Month: May 2014

I Myself Can Not: “Naka-Choko”

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(in which four’s company, but five’s a crowd — especially when one of the people involved is a highly symbolic hallucination)

KATE:  Hey, Jason! It turns out that Alana and Hannibal really are thinking about Will when they have sex! How about that? Or, maybe, he’s thinking about them. Or her. Or maybe just Hannibal… or maybe Hannibal as a stag monster. The sequence is a little unclear. Either way, someone is thinking about someone else when they’re getting busy. I think it’s safe to say that Will was probably thinking about Alana when he slept with Margot, but it’s anyone’s guess. All I know for certain is that:

a) Will is turned on by scars, both literal and figurative
b) Alana is turned on by playing the theremin
c) Hugh Dancy is apparently handsome enough to turn any lesbian straight.

Before I dive in, I wanted to clarify that Alana’s role in this is woefully underwritten and largely disappointing. This is familiar territory. Alana is given very little to do that doesn’t directly reflect her relationship with Hannibal. She’s either having sex with him or defending him to Freddie Lounds. I don’t really care to dwell on the implications of a scene consisting solely of two women arguing over their individual relationships with male characters, but c’mon. You can do better, Bryan Fuller. You really can.

I’d like to believe that the sex sequence was an attempt at a further blurring of the lines of Will’s sense of right and wrong. Did Will actually want to sleep with Margot? It seemed that way, until the weird five-way hallucinations started, but I’m not sure. My best guess is that Will saw it as more of a means to an end. Apparently, Will has a master plan to trap Hannibal and turning Margot against her shrink is part of that. Who knows? Will’s actions upon his release from jail need to have some kind of moral payoff if he’s going to continue as a main character, but unfortunately, he’s all over the map. Stringing up Randall as a literal man-fossil is decidedly on the more egregious side; sleeping with Margot as a cover is a little less.

Will definitely thinks Hannibal is guilty. I mean, you don’t imagine a black stag monster fucking your former (perhaps current?) crush unless you’re already predisposed to think of Hannibal as evil. Then again, Will’s subconscious already identifies Hannibal with a stag monster, so it could be completely normal. Well, as normal as identifying your shrink and best friend as a evil black stag monster could be. I don’t know. It’s just as likely that Will wanted to have sex with Margot and used a fantasy to, you know, get somewhere while doing so. I think it’s equally as possible that Bryan Fuller just wanted to mess with his audience.

For her part, Margot seems to be playing into the ultimate motivation of her character in the books: she wants a baby. I don’t think I’m jumping the gun on this, either. I was already a little suspicious of her motivation when she started to seduce Will. Don’t forget, this episode went out of its way to emphasize that Margot is gay. Again, who knows? I mean, Hannibal is weird enough at this point. Why not throw a pregnancy plot into it?

Okay. Having mucked my way through all of that unfortunate imagery, let’s take a deep breath and get down to what really mattered about this episode: Mason Verger. At last, we meet the man himself. His scenes, few though they were, were easily the highlight of this episode. How wonderful is Michael Pitt in this role? A character that drinks tear martinis and offers slaughtered pigs to guests would be a mere caricature in anyone else’s hands. Pitt makes it work! He’s obviously crazy, but it’s a fun crazy, as creepy and off putting as it may be. This show is too easily mired down in dour crime scenes and dark discussions of human nature. Mason’s introduction to the plot is a breath of fresh air. Admittedly, that’s probably coming from a personal fondness for the character. I can’t begin to describe the amount of fan service offered in his scenes and I can’t wait to see where the show goes with his plot line from here.

Something else of note in this episode: Hannibal mentions he had a sister. Had. Uh oh. I’m not liking where that plot line is going. Strangely enough, I can’t think of anything else notable that happened in this episode. Can you, Jason? CAN YOU?

Hey, Kate, I think I found our next Halloween costume!

Hey, Kate, I think I found our next Halloween costume!

JASON: First off: until a little past the halfway point of this episode, I had forgotten that Will was laying a trap for Hannibal. This might be another indicator that I’m not cut out for TV criticism, but I prefer to think that it shows how effective Will has been at deceiving Dr. Lecter. Something fishy was clearly going on when Will asked to continue their therapy, but everything that has happened since then is pretty plausible. Hannibal was betting that Will, when placed in a position where he could be morally justified in killing someone, would take great pleasure in the act, and he was right. He knows that Will has what we’ll charitably refer to as a mild obsession with the act of taking a life, and we know it as well. So, when Hannibal convinces Will, in that recognizable state of confusion and delirium that comes after you kill a bone-suit-man in your living room, to take that a step further and display the corpse, it catches us off-guard because it feels like a natural progression… which is the same effect Will is hoping to have on Hannibal.

Or at least, that was my experience. Maybe you and everyone else watching was able to keep their wits about them, but when I saw what Will did to Randall’s corpse, I was straight spazzin’. That display was one of the more upsetting tableaus that the show has done, both because it was done by our protagonist and because of how plausible it seemed: this wasn’t a human totem-pole or an angel statue made of flesh, it was just a guy’s body, chopped up and hung on an animal skeleton. Can I go one review without talking about body horror? I guess not. The killers on this show are always altering the human body in unpleasant ways, but this one was just a touch more subtle than usual, leaving the human form a little more recognizable and amping up the discomfort level. Plus, it was pretty fitting, considering Randall’s lifelong obsession with animal forms. Will Graham is a mad genius. Or maybe he’s just a crazy guy with a grudge.

I’m glad I picked up on Will’s deception before the end of the episode — which I assume you’re teasing me about, because you are a mean person — or I would be outright distraught right now. I don’t know exactly what happened to Freddie Lounds after Will dragged her out of the car, but I don’t think for a minute that she’s dead. And no, I’m NOT in denial. After all, Will had a whole meat locker full of body parts! Who’s to say he didn’t save some of Randall’s meat for himself and fed that to Hannibal at the end? Who’s to say? You? You’re not Bryan Fuller! You can’t tell me she’s dead! You don’t know! She’s not dead! SHE’S NOT!

Let’s press pause on that: do you think Will was really eating people at the end of the episode? He’d pretty much have to, right? Hannibal would know a fake if he tasted it. But Will, even for this dastardly plan you’ve set up, seriously, eating people is gross. I know we’ve all thought about it, am I right? Ladies? You know what I’m talking about. I mean, we’ve all be there. But, come on: ew.

Unpause: AND ANOTHER THING! SHE’D BETTER NOT BE DEAD BECAUSE IF SHE IS that’s one less female character on a show I used to champion based on the high presence of good female characters but has recently killed off one major female character and marginalized another to the point that she is little more than a sexual object for the two main characters to kick back and forth like a glamorous raven-haired soccer ball. I still think Bryan Fuller and co. deserve credit for populating Hannibal with interesting female characters, but boy, it’s hard to keep that admiration going whenever Alana is on-screen.

You already covered all the great things about Mason Verger’s first appearance, but I’d like to second that emotion. Just having that family on-screen is great, but I’m really getting curious as to how this will tie into the main plot-line. Obviously, if Hannibal’s gonna have his infamous session with Mason, it’ll have to happen before he goes on the run from the law, which is definitely how this season ends, right?

I love that last shot, which is either a reference to the final image of Norman Bates in Psycho (which is just one more addition to the list of things this show does better than Bates Motel) or a reference to something in Persona, which I haven’t seen, sorry, I’m not as up on my Bergman as I should be.

And finally, a personal plea to Bryan Fuller, in regards to Hannibal’s sister: please, please don’t go there.

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I Myself Can Not: “Su-zakana” & “Shiizakana”

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(in which Jason and Kate take on two episodes in a single review and never once mention that Jeremy Davies is on the show now)

JASON: Body horror is one thing, body horror I can handle. But the final scene between Hannibal and Will in “Su-zakana” made my skin crawl like nothing else on Hannibal ever has. Is it too soon to start making predictions on when Hannibal and Will are finally going to kiss? At this point, it would feel weird if they didn’t, right? Forgetting the fact that Hannibal is so deep inside Will’s head that Will isn’t even sure he wants to kill him, the look of pride and wonder on Hannibal’s face as he takes away Will’s gone has the sort of erotic tinge that could launch a thousand ships (so to speak), was this relationship not already so creepy that even the most misguided piece of fanfiction couldn’t make it worse. Hannibal and Will are like Mulder and Scully if The X-Files were written by the devil himself.

Putting aside my lingering discomfort and that gross, clammy feeling I’ve had all over my body since these episodes aired, there’s plenty to geek out about. Most importantly: THE VERGERS ARE HERE! Mason doesn’t make an appearance, although we do get a look at his infamous martini of tears — a character detail so deliciously insane and over-the-top that even Ridley Scott had the good sense to leave it out of the Hannibal film… but it fits in so perfectly with this series that it’s one of the first things we learn about Mason. I’ve been excited for these two to show up, for reasons of both personal fondness (“CORDELL!”) and legit interest in seeing Fuller’s version of the Vergers, and things are already looking up. As Fuller addressed in that episode’s Walkthrough, the Hannibal novel makes it seem like Margot is sexually “abnormal” as a result of being sexually assaulted by her brother, which is, you know, not how things work and certainly not the impression you want to give. So, he has wisely made Mason a little less gross, although we’ll have to wait and see just how horrifying this version is. He still hands out candy bars, after all.

Between the appearance of the Margot and the scientists finding a piece of organic matter in a victim’s throat, I could barely remember which novel this series is supposed to be adapting. That embarrassment of riches was enough to make me look the other way on some of the plausibility issues that came up in the past two weeks. Look, I’m not a jerk; I know that Hannibal operates on a level of heightened reality and I’m willing to be a good sport and suspend the appropriate amount of disbelief. But is there no oversight at all for this branch of the FBI? Does anyone think it’s a good idea to have Hannibal consulting on the same case as Will, a man who tried to have him killed? I actually started to pull away from the show in the opening dinner scene, where Jack, Hannibal and Will all sit down for a nice fish dinner and a little friendly chitchat about how one of them thinks that the other is a cannibal. Given the circumstances, I do imagine it would come up, but the scene just feels awkward and uneasy.

… though that may have been the point, given how these episodes examines the new Will/Hannibal dynamic and pushes it into the creepiest place it has ever gone. In these scenes, it’s clearer what the show is trying to do: things haven’t gone back to normal, but now that everything with the Ripper has been wrapped up, the characters have to pretend like it has. But everyone involved (us included) knows that beneath the paper-thin layer of normalcy is a tangled mess of sex, murder, and the least healthy male friendship ever put on television. It’s anyone’s guess where Jack’s head is at these days, and I don’t know if that’s intentional or just a minor failing of the show’s creative team. When Will was giving him that blatantly metaphorical lecture about fishing, it almost seemed like Jack was on the same page. I imagine he still has some lurking suspicions about Hannibal, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part. Either way, that dude is getting a shard of glass to the neck in T-minus five episode, so he’d better wise up quick.

How did you feel about the first appearance of the Vergers, aside from SO EXCITED? Did you have trouble swallowing the new character dynamics within the FBI? How gross did you feel after watching the first session of Will’s renewed therapy? Guhhhh. Excuse me, I need to go stand under a hot shower and stare blankly at the wall.

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Clearly nothing weird going on here.

KATE: Never say fanfiction can’t make anything worse, Jason, because it can. While you’re at it, never look at the Hannibal tag on Tumblr, either. Between them, Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy have starred in enough romance movies that you’re almost guaranteed a poorly photoshopped photo of them having sex. It’s either that or a gif set of Alana and Hannibal going at it. I’m not sure which is worse, actually. Anyway, the show is doing this on purpose, right? How could they not? Bryan Fuller is a very smart guy! It’s awful. He has to know what he’s doing is terrifying, but he keeps on doing it. Honestly, I’m beginning to find it a little annoying. Admittedly, I’m coming from a place of grief. Fuller has killed off my two favorite characters this season. Beverly had to die because she was suspicious of Hannibal. Chilton had to die because Hannibal needed a fall man for the Ripper case. So what are we left with? This? My beloved Beverly and Frederick were mutilated so we can watch Will and Hannibal exchange thinly veiled metaphors and call it a conversation? Guh. If they aren’t talking in metaphor at a crime scene, chances are they’re trying to out cheekbone each other in Hannibal’s office. It doesn’t leave me wanting more. If anything, it makes me want to go make a snack until the scene is over.

When a relationship is the emotional core of a show, it needs to be something the audience can relate to. At the very least, it should be something the audience actually wants to see. I found myself drifting away during the Will and Hannibal sequences. These episodes may have been total Tumblr bait, but I thought they were boring. Will and Hannibal only work together on screen when they’re in a scene with another character…and that’s a problem. They have a mutually assured destruction thing going on that is actually very fun to watch when it’s played out in the real world. Will knows Hannibal is the Ripper and Hannibal knows that he knows. Watching that dynamic present itself in a crime scene is engaging. Watching it play out in Hannibal’s office is boring. When they’re alone, their conversations come off smarmy and hackneyed. Will’s dreams about Hannibal are so chocked full of metaphor that it falls apart. I don’t want to go so far as to say they’ve worked this relationship into the ground, but it’s very close.

Furthermore, Hannibal is just a terrible person. We already knew that, of course, but his setup of Will in “Shiizakana” was a total party foul. I guess you could make the argument that Hannibal thought he was helping Randall by encouraging him to jump over the edge into full on Cave Bear, but I don’t buy that Hannibal would want to openly attack Will…not yet, anyway. I haven’t read Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs in a while, but the Hannibal in the books was never this forward. Was he? Hannibal usually talks people into hurting themselves, not open violence towards others, right? I mean, before he was put in jail. After his conviction, it’s all nurse tongues and human face masks. Okay, maybe I’m wrong, after all. So why hasn’t anyone noticed? No one at the FBI thinks that Hannibal and Will’s relationship is just a little odd? Hannibal tells Jack over dinner that he is treating Will again and Jack’s barely raises an eyebrow. I know you already covered this, Jason, but you can’t tell me that Jack Crawford would let Will work alongside a man he tried to kill, especially given that one of them is the other one’s therapist. How can he really rationalize that? Will doesn’t want to kill Hannibal anymore because they realized it was Chilton’s evil light therapy all along? Then there’s Alana. Have you noticed that every sex scene between her and Hannibal ends with some sexy pillow talk about their mutual love for Will? Guh, this show makes me feel so uncomfortable sometimes. Heightened reality is one thing; blatantly ignoring reality is another. Yeah, Jason, I said it.

The only thing that saved these two episodes for me was, rather predictably, the introduction of the Vergers. Somehow I had forgotten about them! I am enjoying the new take on Margot’s character. She isn’t the most interesting or dynamic character in the book; in fact, she’s more like a plot device than an actual character. This version is self aware and skeptical of Hannibal’s treatments. People who find Hannibal suspicious don’t tend to last too long on this show, but it was refreshing. I’m happy someone finally said something about Hannibal’s tendency to recommend murder as a therapeutic exercise, even if Will mostly shrugged it off. It’s a shame it took until episode nine of the second season. I’m excited for Mason’s introduction this week. I’m not sure if he’ll be any less gross, Jason, I just think he’s young and hasn’t met Hannibal yet. I mean, he still drinks tear martinis and collects eels. Did you notice the line about the Vergers being the heirs of a meat packing company? Was that in the books? If not, it’s a wonderful detail to add.

Have I gone too far, Jason?

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“Lot of nice bones you got here.”

JASON: No, Kate — I don’t think you’ve gone too far. Every time Jack, Will and Hannibal share a scene, the entire premise of the show threatens to collapse under the weight of massive implausibility. And that’s coming from someone who loves Hannibal and will tear his garments and wear sackcloths on his loins if the show doesn’t get renewed. That’s the reason I get so annoyed with those scenes, actually: because they’re keeping me from enjoying a show that, when it’s firing on all cylinders, is one of the weirdest, darkest and most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on TV.

Let me pause on that for a second, so that I can say something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while: this show really is beautiful, and I didn’t fully appreciate it until this season. The look of the show is unique right from the get-go, but for a while, I kind of thought that the high-contrast image was carrying a lot of the weight… which just goes to show that I am an awful critic. If you take even a moment to actually study the show’s visual storytelling, you can see that it’s not just the color of the image (although adjusting the show’s color palette to acheive a certain mood is an art in itself that should not be discounted), it’s everything: the dark and moody scene design that always stay on the right side of realism, the Brian Reitzell score that functions more as a nightmare soundscape than a piece of music, the way the shot composition will resemble a slightly off-kilter version of a normal procedural in one scene, then shift rapidly into an awful dream of violence without causing whiplash.

Okay! Sorry. I just wanted to pay the show a long-overdue compliment before we dive back into how absurd it is that Jack watches Will and Hannibal have these innuendo-laden conversations and apparently thinks nothing of it. In “Shiizakana,” he has them both working a crime scene at the same time. Gee, Jack, you think that might bring up some bad memories? I know Will’s not crazy anymore, or whatever, but have a little tact.

I don’t agree with you on everything, though. The scenes between Will and Hannibal do sometimes threaten to veer off-course, but the dynamic between those two characters is so unique that I’m able to let it slide. I know, there’s nothing earth-shattering about two adversaries with a uncomfortably close relationship, where feelings of hate, fascination and (dare I say it?) love all intertwine to create a complicated dynamic that goes beyond a simple good-guy/bad-guy dynamic… but its rare to see a pair of frenemies this closely connected, interacting in such a public yet emotionally claustrophobic space. Your mileage may vary, and it clearly does, but I get a little thrill whenever those two take their icky relationship a step further.

Oh, and I also don’t mind that Hannibal and Alana talk about Will whenever they finish having sex. I just assume that they’re both thinking about him the whole time, anyway.

I Myself Can Not: “Yakimono”

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(in which aggggghhhaghaghgdsfdjskfjdkfjdkfjdskfjd)

JASON: For the sake of anyone out there reading along, I’m going to do my best to remain calm and composed for the next few minutes while we work through the most emotionally turbulent episode of an already heart-shredding season. But before we start, I want to acknowledge that a painful, drawn-out scream of anguish would be a perfectly fitting review. In fact, it might be the best possible review I could give.

What can one say about a man like Dr. Chilton? In the original series (particularly the film version of Silence Of The Lambs) he is an arrogant buffoon, a man who gets great satisfaction from wielding what little power he has over the brilliant Dr. Lecter. In Hannibal, Raul Esparza elevated that buffoonery to a more sophisticated level of slimy self-aggrandizement. The narrative actually made him more despicable, by holding him responsible for Abel Giddeon’s murder, and yet Chilton’s real crime is thinking too highly of himself, and Raul Esparza made his inflated ego a joy to behold. So, it was always hard for me to hold it too much against him. Plainly put, Hannibal is a grim little show, and Chilton is the comic relief… or, should I say… WAS the comic relief.

[choked sobs]

I usually at least like to feint towards actual aesthetic critique in these reviews, sometimes to my own embarrassment. But this… this is too much. Dr. Chilton was my second favorite character, and due to a relative lack of my one true love (Her Royal Highness Freddie Lounds), he was turning into this season’s MVP. His status as my new favorite was cemented in this episode, when he finally aligned himself fully with Will and started dropping truth bombs all over Jack… which should have clued me in to what was about to happen. Hell, Will straight-up says that he’s probably about to die. He warned him, Kate! He tried to warn us all! But Hannibal was one step ahead, the whole time. I hate Hannibal, Kate. And I hate Hannibal, too.

Let me try and take a step back: from an objective view, this is a major alteration to the canon, possibly the biggest we’ve had so far. Yeah, Dr. Katz was still alive in Red Dragon but he was basically a whole different character who only had a couple of lines. Dr. Chilton is iconic. He’s pretty far down on the list of iconic things from Silence Of The Lambs, but he’s still on there. Somewhere above Jack Crawford and somewhere below the van that Buffalo Bill drives. The movie even ends with Hannibal about to kill Chilton! I don’t think Hannibal would be incline to repeat that scene verbatim, if we ever get there, but the idea of taking such a major part of the universe off the board this early is a shock… which is probably what they wanted. Damn you, Fuller!

This whole thing makes me wonder what the show will look like when (or if) it finally gets around to full-on adapting the Hannibal novels. How will they incorporate the occasional killer-of-the-week into the overarching plotline? Won’t Francis Dolarhyde’s “mirrors-over-the-eyes” gimmick look pretty tame in a world where someone built a totem pole out of human bodies? Most importantly, what does this mean for Freddie Lounds? All we can do is speculate right now, but after this week, it’s hard not to. Fuller and co. have shattered my preconceived notions about what the show will look like in the future. Of course, that’s not the only thing they shattered.

My heart.

The other thing they shattered was my heart.

KATE: Is it possible to be done with a TV show, Jason? I mean, I’ve been done with TV shows before (Lost, The Blacklist, Dracula), but that was mainly because they were awful to start with. You and I may be slightly biased super fans, but I think we’ve safely established that that’s not the case with Hannibal. Hannibal…Well, Hannibal hurts, Jason. It just hurts. It’s been a rough season that gets more and more devastating…and this is a show that started the season with a man being forced to rip his own skin off. In the long run, I guess it’s a compliment to the show that this is even possible. Last week, I talked about the show’s use of pace and character development. This episode started out with Will getting out of jail and ended with another character being framed and subsequently shot in the face. Can you think of another show on television right now that raises the stakes that much in every episode? They’re certainly out there, but most shows that move at this speed end up reading as cheap melodrama. I mean, I love Scandal and The Vampire Diaries, but I won’t pretend that they’re particularly subtle. Sure, characters die on shows all the time; however, those deaths are usually reserved for sweeps week and season finales. Hannibal does it every freakin’ week and it hurts, Jason. It hurts. I understand the need to provide engaging material every week. That’s a given in the television industry. When the show’s main conceit revolves around cannibalism and human totem poles, I imagine it’s only harder to keep up the pace. I get that. However, the show is starting to run the risk of emotional exhaustion. Shocking character deaths work because they are unexpected and catch the audience off guard. When it’s the norm, it becomes more of an inside joke among viewers and less of a gut punch. You can do better, Hannibal! Shame on you, Bryan Fuller. SHAME. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!

Speaking of Red Dragon, I can only assume they’ll make Dolarhyde’s arc a season long affair, much like they’re doing with the Chesapeake Ripper. For every new Ripper kill, there’s always room for copycats and killers of the week. At any rate, Dolarhyde’s material is less about the gimmick and more about the overarching story. The strength of that character has been less about the murders and more about his persona… you know, the Red Dragon. Mirrors over the eyes does seem a little tame for this show, but it’s a fairly iconic image from the source materials, so here’s hoping they keep it in. Just think, Jason. In the novels and movies, Dolarhyde lives in a decrepit manor by himself and his Blake paintings. Imagine what Fuller could do with that! The Red Dragon material is also very heavy on the Will/Hannibal dynamic. I don’t think Fuller will pass on the opportunity to play that up BECAUSE THAT’S CLEARLY ALL HE IS INTERESTED IN ANYMORE, GAHHHHH.

Okay, Jason. I held out as long as I could. I can only be so critical when my heart is broken. Raul Esparza was a pleasure to watch. I’ve never had much of an opinion on Source Chilton, one way or the other. He’s just a creepy middle man who thrives on his own self importance. Raul’s performance as Chilton made me actually root for the guy, as obnoxious as he was, and as obnoxious as he was. You can’t just kill off every character who gets close to the Ripper’s identity! Honestly, the only character I wouldn’t mind seeing go is Alana, but it’s not like Hannibal would willingly murder his alibi…unless he just wants to troll everyone everywhere. Actually, I wouldn’t put it past him. It’s time for me to retire to my fainting couch, Jason. I’m going to sob into a pillow and wait for the Vergers to show up.