You guys. You guys! You watched Hannibal, right? RIGHT??? The season finale actually occurred the other week while I was, as Arsenic Pie termed it, decamped to parts unknown, but finally caught up now that I am back home. And damn. That’s how you do a season finale.
"I feel like this won't end well for all of us..."
We’ve talked about Hannibal here a couple of times in the past. It remains the show that I am continually most flummoxed by on television if only because I have no idea how it is that this show is airing on network TV and has not yet been pulled by the censors or cancelled by the network. Hannibal is artful in its presentation of murder. It spends just as much time focused on the presentation and styling of the cinematically murdered dead bodies as it does on the cuisine. The fact that it often merges those two worlds is completely intentional. This is, after all, a show about a serial-killing cannibal.
Creator Bryan Fuller is known for highly stylized television (he’s the mind behind Wonderfalls¸ Pushing Daisies, and Dead Like Me) but that style tends to be hyper-saturated and fairytale-like. Hannibal, by contrast, is just as visually stylized but is far more grounded in the real world. All those whimsical colors are de-saturated and made cold and steel-y. The visual representations of Will’s inner mind, including the frightening representations of the Stag Monster that Will sees as the emblem of his relationship with Hannibal and his own growing inner madness, are muted, dark and disorienting to say nothing of the insanely creative and visually stunning ways in which people die on this show, which has included a human body being made into a string instrument so that the killer can "play" the body's vocal chords with a bow and bodies with the skin of their backs flayed and then displayed like wings while the bodies are posed like angels. I mention all of this because these aspects of the show came into pitch-perfect place during season two’s finale.
Human being grown into a tree. That...can't feel good.
For those needing a brief catch-up, Hannibal the show has been following the early years of Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen) during his time as a respected psychologist, aesthete, and member of Baltimore society. His friend, FBI profiler Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) uses Hannibal to care for Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a fellow profiler who is uncanny in his ability to understand killers but whose ability to do so has made him emotionally and mentally vulnerable. Of course, turning Will over to Hannibal Lector for safe keeping is like asking the Republican Party to watch after women’s rights initiatives. Which is to say, Hannibal is essentially on a psychological feeding frenzy with Will, distorting him throughout season one and manipulating him into his own deranged psyche.
Season two follows Will’s descent into madness and suspicion that his friend is not the kindly man we believe, but instead is “The Chesapeake Ripper”, a serial killer known for a highly inventive and poetic murdering style. At the start of season two, Will has been incarcerated in a mental institution based on Hannibal’s convincing the FBI into believing that Will is the Ripper. Will is eventually released and begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Hannibal, trying to convince him that he has become Hannibal’s protégé and is, like Hannibal, a superior being able to murder and maim just as poetically and meaningfully. All the while, Will is playing double-agent by working with Jack Crawford to bring Hannibal to justice. Or is he?
Will’s madness and instability is a key theme throughout the season and it’s left mostly ambiguous as to whether or not Will is truly working with Jack or has become an honest to God killer like Hannibal is training him to be. The back and forth culminates in a season finale where everything comes to a head – Jack confronts Hannibal in his home, attempting to bring him down but in the process is attacked by Hannibal and possibly left to die from a mortal stab to the neck in Hannibal’s own pantry. Fellow psychologist and sometimes-friend to Will Alana Bloom is shoved out of an upper story window in Hannibal’s home and left to die, broken and bleeding in the rain on the sidewalk. Will himself is stabbed by Hannibal and, you guessed it, left to die in the kitchen (of all places) after coming clean about his attempt to bring Hannibal in. Hannibal himself displays what might be the most unhinged moments of his life as we’ve seen them so far in this series, clearly hurt by the betrayal of Will whom he has come to invest so much in. “I gave you a precious gift,” Hannibal tells a dying Will, “but you didn’t want it.” The homoeroticism of Hannibal’s attack on Will, the intermingling of their relationship with each other, and the almost tenderness with which Hannibal carries out his final sentencing on Will is one of the reasons why I am amazed this show is still on the air.
Subtext entirely intended.
Season two ends with Hannibal leaving his own home as three of our main characters lie extremely close to death behind him. Hannibal walks off into a cleansing rain, away from the police who are about to arrive and discover exactly what has gone down. His life under the radar is over; Hannibal knows this. And so our final shot is of him fleeing on an airplane to France with a surprising traveling companion: Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, his own therapist who had previously been open with Will about her beliefs that Hannibal was dangerous and Will innocent of the crimes he was accused of. Why Bedelia is on that plane and why she smiles so lovingly at Hannibal in the final shot given how clearly terrified she has been of him throughout the season is one of the mysteries that Fuller has promised we will learn in season three.
A special note about Bedelia Du Maurier – she’s played by Gillian Anderson at her iciest. Everything about Anderson’s concept of this character, a mysterious former colleague of Hannibal who has been seeing him as her only patient after being attacked herself at some point in her past by another patient, is dead on. Everything about her communicates a frozen person, from her almost white-blond hair that never moves to her slow, controlled walk. This is a woman who has been traumatized and is so terrified that she’s concluded the only way to stay safe is to remain utterly still. Anderson is an amazing actress and manages to make that iciness come off as damage, rather than bitchiness.
But at least she has a well-apportioned kitchen?
Hannibal will definitely be back next year and I already can’t wait. The focus will reportedly be on Will Graham’s hunt for Hannibal, leading into the events from the books that fans of the characters will already know. (The first book about Hannibal Lector, Red Dragon, is set after the events we’ve seen so far in Hannibal with the most famous volume, Silence of the Lambs, occurring after that. Fuller has said that the show has a plan to include the events of both of those stories, including that most famous compatriot of the good Dr. Lector, Clarice Starling.) Hannibal probably isn’t one of those shows that I can tell you to start watching if you’re not already inclined – the disturbing visuals coupled with the general concept are high bars for folk who aren’t particularly interested in this genre. But if you can stomach (heh) the concept, the show is so well worth the watching that you won’t regret the attempt.
When you were a kid, your mom likely told you just to try a few bites of the food on your plate before you could say you didn’t like it. Appropriately enough, the same is true for Hannibal.