter begins. Some sequences capture that amazingly well. A scene shows Hannibal having sex, juxtaposed with Graham having sex. The two scenes crash and collide, until you are unsure of which character you are watching, writhing in the sheets. The show enjoys the cat and mouse game and the moreish trick of the show is making you unsure of what happens next. I am not even talking about the gap between episodes. The dialogue is so cleverly devised that Lecter could pause between sentences and you would have no idea what he would say next, especially when it often meant he was condemning an important character to death.
The show does suffer at times. Despite great moments, they are often connected by a repetitive kind of scene. You could probably come up with a tough drinking game for every time there was a scene with Hannibal preparing a meal, or two characters discussing psychology with each other. These moments were amazingly done, but when they happened every single episode, it made Hannibal a rather arduous affair. Yes, everyone here could act, but when Chilton and Hannibal trade witticisms in the psychatrist’s chair for the umpteenth time, you begin to get dissuaded by how good Hannibal actually is. If it wasn’t for the extreme gore, we might have been lulled to sleep, before we even got to the scene where a man feeds his own face to some dogs or a woman rips a paralysed patient’s eyes from their sockets. This is the kind of show that is amazing in places, but loses control of its focus so strongly in others. Then the finale comes along and nearly makes me eat all my own words. I am not saying a thing about it. It is the strongest ending to a show this year and is a slap in the face to half of the TV series I love so much…
Final Verdict: I understand Hannibal’s style enough to appreciate its slower style more, helped by the fact it is intensely unpredictable and tightly plotted.