nbc hannibal

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.

I Myself Can Not: Buffet Froid

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(in which Jason and Kate attempt to hold a weekly discussion about NBC’s Hannibal in spite of Jason’s insistence on leaving home for weeks at a time)

JASON: Let’s take a moment to celebrate the fact that, after leaving us all in the lurch for several weeks, NBC renewed Hannibal for a second season.

Hooray!

Now, let’s get back to “Buffet Froid,” an episode I found to be mostly effective but slightly troubling.

First, what I liked: almost everything. The opening sequence where Beth LeBeau is stalked and eventually killed by Georgia Madchen was creepy in a traditional horror-movie way that the show usually doesn’t get into, but man, did it work. That first scene proved that if Hannibal wanted to be a more traditional, killer-of-the-week, Criminal Minds-esque procedural, it would be the most stylish one out there.

Fortunately for us, that’s not what the show is. Can you imagine any other serial-killer-hunting show that would go so far out of its way to undermine the main character? Will’s blackouts are getting to a dangerous point now, where he’s almost convinced that he’s going to murder someone while he’s under. But this episode found a new way to demonstrate how unreliable Will is: the clock. When Hannibal asks Will to draw that clock, we see it the way Will does, as a normal (if hastily drawn) clock. But when Hannibal gets a hold of it, he sees it as it actually is, a messy scribble that displays a lack of spatial awareness. The blackouts tell us that Will doesn’t see everything, but that little scene with the clock tells us that even if Will sees something, it might not be true.

Then again, maybe the scene with the clock was only there to set up Will’s newly-discovered illness, which I’m uneasy about. It’s nice that the writers have an explanation for Will’s craziness besides “he saw some messed-up stuff and now he’s messed-up, too,” but it feels like kind of a cheat, too. One of the most obvious themes in the show–and the justification for all of the over-the-top violence–was the weight of Will’s ability, and the fact that it brings him dangerously close to the people he’s trying to catch. But now what I thought were the effects of that weight are just the symptoms of an inflamed brain.

Still, I respect the decision to bring a little more realism into the show, and it actually works nicely with my still-developing theory about the show’s major theme: the separateness of the mind and body. Short version: the way Hannibal barrages the viewer with images of the human body as an object are meant to amplify and connect to the central horror of the show, which is that one of the main characters eats people. On the furthest edge of this theory is the idea that the show is taking us through the proces that Hannibal himself went through, bringing us intellectually, if not emotionally (or so I hope!) to the conclusion that the human body is nothing more than meat.

In this episode, Doctors Lecter and Sutcliffe emphasize a distinction between the “brain” and the “mind,” and while we discover that Will’s problem is actually in his brain, Will himself still thinks the issue is psychological. I may be reaching here, but I think this actually furthers the separation between Will’s body and his mind, because his mind believes something is wrong with itself, with the real issue is his body.

Take it away, Kate! Please, before I disappear completely into my own navel-gazing. Oh, and if you’re taking requests: what do Dr. Lecter’s actions in this episode tell us about his relationship with Will? Does it reveal his true feelings, or has nothing really changed?

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KATE: I’m on the fence about Hannibal’s plot line this week. Actually, I’m all over the place about it. In terms of the show’s development and the character arcs, I thought this was a fabulous episode. Hannibal’s decision to lie to Will, therefore putting his life in danger seemed par for the course. After all, Hannibal’s relationship with Will is essentially about curiosity and psychoanalysis. He may like Will on a personal level, but why would that stop him from using Will as a lab rat? Hardly. He is a literal sociopath. He may be romancing Dr. Bloom over wine and dinner in one episode, but it’s not going to stop him from knocking her unconscious in another. Let’s not forget that Hannibal knows who Buffalo Bill is throughout the entirety ofSilence of the Lambs, but refuses to let Clarice know the identity, simply because he likes watching her grapple with his riddles. He’s kind of a jerk like that. There’s a similar development going on here. While encephalitis is hardly the same thing as being stalked in a basement, it does speak to Hannibal’s motives regarding those he cares for.

Then there’s his decision to kill Dr. Sutcliffe. Did he do it because he found Dr. Sutcliffe morally repugnant? The man did agree to keep a serious medical diagnosis from his patient just because Hannibal told him to. Did he do it to protect Georgia or draw her out of hiding? Probably not. Did he do it to keep Will’s condition to himself? I’m most inclined to go with theory. Hannibal needed a neurologist to confirm Will’s condition and found himself backed into a corner. He either has to kill Dr. Sutcliffe or be stuck with him in some sort of secret pact for the rest of time. To me, this only underscores Hannibal’s connection to Abigail Hobbes. He’s in a similar scenario where she is concerned, but goes out of his way to keep her safe. He helps her to conceal all of the skeletons in her closet, but no one can really understand why.

All of this is essentially to admit that I can’t say why Hannibal does what he does. Much like the serial killer showdown from a few episodes ago, it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it showcases Hannibal in a weird rubber suit.

Also, can we talk about how Hannibal can sniff illness? Or that he was a playboy in medical school? Why isn’t that show on TV?

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JASON: Be patient, Kate. If this show stays on the air for a few more seasons, I bet we’ll end up with a Spartacus-style prequel season, which will hopefully focus on Hannibal as a med-school playboy and ignore the part where he lives with his Japanese aunt while hunting his sister’s killers… although the latter sounds more like a tv show that might actually get made. Oh, I’m sad, now.

I Myself Can Not: “Trou Normand”

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(in which Jason and Kate review NBC’s Hannibal and try to go more than a paragraph without mentioning Tumblr)

JASON: Whether it’s because of my writing style or because I publish these reviews on a website with my name in it, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m not an actual critic. I like to think that I know a little bit more about film and television than the average viewer, but no one has ever paid me to talk about them, so officially, I’m just an interested amateur. So, when I watch a show, I don’t always do so as a professional, meaning that I don’t engage with the program on a very high level. All this is to say that “Trou Normand” is the first episode of Hannibal that I’ve watched with my “critic hat” on at all times.

Or maybe I just feel that way because the thematic stuff was right up in your face this week. One thing I like about this show’s killer-of-the-week format is that the killer is never the point. Sometimes, Will just figures out who the killer is and they track him down without any trouble–in one episode, the guy just hanged himself. Last week was an exception: Tobias was clearly the focus of the plot, and Will and Hannibal’s developing relationship just hung off of it. In an episode like “Trou Normand,” the serial-killer plot is pure thematic fodder, a smaller story about a father that echoes the larger story of Will and Hannibal’s relationship to Abigail.

Like I said, the parallels aren’t that subtle, but no one calls them out, either. Hannibal explicitly tells Will that they are now Abigail’s surrogate fathers, but he doesn’t say, “I mean, we can at least be better fathers than that guy who killed his son, am I right? Eh? I eat people.” Or whatever he would say. I can’t do it, but you know.

Okay, I’ll just say it: the deft use of parallel plot points, along with the long-form storytelling and attention to character detail, makes Hannibal the Mad Men of serial-killer shows.

What say you to that, Kate? WHAT SAY YOU?

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KATE: Whoa, whoa, whoa…okay, sure. That parallel kind of works and I can’t explicitly argue against it; however, I don’t know if it matches up. For one thing, we’ve only seen one season of HannibalMad Men has been consistently subtle and engaging for six seasons. Hannibal has only made it through half of one. Any number of television shows can manage to pull off a great first season before muddling off into Crazy Town (Lost, Nip/Tuck) while any number of others have subpar first seasons before becoming something great (Parks and Recreation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Not that I doubt Hannibal. If it manages to be renewed (looking at you, NBC) I think it has a great run ahead of itself, as long as it doesn’t stray into Hannibal Rising territory.

Speaking of Hannibal Rising, let’s talk Mischa and Abigail. Mischa, as I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, is the younger sister of Hannibal, introduced in Hannibal Rising. Her demise (on the part of flesh eating Nazis) is also the apparent source of Hannibal’s cannibalism, although in this more modern interpretation, that’s up for debate. I have to wonder when or if the show will attempt to explain his cannibalism. They can only do better than the source material, but they would need to come up with something better than a chewed up version of Godwin’s Law. As flawless as Mads Mikkelson looks, I can’t in good faith believe he’s secretly 70 years old. So why do I bring it up in the first place? Well, there’s a ton of parallels between Mischa and Abigail.

Mischa is Hannibal’s younger sister. After the death of their parents, Hannibal feels an understanding amount of responsibility for her well being. This is ultimately undone when she is eaten in front of his eyes and he is forced to watch, unable to help her. So, he becomes the Hannibal of Red Dragon fame. Hannibal, in the television show, has an odd fascination with Abigail. He helps her to dispose of a body, he agrees to keep her role in the Shrike case a secret and decides to enlist Will in all of it. But why? It makes sense for Will to have an odd fascination with Abigail. This is the man who adopts any stray dog he comes across, let alone a vulnerable teenager with a cannibalistic psychopath for a father. He shot her father, ergo he feels a sense of responsibility to her. But Hannibal? What does he see in Abigail that he feels the need to endanger himself so boldly? 

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JASON: Now, the Mischa thing is interesting: the way I understand it, Bryan Fuller and his cronies only have the rights to the characters in Red Dragon... but anyone who’s read Hannibal has got to be thinking about Mischa whenever Abigail shows up. When “Trou Normand” went all greyscale at the end, I honestly thought for a second that we were flashing back to a scene of young Hannibal and his sister, which proves that for all my talk of parallels and motifs, I am actually a moron who doesn’t understand how television works. As long as we’re (tangentially) on the subject of Mad Men: when Peggy left SCDP last season, I spent a full week trying to convince everyone that she was leaving the show for good. Like I said: moron.

If we operate under the assumption that Mischa doesn’t exist in this universe–and we have no reason not to–then Hannibal’s feelings for Abigail are pure mystery, which I think is the intention. My guess? Hannibal is intrigued by her semi-latent murderous impulses, and not just in a clinical way. I have no doubt that most of Dr. Lecter’s actions are fueled by curiosity, completely removed from all human emotions, but when you consider his relationship with Will and Abigail, it looks to me like Hannibal is trying to build a family. He’s doing it in a pretty horrific way, of  course: identifying people with severe mental disorders and manipulating them into trusting him. But given that this version of Lecter was also an orphan, it stands to reason that he might want to form a makeshift family… even if it’s only as an experiment.

There’s a line from episode four that I keep going back to. It comes during a session between Hannibal and Will, in a scene so important it was included in the cut-up “webisodes” version. In it, Hannibal is questioning Will about his parents, and Will says “There’s something so unnatural about family. Like an ill-fitting suit.” I’m starting to think that “family” is a major theme of this season, since it’s so tied-in with Abigail and her struggles. Let’s not forget that Will keeps his own canine surrogate family at his home. What do you think, Kate? Am I grasping at straws, here? It’s hard to make these sort of declarations about theme when you’re barely 2/3rds through the season, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.

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KATE: Wait, you really thought they were going to write Elisabeth Moss off the show? You fool! As the show goes on, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Peggy is the show’s protagonist. She’s certainly more developed and likeable than Don, at any rate. I also should admit here I have the worst kind of fan crush on Peggy Olson, so don’t pay attention to me.

Anyway, back to Hannibal. I don’t think the theme of family is a stretch at all. It’s right up there with the complexity of the human mind and what motivates actions versus merely thinking about them. The idea of family as presented on the show, either as an ill fitting suit or what we make ourselves, is all over this show. After all, Garrett Jacob Hobbes killed young women bearing a resemblance to his daughter so he wouldn’t have to kill her, Hannibal is busily assembling his own idea of family with all the strays he’s picked up and Jack is increasingly haunted by his failure to save his wife or his surrogate daughter. I do think, however, that Hannibal’s apparent fondness for Abigail and Will is equally motivated by curiosity and…well, fondness, in so far as Hannibal can feel it. He’s curious about mankind on the whole but when he meets someone who strikes him as clever or talented, he is right in the middle of it. There’s a reason so many fanfiction writers out there write about Hannibal and Clarice Starling. Actually, I can only assume that they’re out there.  Having never read any of it, save the unfortunately canonical Hannibal, in which Clarice and Hannibal run off to Buenos Aires together, I can only assume there’s far worse. This is the internet we’re talking about, after all. At any rate, Hannibal is extremely rich in symbolism, like we’ve pointed out before. Some of it is bound to be less or more intriguing as the season progresses.

Do we even want to delve into the Dr. Bloom/Will romantic subplot? I found her rejection speech to Will a little strange and lacking motivation. Was he ever trying to just sleep with her? I never got the vibe. It was more of a desperate grasping at straws, part of the general “Will be crazy” character motivation they keep pushing. I’d like to think that their little chat would stop this from continuing as a plot development, but I’d just be lying to myself. Tumblr won’t let anything die, let alone an on screen kiss.

JASON: I just realized that we haven’t mentioned the fact that Lance “Frank Black” Henriksen made a cameo appearance in this episode! I was hoping we’d get a full-on MilleniuM reference and Henriksen would play Will’s mentor who taught him the ways of criminal profiling… but instead he was just the killer of the week. Oh, well.