As the final pieces of Hannibal: Season 2 fall into place, and the rain slowly drips down onto the stubbly, brow-beaten face of Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter, there’s a quiet moment of the serene that eclipses all that has happened thus far. Whilst it’s true that Hannibal: Season 2 offers up sumptuous scenes full of violence, gory intrigue and poignant psychological mystery, much of its success has to be attributed to its almost intrinsic desire to pontificate those almost missed moments in-between all the chaos. They allow for clarity and a space to breathe amidst the carefully measured claustrophobia of Will Graham’s inability to separate reality from fiction. Without the chance to stop and think for a minute, Hannibal would be so overwhelming that even the delights and delicacies of grisly murders couldn’t compensate.
Where Hannibal: Season 1 placed the emphasis firmly on the relationship between Dr. Lecter and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the second season prospers by allowing some of the side-characters to fully inhabit the screen. We’ve been exposed to FBI agents and obnoxious reporters before but never really contextually. They all existed to make the world more believable. This time however, we spend considerable time in the arms of Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), who is promoted to a genuinely well-rounded character that at times demonstrates the nuances and subtleties that make our two focal leading men so prominent. Likewise, Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) now represents a moral dilemma, a sort of semi-crossing point between Hannibal and Will rather than previously being an overly simplistic love interest. Michael Pitt however, as bonkers, unhinged daddy’s boy and meat-packing millionaire Mason Verger demonstrates the real value of Hannibal’s incorporation of other characters. His loquacious unlikeness to Hannibal works supremely in accentuating the defects of a psychopath being wholly different from person-to-person. Whereas Will often replicates the intentions of his psychiatrist, Mason is obviously much more superficially peculiar whilst still being as catastrophic. He shares no outward characteristics with Hannibal yet they are both driven by death and destruction.
Much credit must again be given to the relationship between Graham and Lecter. Not just is it as poignant and exhilarating as previously but the fact it maintains and amplifies the connection when having to deal with such logistical issues – such as the two being apart – is credit to the writing of this show. Hannibal now speaks on behalf of Will, who has been thought of as evidently a psychopathic killer, and Will himself continues to point back at the proclivities of the man who should be incarcerated instead. For this to work as smoothly and fluidly as it does, the writing has to be sensational. Not just does it contextually have to find ways to link these two men, through prison walls and dinner appointments, but it needs to use murder now as an opportunity to scar and imprint on Will’s psyche rather than use it for the sake of shock impact. From the first murder of Hannibal, everything is catered and orchestrated by its eponymous star to impress on the mental state of a man already precariously close to the edge.
Precision is paramount with Hannibal. Murders must be preordained so that they have a specific end goal and direction. As the first half of the second season is based on the premise of Will being in prison the killing must serve a grander purpose than the focus of the murderers themselves. True, one man might have the aim of selecting and tying together different racial groups to create a grandiose colour palette, but the entire process must involve both Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham directly or indirectly. That’s why this show has been so vastly superior in its creation, because it has to contend with so many underlying and overarching plot lines, whilst not falling into the pretence of convolution. It’s interesting therefore to notice how the dialogue falls just short of pretentiousness whilst maintaining the sort of language applicable to a man of Hannibal’s nature. Similarly the stylistic qualities of the show are interspersed with enough background context and metallic repetitive sounds that the show remains strong in keeping equidistant between style and substance.
Making sure that the quite gorgeous artistic qualities of Hannibal don’t border on the snobbish is important to how the show works. Designed to lie somewhere between network and high-art drama, Hannibal always runs the risk of leaning too heavily towards one or another. Its fans want the minimalistic plodding tick of a clock to layer a slow-motion scene of a fountain pen placing its black ink onto paper, but they also want recognisable characters doing horrible things involving man-eating pigs. One of the reasons the show has to be acclaimed as a monumental achievement is its vigilant approach to maintaining and developing the high-end with the low-end in tandem with one another. By solidifying this idea we get a quite beautifully shot, conceptualised show that hits all the right buttons for a modern television audience.
None of this would work however unless the actors in Hannibal are working to their maximum potential and fortunately, in that vein, season two continues the trend its predecessor sets. It goes without saying when you have such a talented cast, but if you give actors like Laurence Fishburne and Mads Mikkelsen something they can work well with then invariably you’ll get a good result. Working alongside such recognisable names must be difficult, therefore that Hugh Dancy is so phenomenal in his role is evidence enough that we have another monolithic talent on our hands. Make no mistake, playing Will Graham is not an easy task. You have to both be vulnerable and dangerous at once. His facial twitches and his vacuous steely gaze demonstrate the signs of an actor who is attuned to the motivations of a character. He must understand exactly how Will feels on an almost transcendental level to fully persuade an audience of how disparate Will Graham is as a person. To maintain a duplicitous nature is an incredible skill for any actor.
Mads Mikkelsen himself goes from strength to strength as the restrained Hannibal Lecter. Many proclaimed him to be better than his acting counterpart, Anthony Hopkins who played Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs. I have to admit to being somewhat unconvinced given the imprint Hopkins leaves on the screen after barely half and hour as the former doctor. I still don’t necessarily think that they’re suitably comparable but there’s no denying that after two seasons in the skin of Dr. Lecter, Mikkelsen offers an equally valid and equally disturbing portrayal of a killer. You always get the feeling of something sinister lurking behind the somewhat placid, respectable veneer, yet despite his intolerable and quite sickening actions, that you feel occasional empathy is demonstrative of a truly great actor in work.
The final moments of Hannibal: Season 2 respect that which has come before it. Hannibal plans a two season story-arc and comes to deliver on all its intrigue, guile and mystery in one fell swoop. This is story-telling at its finest; this is acting with utmost integrity for character development; this is a master class in artistic measurement.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter giveth and he indefinitely taketh away.