Saturday, 1 March 2014

HANNIBAL, 2.1 – 'Kaiseki'

Saturday, 1 March 2014

written by Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot | directed by Tim Hunter

I don't think many people expected a television prequel for the Hannibal Lecter franchise to work as brilliantly as it did, but NBC's Hannibal was one of the best dramas produced last year and—with Breaking Bad now a fond memory—has succeeded it as my favourite TV show. It's simply a masterclass of tension and tone, while being particularly adept at visualising the grotesque, and in communicating the feeling of a true waking nightmare. Everything about this show oozes class and confidence, and based on season 2's premiere I'm pleased last year's finale doesn't appear to have upset the apple cart.

The worry going into "Kaiseki" is that the idea of a role-reversal for Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy)—the latter imprisoned behind those iconic bars from Silence of the Lambs, the former free to continue killing people while assuming Will's job as a criminal profiler—would hurt the show's dynamic too much. Imprisoning the hero doesn't feel like a move that can be sustained for a whole season (so perhaps it won't be), and yet "Kaiseki" assures us it might actually work. Will isn't actually at his lowest ebb now he's free of Lecter's manipulations, so this year will clearly chart his resurgence before the "reckoning" he's promised Lecter.

Indeed, one clever aspect of this premiere is how we already know Lecter's true nature is going to be exposed to Will's boss, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), as the episode begins with a Damages-esque glimpse twelve weeks into the future with Jack and Lecter engaged in a bloodthirsty duel-to-the-death in a kitchen; which featured some astonishingly brutal fight choreography, as both men entered combat with knives and neck ties.

I've heard it mentioned that this scene spoils what may have been a big surprise later in the season, but I actually think it works incredibly well. One thing this series has to work around is that audiences know where the overarching story's headed, broadly-speaking, so the fact Lecter's going to be caught and imprisoned isn't exactly a spoiler. It's just fun to know season 2's destination as the story begins, so the season can slowly pinch the two things ends together. It seems likely we'll occasionally return to that scene and watch it continue, too.

In terms of this episode's storyline, the killer-of-the-week was a secondary concern as we acclimated to the new set-up. Several dead bodies were discovered submerged in a river, and they appear to be the discarded attempts at preserving lifelike corpses. This story is continuing into next week's episode, which felt like a good idea. There just wasn't the time to do it justice here, as audiences were naturally more interested in understanding the mindset of Will (unearthing a forgotten memory of being force-fed a human ear), Jack (hoping to be convinced Will wasn't aware of his crimes), and Lecter (still obsessed with Will and considering him a "friend"), but the final image was another of Hannibal's unforgettably unsettling ones: an array of interconnected naked bodies, most long dead and preserved, configured like a collage to resemble a human eye inside a grain silo. Yeuch.

Overall, this was a fantastic premiere with very few faults. It seems I was right to think Lecter's own psychiatrist, Dr Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), is aware of her patient's heinous crimes, based on something she said in the finale, as I know there was debate about the extent of her knowledge. Or maybe I'm still reading too much into her sessions with Lecter? It's less ambiguous, we can surely agree on that. I also like how Dr Bloom's (Caroline Dhavernas) helping Will, but only expecting to confirm he wasn't conscious of his gruesome acts; and that Will's helping the FBI from his jail cell in another echo of Silence of the Lambs.

What more can I say? Please watch this show. I saddens me the ratings are so low on NBC, when inferior crud like Fox's asinine The Following rakes in viewers. It's a compelling drama with indelible pop-art imagery (Bloom 'exploding into oil' when she kissed Will), and lovely symbolism (a motionless Will fly fishing in a raging river, with that unnerving feathered-stag watching him from ashore), and unlike its rivals Hannibal knows exactly how to tell a good, dark, horror story.

  • Season 2's titles all have a Japanese motif this year, which suggests we'll learn more about Lady Marusaki (Lecter's aunt he mentions in this episode). No word yet on whether or not the producers will manage to lure David Bowie to the show, playing the role of Hannibal's uncle. But that would be perfect casting.
  • During her meeting with Will, Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park) shows him crime scene photos and asks him to "tell me what you see" (a question Crawford asks Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs).
  • Yes, that was Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon as Kade Purnell—the federal examiner hoping the situation with Will Graham will be swept under the carpet.
28 February 2014 | NBC