It feels perfectly natural for Hannibal to indulge a Gothic fairy tale sensibility this season, especially now it's taking place in the continent that created the art form. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) visited the Lithuanian ancestral home of Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) in "Secondo", looking for answers to explain the doctor's psychology, and it was like watching a hardcore Brothers Grimm story come to life—complete with a scrawny prisoner locked in a dungeon. Although, in a break with the storytelling tradition of an innocent child being imprisoned by an evil witch, this was an man who was allegedly the cannibal who devoured Lecter's beloved sister Misha, now doomed to suck on snails for sustenance.
It was curious to note the differences between the back-story to Dr Lecter between book and television in this hour. The series has only lifted rudimentary ideas from Thomas Harris's atrocious prequel, Hannibal Rising: that Lecter had a sister whose death was a transformative experience, and the existence of an Asian "relative". But is Chiyoh (Tao Okamoto) replacing his "aunt" Murasaki from the book, or is she a new character altogether. It was unclear in the episode, although the Hannibal Wiki tells me Chiyoh is Murasaki's maid. Showrunner Bryan Fuller famously wants David Bowie to play Lecter's uncle Robert, Murasaki's late husband, so maybe Chiyoh is a placeholder until Fuller can get the Murasaki/Robert pairing he's long dreamed of?
Another big difference between the novel and the TV show was down to simple mathematics. On the page, Misha and Lecter were children during during World War II (she was eaten by starving Nazi soldiers), but NBC's drama is taking place in the modern-day, so that aspect of the story has been jettisoned. Good riddance. It always felt ludicrous to me, so the TV writers have wisely removed such a silly reason for Lecter to become a cannibal. Who sees a relative eaten by cannibals and decides—"yup, that's the life for me"?
Indeed, by the end of "Secondo", we learn that Lecter ate his own sister for no good reason. He was simply born a monster (nature not nurture), and is thus destined to eat Will Graham out of a similar sense of twisted love. The show continues to write their relationship as if it's a wondrous, complex, deep bond that even beyond the physical. Their minds simply snap together like jigsaw pieces, and conversing is a mutual way for them to understand themselves. For Lecter, eating Will would be the ultimate seal of approval. There's no greater honour.
We also learned that Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) survived Lecter's household massacre last season, although watching one of NBC's TV Spots ruined that surprise weeks ago. Jack's in Italy and meets with Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino), but the only moment of interest was the reveal he's not here to catch 'Il Mostro', but to find errant FBI consultant Will Graham. Is this a suggestion Will's not actually in Italy on official business, but has gone on a personal quest and needs reigning in? Maybe I missed a crucial bit of dialogue last week, but that wasn't the impression I got. He was openly walking around a chapel crime scene, after all. Mind you, it was also intimated Jack's not with the Bureau now (his handling of the Lecter/Graham situation was spectacularly incompetent), so this international manhunt doesn't feel like it has any real authority now!
"Secondo" was another hour crammed with bizarre dream imagery, but I didn't find it as alienating as last week's hour. Maybe I've acclimated to a show that's always had a very chilly and isolating tone, or book-knowledge helped me through scenes that must've felt weirder to others. Although I must confess to heavily questioning Will's sanity, after he winched the dead body of Chiyoh's prisoner into mid-air, after supposedly spending hours making the man's corpse look like an enormous moth. For whose benefit? Is it a greeting to Lecter, whom he suspects will return home at some point after all? That would go against this episode's suggestion Lecter can't ever return to his family estate, almost as if it's on hallowed ground he can't set foot on.
I appreciated how the writers vaulted over a trap Hannibal Rising swan-dived into: that demystifying Hannibal Lecter by explaining his madness destroys his character. So, while this episode delved into the doctor's family history and sought to explain his abhorrent behaviour, we only really discovered that Lecter built a strange "fairy tale" his family maid believed in—and that the truth's only scary because it's so mundane. Lecter was born bad.
Overall, I found "Secondo" a much better hour than last week. I like how Will and Lecter now have female partners on their mutual journeys, too—women who don't feel comfortable by their side, but are caught up in events. And there was the usual dash of bleak humour along the way; the highlight being Lecter abruptly shoving an ice pick through Sogliato's temple while he ate at his table. "That may have been impulsive."
written by Angelina Burnett, Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot • directed by Vincenzo Natali • 18 June 2015 • NBC