John Lucking reviews the second episode of Hannibal…
The problem of the recap at the beginning of any episode of a serialised drama comes in its blatant sign-posting-if-not-spoilers for the episode to come. If television is a constant battle between art and commerce then the recap is a fight the artists’ never showed up for. Key moments the show trusted its viewers to pick up on and carry forward are repeated with childlike simplicity and subtext is laid bare via voiceover and out-of-context imagery. Oh, and remember that character who you thought died/disappeared? I wonder why they’re being brought up in the recap… perhaps they’ll feature in this episode! They can, however, be illuminating at this early stage in a show’s life — signposts of what the the people behind it consider to be the focus of the series thus far. Hannibal devotes these thirty seconds to Will Graham being brought onto the case of a serial killer targeting teenage girls, helping to discover his identity and watching as Will himself ultimately shoots and kills the murderer during a standoff. It closes with the image of Will’s blood-spattered face staring in shock at the now lifeless corpse of serial killer Jacob Hobbs, and it’s this that informs the second episode; not the flashes of plot we’ve just observed, but Will’s mental state in the wake of a justified shooting.
The episode begins with Will at a firing range taking shots at a paper target which soon becomes a hallucination of Hobbes’ corpse as it approaches. The concern regarding Will’s mental fragility hinges on two important questions: how much of a toll does inhabiting the mind of a killer place on him, and what could come of it? His discomfort around people and preference for animals has already been made clear, but are the people he deals with an encumberance on his soul or rather chipping away at his fractured psyche and threatening to reveal something darker lurking beneath? Laurence Fishburne’s agent Jack Crawford, along with basic plot momentum, isn’t keen to take any chances and so decides to refer him to Dr. Lecter for psychiatric evaluation as a result of the shooting. Mad Mikkelson, while hardly sidelined in the previous episode, comes into his own during these conversations with Will. It’s quite something to watch as he feigns an intellectual empathy in regards to the now-orphaned daughter of the previous episode’s serial killer. The first meeting between the two walks the line between support and reassurance as Lecter mirrors emotions (ones that Will can’t yet verbalise) as a means of maintaining appearances and assuaging concerns.
Following Will’s clean bill of mental health (courtesy of Lecter) he is assigned to a case involving multiple bodies buried in shallow graves, all of which are covered in fungi. This scene alone deserves special mention, from the prosthetics of the bodies to the discordant xylophone during their discovery, it flits between haunting and disgusting with every shot. Initially this scene calls to mind the somewhat infamous footage a decomposing fox, that is until one of the emaciated victims (now without lips) grasps Will’s arm, at which point the nod to Fincher’s Se7en is made apparent. It’s here that the impact of the violence in the previous again rears its head as Will struggles to enter into the mind of his target, and although the reason for this isn’t instantly apparent it’s refreshing to see the enduring impact of a traumatic event. Most procedurals are reticent to advance any kind of overarching plot between episodes, let alone portray the effects of one episode’s event in another.
Serving as a B-plot throughout the episode is the introduction of Lara Jean Chorostecki as morally void journalist Freddie Lounds. Played by Stephen Lang and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Manhunter and Red Dragon respectively, Freddie has not softened at all in the transition between genders and remains an unscrupulous presence in the world of true-crime journalism, resulting in the destruction of one person’s career, exposing Will to another serial killer and contaminating two crime scenes in this episode alone. Chorostecki plays her well with a gaze that manages to convey malice and indifference as she’s chastised by Crawford for interfering with the FBI at every turn. The only break in her demeanour is during an encounter with Lecter under the pretense of therapy as he immediately surmises her reason for being there and wonders of a fitting punishment for this intrusion of doctor-patient privilege.
After an autopsy and some deduction Will concludes that the fungi killer is inducing diabetic comas before burying his victims in shallow graves and encouraging the growth of fungi on their bodies. From here the show chooses to ignore illustrating how exactly they find their suspect, but rather washes over this with a few lines of exposition. The killer is located and revealed to be a pharmacist named Eldon Stammets but escapes before the FBI arrive, leaving behind one of his potential victims. Stammets’ goal then becomes to kidnap the daughter of the previous episode’s killer after he learns of Will’s attachment to her courtesy of a leaked story from Freddie Lounds. His reason for doing so, and indeed his reason for all of his murders, is in searching for a connection. The connection is a literal one for his victims as he desires to fuse them with the Earth beneath his feet, but his relation to Will is intended to be one of understanding – a recurrent theme, and possibly the dominant one. Stammets’ goal is to bury Abigail so that Will may become further connected with her in a twisted physical sense. Will prevents Stammets from escaping with the girl and elects not to shoot again after disarming him with a single bullet.
Will’s connection to Abigail seems at first to be somewhere between guilt and a hope of forgiveness, but through conversations with Lecter we learn that the overriding emotion is one of obligation. Probing further we learn that Will in fact does not feel guilt towards killing Hobbs, that his turmoil comes from just how good it felt. If their first conversation of the episode was about reassurance then this one veers gently into encouragement. Lecter notes God as an illustration of the power in killing, talking about him like a junkie hooked on power and attempting to absolve Will of the guilt he feels by placing him in the company of infallible being.
The encounters between Will and Lecter are also of note for their direction, with Michael Rymer continuing what David Slade started in colour, composition and tone. The development of most characters is also continuing expertly, with the show teasing our expectations in regards to Lecter with editing and insertions of shots into separate scenes. We know that Lecter is already an experienced monster, but holding this back from us keeps the tension high every time we see him alone with somebody, or even worse; serving them dinner. Hettiene Park’s lab assistant is improved upon from the pilot as she’s given more time to talk outside of a few morbid quips, and Fishburne’s agent is given a humanising moment with Lecter. Even Will’s semi-exposition during his investigations works due it to being written and played like a mantra which helps him into the minds of his suspects. Also of note is the new introduction, a short but atmospheric opening which consists of something like Marc Quinn’s blood sculpture coming together from liquid halfway between blood and wine.
Within the coming weeks the show will reveal itself as either a serial-killer-of-the-week procedural or as a show capable of sustaining interest outside of this established model, and for now I am inclined to assume the latter. The possibility that the show will do nothing more than provide a revolving door of ever-increasingly demented psychopaths is not one I am particularly worried about at this stage simply because they have so far earned my trust. The problem comes in understanding the demands of television and creative compromises inherent in a show involving law enforcement, so it should be interesting to watch as Fuller and his team either subvert these expectations or fall under the pressure of network television. For now though, Hannibal has my interest.