television

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: “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: “Takiawase”

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(in which Kate and Jason zig-zag through Kübler-Ross model)

KATE: Hey, Jason! Wow, what an exciting episode. It had everything: suspense, body horror and a guest appearance from a character actor as our serial killer of the week. It really seemed like typical Hannibal fare at first… and then we got to the ending, proving that the show is really ramping up expectations for this season. If next week’s episode is supposed to be the jaw dropper of the season so far, then I really don’t know what to expect. I’m so confused, Jason! Honestly, I went into this week expecting very little, but boy, was I wrong… so very wrong. So very disturbingly wrong. Is there enough room on that fainting couch for two, Jason? Because I have a feeling I will need some smelling salts by the end of this review.

Well, let’s start with the positives. We get to return to Will’s memory palace this week, where we find Will fishing with Abigail. They have a highly metaphorical conversation over the difference between hunting and fishing before we’re snapped back into reality. Will is still in jail and in between visits from Alana, Beverly or Hannibal, he’s busy being analyzed by the all too willing Dr. Chilton. Chilton is working with Will to restore his memory from the previous season with surprising success. It adds a lot to the plot and to the character of Chilton. In the books and movies, I’ve always viewed Chilton as largely useless. We’ve rarely seen anything to suggest he is the master psychoanalyst he pretends to be, until now. He’s actually earning his stripes this week, bringing us (and Will!) back to the memory palace for a replay of the pivotal conversation between Hannibal and Abel Gideon. Will Chilton trigger something in Will to help him remember the truth? We can only hope.

I’m very glad the show has embraced the concept of the memory palace, even if they haven’t explicitly named it as such. In doing so, the show has carved out a certain space for relaxation and reflection, both for the characters and the audience. In a world full of body horror and human honey combs, this is crucial. After all, a show ultimately about death can become very heavy very quickly… and Hannibal is no exception. In particular, this episode revolved around how different people confront death. In the case of Bella, we face it head on because we have no other choice; when it comes to Abigail, we go hunting and actively seek it out; in the world of killers like Hannibal and Katherine Pims, it’s seen as a gift to our fellow man, something merciful and well deserved.

Which brings me to Beverly. Oh, Beverly. I’ve been crushing on her very hard this season. In my brain, I thought she could be this show’s version of Clarice Starling–a capable, smart, no bull type who sees through Hannibal’s shenanigans and can work to bring him down. Look at that scene in Hannibal’s house! It’s essentially Clarice’s descent into the basement at the end of Silence of the Lambs! Aside from Dr. Du Maurier, she’s the only character around who seems to want to believe Will, so much so that they run the risk of bodily harm. However, Du Maurier had the sense to keep her cards close and disappeared before Hannibal came for her. I guess in the end I was half right. She did see through Hannibal’s exterior, but I’m not sure it’s going to do her any good, given that cliffhanger.

What did you think, Jason? Are you as heart broken as I am?

[muffled sobbing]

[muffled sobbing]

JASON: You can have the fainting couch all to yourself for this week, Kate, because Beverly’s death didn’t have the same effect on me that it had on you. Well, to be fair, I had the ending spoiled for me, and while I’d love to grumble about it (thanks a LOT, tumblr), that’s just the reality of television these days: if you don’t want spoilers, watch the episode as soon as it airs or stay off of social media. But whether it was adjusted expectations or a lack of connection with the character, when the moment came, I was more interested in the final shot and the way it indicated her death without showing it. Then again, I just realized that next week we’re probably going to see her done up in one of the show’s infamous corpse displays, at which point all my denial will crumble away and I will most likely shove you off the fainting couch so I can have a good cry.

By the way, given the parallels between Beverly and Clarice, and considering what happened to Jack’s original protege, this makes two Clarice Starling proxies that Hannibal has murdered. Maybe it’ll be better for everyone if MGM never gives up those rights.

While the death of Dr. Katz was this week’s main event, we also got some forward movement on Will’s “investigation,” along with confirmation that, yes, he is trying to trap Dr. Lecter. I may have been the only one who needed that confirmation, because I am not only not a critic but also not a terribly clever viewer, but it was a least a nice surprise to see Abigail show up and to learn that the “fishing” Will is doing in his memory palace isn’t just for the purposes of relaxation.

Also: Let’s not give the good Doctor Chilton too much credit, Kate. It looked to me like any actual benefit Will got from his treatment was purely incidental. Maybe when we get another look at how the Chilton/Graham sessions are going, it’ll be clearer. For the time being, though, he’s definitely giving Will the ol’ Don Draper special and reporting back to Hannibal about his findings —

A quick pause while I brainstorm my Hannibal/Mad Men crossover fic.

— but even if Chilton thinks that he and Hannibal need to “stick together,” the fact remains that Will is making some pretty convincing points towards Hannibal’s guilt. The mere act of spreading around that kind of suspicion is a win for Will… although in Beverly’s case, it didn’t turn out so well, so maybe Will ought to keep his big stupid mouth shut. Oh, Beverly! Why? Why did it have to be this way?

Um… let’s talk about the music! The scoring on this show is always suitably unnerving, in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself. It sometimes reminds me Jason Segel’s line from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, about “dark, ominous tones.” But Segel was taking a shot at formulaic CSI-style procedurals that would never do something as adventurous as the use of (what I believe was) an organ in this week’s score. It only happens a couple of times and it draws attention to itself in the best way possible. We first hear a few jarring organ-stabs when Beverly appears in the hallway following Will’s trip to the memory palace. It has the immediate benefit of throwing us off-balance, something the show is quite good at, but it also foreshadows Beverly’s fate in the final scene, where the music sounds like it was lifted from an old Universal horror movie and the credits play out entirely to a single, elongated note.

The organ also makes an appearance during Will’s stunning trip into his own mind during Chilton’s treatment, where it plays off the flickering lights to communicate the feeling of disorientation Will gets during his seizures. Another nice little visual touch from that scene: the way the flashing light plays over the physical objects in Will’s memory.

One last thought: what did Beverly find in Hannibal’s basement? I’m betting it was just a lot of creepy cannibal stuff, but I have to admit that my first reaction was “it’s Abigail!” I’ve never bought into the theories about Abigail still being alive, but I guess they’ve gotten inside my brain, anyway. Does that count as “psychological driving?” Wait, don’t answer that.

KATE: As much as I want Abigail to be alive, it seems more likely she has already been eaten. Towards the end of last season, Hannibal conveniently served a veal dish right around the time of her disappearance and it read as a wink to the audience. I want Abigail to be alive, I really do, but it seems unlikely, even if the FBI still hasn’t found her remains. At any rate, I don’t think Hannibal is the type to keep his trophies around for long. He either eats them or sets them up as performance art. In the case of Abigail, I’m thinking it’s the former and sadly, I’m afraid Beverly is going to be the latter. Will’s play at confusion was working for him; it just so happens that Beverly played her cards too soon. I’m thinking that if Beverly found anything, it would be Hannibal’s collection of special cookware and yet to be eaten human flesh. Alas, we’ll never know.

Say, Jason. Did you know that Fuller originally planned to have Will cough up Beverly’s ear at the end of season one? Just think about that for a second. It isn’t going to change things now, but just imagine what would’ve happened to Abigail if they had focused on that angle instead. While you’re thinking, take some time to enjoy Dr. Chilton’s very lovely singing voice.

I Myself Can Not: “Kaiseki”

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(in which Jason and Kate return from hiatus to talk about the season-two premiere of Hannibal, a show that they TOTALLY LIKED BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE, not to be a jerk about it, but come on, give us some credit)

JASON: And we’re back!

You know, Kate, it’s weird to think that just under a year ago, we were looking on the idea of a Hannibal series as if it were the stupidest thing imaginable. Even after the gorgeous, surprising first episode, I still wasn’t totally convinced. Bryan Fuller and his band of merry men won me over as the season went on, even if I was still a little on edge. Looking back on it now, my lack of faith was disgraceful and I should be ashamed. Also, it manifested itself in a lot of weird ways in our reviews. Remember that time I said that the show wanted us to disassociate from our bodies? A little much, don’t you think?

Well, all that is over, now. I put my full trust into the holy trinity of Bryan Fuller, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, along with the many minor deities of Hannibal, from composer Brian Reitzell to cinematographers James Hawkinson and Karim Hussain to every other actor in the show. And the world is on my side, too! Everyone’s got Hannibal fever. With all reservations put aside, I was able to kick back, relax and let the show do its thing, and my first though upon starting the episode was: OH MY GOD I HAVE MISED THS SHOW SO MUCH.

Actually, my first thought was “the big fight scene in season one felt kind of weird but this one is so thrilling and well-choreographed not to mention CRAZY that I have no such reservations.” So, I’ve still got a modicum of critical thought left. Which is good.

Yeah, let’s start off with the fact that Hannibal is apparently going to stab Jack Crawford in the neck. I’m not entirely sold on flash-forwards as a concept, but that one was so engaging that I’m going to let it slide. Plus, it reminds me of how the writers of Breaking Bad would set up flash-forwards without having a plan for getting there, thus giving themselves a goal the were forced to meet. At the very least, we now know that Jack is going to get on Hannibal’s bad side by the end of the season, which will certainly shake things up.

There’s so much to talk about in this episode, I don’t even know where to start. How cool was it to see Will in his new surroundings? I mean, not “cool”, since my heart breaks a little more every time I see him behind bars, but his new attitude is a pleasure to watch. Will is still on-edge to say the least, but he’s no longer on a slippery slope to insanity like he was last season. Now that he’s playing the Hannibal to Hannibal’s Will Graham (huh?), Hugh Dancy gets to show off a new side of Will that still fits with the borderline-autistic murder-genius we’ve all come to love.

Okay, I can’t hold it back anymore: Kate! Will Graham has a memory palace! Granted, it’s not exactly like the thing that Thomas Harris describes in the Hannibal novel—for one thing, it’s just a river in the woods, and for another, it’s Will that goes there, not Hannibal. But it’s close enough to set off my Hannibal Geek Radar.

That radar went off for another reason when Hannibal and Jack sat down to dinner, though, and Hannibal made an off-handed mention of “Aunt Murasaki.” For those of you who know all aspects of the Hannibal mythos—or those of you who love bad novels—that name should be familiar. Would it be melodramatic to say that the idea of Bryan Fuller incorporating Hannibal Rising into the show makes me gag? He’s too smart for that, right? You think maybe he’s just trying to get a rise out of us? Yeah? That’s got to be it, right?

I’m edging out of criticism into pure rambling, so I’m going to pass the baton to you, my more levelheaded co-writer. Please tell me I’m going crazy, and that Hannibal Rising didn’t really happen, and while you’re at it, I guess you can tell me how you felt about the episode. If you need me, I’ll be on the Victorian fainting couch, hand pressed to my forehead.

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Classic memory palace.

KATE: Hey Jason! Long time, no see!

So, where do we go from here? The first season of Hannibal was, quite simply, beautiful. The acting was terrific, the plot was detailed but easy to access and the set design…well, I’ve gushed about this before. Frankly, I’m surprised that so many other people liked the show as much as we did! I loved the first season, but I’m somewhat of a Hannibal superfan, for all of its ups and downs over the years. Why would anyone else bother? If I was an average person approaching this show, I’m guessing all I would know is that it’s yet another installment in a long running franchise. My best guess is that people were lured by the idea of another police procedural and were hooked by its particular kookiness. That’s neither here nor there.

Hannibal is back and better than ever…so far. Second seasons are notoriously tricky. Any TV show can put together a stellar first season before they fall off in quality. Can the second season of Hannibal live up to all of the buzz of the past year? If the first episode of season two is any indication, I think it can. I spent most of the episode furiously scribbling notes between freaking out over the on screen visuals. Some of them are insightful, some of them are dumb…all of them are imbued with a certain “HANNIBAL IS BACK, HANNIBAL IS BACK” mania. No worries, there. I’m as pumped for this season as you are.The new Hannibal/Will dynamic is an interesting direction for the show to take. It’s obviously a reversal of what we may know from the earlier movies and novels. For one thing, Will’s cell is almost identical to Hannibal’s from Silence of the Lambs. For another, it gives Will some room to breathe. He isn’t any less crazy, so to speak, but he has gained a new sense of identity. He’s safe behind his creepy plastic jail cell. There aren’t any new killer of the week cases to grab his attention, he isn’t being tricked into eating people’s ears, he’s got a sweet memory palace to escape to… I mean, the situation is looking up!

It will be interesting to see where the show takes Will’s situation throughout the season. Keeping your main character in jail has to chafe the writers a little bit, don’t you think? Of course, it also gives the show more incentive to hang out with other characters, especially Hannibal. Is it just my imagination or did we spend more time with Hannibal this episode than any in season one? He has a lot to do, after all. Hannibal is the new Will Graham over at the FBI, as well as resident psychopath of the DC area…he’s got a lot to keep him busy. (Why does Hannibal work for the FBI now? Is there seriously no one else trained in criminal psychology working at the FBI? Really?) Mads Mikkelson has always been wonderful in this role and it was nice to spend more time with him this week. A particular favorite of mine was the scene between Hannibal and Dr. Du Maurier, as he began to discuss his compulsions towards Will. What is his motivation here? In some strange way, I think Hannibal genuinely cares about Will. Framing him for Abigail’s murder was just an unfortunate by product of an unfortunate situation. Some one had to go to jail, Will just happened to be collateral damage. That’s serial killer logic for you, I guess.

Help me out, Jason. First crazy Hannibal theory of the season: Do you think Dr. Du Maurier knows about Hannibal? She hinted at it heavily in this scene. For example, “Jack Crawford doesn’t know what you’re capable of…” or “You’re putting me in a position to lie…again.” If she does know (or at least suspects), why would Hannibal keep her alive? Does he owe her a debt? (Maybe). Is she secretly Aunt Murasaki? (No.) Am I crazy? (Probably.) I’m not too worried by the random mention of Aunt Murasaki. If Fuller has control over the character, it won’t be too awful. Look at Freddie Lounds. I didn’t find him particularly engaging in the novels and films, but on this show, they’re morphed her into a character that works. I hope…I just really hope  they don’t bring up Mischa as a plot point. Like, ever.

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: “Fromage”

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(in which Jason and Kate, two old friends with a shared love of serial killer fiction and inability to meet a deadline, discuss NBC’s new Hannibal series)

KATE: Let’s do this!

Apologies for the delay in reviews. Jason went to Sweden. I was moving and experiencing the living hell known as “no internet.” Things were a little frantic for all of us. But! We’re back and theoretically better than ever.

Hannibal remains a visually stunning show with amazing special effects and set design. However, after the latest episode, I’m a little worried that Hannibal may be relying a little too heavily on it. A lot of genre television can fall into this trap. The Walking Dead, for instance, routinely relies on gore in place of plot or character development or anything that doesn’t involve Norman Reedus in short sleeves. However, after a few episodes of puttering around in front of scenery, the audience is bound to get bored or at the very least, want more. Yes, Will is crazy. Yes, Hannibal is up to something nefarious. We get it. So what’s next? Preferably it will involve forward momentum and not a forced love triangle between Will, Hannibal and Dr. Bloom.

Having said all that, I absolutely love watching this show and want it to last forever. Jason, what are your thoughts on this episode? Can that many serial killers live in the Washington metro area? Does Hannibal even have a receptionist? Are you Team Will or Team Hannibal?

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JASON: To answer the most important question first: I am on Team Willibal. Or is it Team Hanniwill? Whatever you call it, Hannibal/Will is the most convincing love story in the show. Comfortingly, everyone involved in the show seems to realize it. The kiss between Will and Dr. Bloom is played on all sides like a bad idea, something Will is forcing himself to do in search of a distraction. Meanwhile, the moment at the end when Hannibal sees Will walk into his office looks like the end of a telenovela. Hannibal explicitly addresses the idea of friendship in this episode, and he and Will are definitely more than just co-workers at this point. Will drove an hour in the snow to talk to Hannibal about his kiss with Dr. Bloom! They’re besties! They tell each other everything! Well, except for that one thing.

Digression coming: the way Hannibal is playing the Will/Hannibal friendship as tumblr-bait is the creepiest thing in the show this week, and this was an episode where a guy made violin strings out of human guts. Most people would agree that the way traditional violin strings are usually made is kind of icky. But in the midst of all this over-the-top carnage, there’s a real relationship forming between these two people, neither of whom is able to be friends with anyone else. But one of them is a murderous cannibal! It should be incredibly jarring, but the fact that it’s not is a testament to how captivating this show is. It draws you in slowly, but once you’re in, you’re SO IN that you’ll accept a friendship between an autistic teacher and a murderous European psychiatrist.

The show’s pace doesn’t bother me, because it feels like we’re building towards something. Maybe I have too much faith in Bryan Fuller, but I’m betting we’ll get a good payoff from this “Will be crazy” plot-line  That said, I do see how you could be annoyed with it: at times this does feel like the slowest nervous breakdown ever depicted.

Ah, but Hannibal threw us a bone this week, with the most action-packed episode yet! The results were… odd. What did you make of the serial killer showdown, Kate?

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KATE: Ah, the serial killer showdown…as I mentioned earlier, most of my worries about the show stem from the seemingly endless supply of serial killers in and around the DC area. This is no exception. I found the entire relationship between Hannibal and Tobias felt extremely odd to me. Wouldn’t a serial killer as intelligent as Hannibal and Tobias want to not draw attention to themselves? I guess you could argue that it’s all part of the serial killer shtick. Hannibal and Tobias feed on anonymous attention. Hell, it’s the whole reason Hannibal is helping the FBI. It feeds his ego. He likes to test them. It’s part of the reason he likes treating Will. He can test him on any number of psychopathic litmus tests while amazingly maintaining his own secrets.
At any rate, the serial killer showdown makes for thrilling television, even if it wasn’t that suspenseful. Did anyone out there really believe that the title character would be killed halfway through the first season? Honestly, the Tobias encounter seemed to come out of left field. It did serve to force Hannibal into the foreground at the FBI. Why would Tobias attack Hannibal? How did Hannibal escape? They had foreshadowed Tobias’, um, proclivities in earlier episodes, but this felt a little forced all around. They could have let the character simmer a little bit, giving him more motivation or well, character, instead of making him into a cheap Lector  knockoff. Killing a professional musician because he can’t play to your satisfaction? That’s a direct reference to a victim of Lector’s in Silence of the Lambs, although to be fair, Lector’s patient was a flutist and wasn’t turned into a human cello after he died.
This show is obviously a rehashing of familiar material. We vaguely know the characters, the story and the oeuvre of Hannibal at large, but the details have always been a little muddled. Yet, the continuing call backs to previous material is becoming a tad redundant. Yes, Eddie Izzard’s character killed a nurse while feigning illness. Yes, Will Graham finds himself staggering around blind in a killer’s basement. Yes, Eddie Izzard resides in a glass cell. Yes, we find carved angels hanging in rafters. These, as creepily and effectively executed as they may be, are merely rehashing of older source material. Hannibal, at his worst, is an effective villain because his cruelty is severe and disturbing, even as the man himself comes off as civilized and charming. His dinner party (where “nothing is vegetarian”) is a perfect example of this.
Jason, I am happy we’re on the same page as Willibal/Hanniwill, although it is disturbing for me to think that I’m on the same page as Tumblr about anything.
(PS, I’m voting that at the end of the season, we take a poll on the most creative/disturbing deaths. I’m all in on Violin Strings McGee.)
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JASON: Confession coming: I haven’t watched the Hannibal films in a long time. So, while I do catch most of the references (the glass cell, the flesh-angels) I miss a lot of the smaller ones (the way Eddie Izzard killed that nurse, the Florence Domo from episode one), and I’m less likely than you to be annoyed by all the call-backs. You may disagree, but I don’t think it’s gotten to the wink-wink-nudge-nudge level where it’s overly distracting. I don’t know how bad it would have to get before I would complain, since my original conception of this show involved Hannibal turning to the audience and winking every time he made a pun about cannibalism… my quota for in-jokes is pretty high, is what I’m saying, and we haven’t filled it yet. The parallels between Buffalo Bill’s house and Will’s journey into the cellar this week was actually pretty clever. It didn’t call too much attention to itself, but it forged a nice little connection between the series and the show. Best of all, it made sense: Tobias needed a place to make his signature strings, why WOULDN’T it be a creepy basement?

As for things that make sense but still weren’t good, the Serial Killer Rumble was incredibly distracting. Hannibal is about 75% atmosphere, and I’m not complaining–very few television shows have committed so fully to ‘bad vibes’ as a form of storytelling–but atmosphere is a delicate thing, and when something like a karate battle between two serial killers gets thrown into the mix, it can dispel that atmosphere like a thin mist. It was a well-directed fight scene, but it felt like it was from a different, much goofier show, where violence doesn’t matter, and two men can trade blows for five minutes without really doing any damage.

Hannibal certainly has its over-the-top moments: nearly every murder scene contains a tableau that would put Ed Gein to shame ten times over. But as unrealistic as some of these murders are, that heightened brutality is a key part of the show. I might go so far as to say that, at a certain point, the murders are supposed to seem ridiculous. We’re supposed to stop being shocked by them and start feeling exhausted by them… just like good ol’ Will Graham, who gets a little crazier every time he sees the human body so flagrantly abused.

You see how I brought that back around, Kate? You see that?

I Myself Can Not: “Amuse-Bouche”

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(in which Jason and Kate, two old friends with a single shared copy of Hannibal Rising, discuss NBC’s new Hannibal series)

JASON:  “Amuse-Bouche” is a step down from the pilot of Hannibal, which is not all that surprising. Last week’s episode was quiet, unsettling, and more interested in setting the mood than with storytelling. We spent so much time in Will Graham’s head that there wasn’t room for much else. This week, we trade off some of that psychological intensity for the standard tv-show business of setting up plot-lines and introducing characters. Instead of focusing on Will Graham, Hannibal turns its lens on the supporting cast, and while it’s not as effectively creepy as the first hour, I liked what we saw. Laurence Fishburne is still great, as is Mads Mikkelsen… and of course, we met a new series regular this week, one that sent my fan-service alarms a-ringing before she even spoke her first line: Freddie Lounds.

Freddie Lounds. Everything about that makes me happy. In case anyone’s forgotten, Freddy Lounds was the scumbag reporter from Red Dragon who causes trouble for the heroes and then gets dispatched in the most quotable sequence in the book. And in the 2002 film, he was played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. What’s not to love? But in Hannibal, Lounds is a scumbag blogger/tabloid journalist who has already caused just as much trouble as her male counterpart. Yeah! She’s a girl! They pulled a Rule 63 on us, Kate! I guess once Jack Crawford showed up much blacker than I remembered, all bets were off, but this is still a welcome surprise. Gender-swapping is one of my favorite cheap ways to twist a character, and the writers are already making good use of it–Lounds plays off preconceived notions of female vulnerability in this episode’s murder scene, and it’s implied that she seduced that one FBI agent, if not countless others.

The fact that this version of Lounds is an internet journalist–truly, they are the wretched of the earth–really drives home that this is a re-imagining, not a prequel. As does the fact that she’s a she and Crawford is played byCowboy Curtis. The ‘Hannibal’ series, because of its nature and how contemporary it is, doesn’t strike me as something that will be radically altered by the introduction of modern technology, though it does add a nice wrinkle to this episode’s climax when the killer reads a blog post and is able to get the jump on our heroes. This also reminds me of Bates Motel, another currently-airing re-imagining of a classic series. Unlike Hannibal, Bates Motel is transplanting a classic horror story from the early 60’s, so the introduction of cell phones and raves feels awkward and distracting. And unlike Bates Motel, Hannibal doesn’t feel completely pointless.

Take it away, Kate! Also: I just realized that not only did I never read Hannibal Rising, I never saw the movie, either. Did you?

KATE: I have read the book but I never got around to seeing the movie. Be thankful I read it for the both of us, Jason. It was so obviously a vanity project, designed to tell the story no one wanted to hear, except Thomas Harris, apparently. Not only was it a prequel, it was also an origin story for Hannibal’s cannibalism, which no one needed or asked for. Part of Hannibal’s innate creepiness is that you don’t know much about him. He’s one of America’s top psychiatrists, so you know that he’s smart and good at what he does. He’s classy and prefers the finer things in life, but he consumes human flesh, which is completely barbaric. Ugh. Furthermore, the explanation for Hannibal’s penchant for human flesh isn’t even that good. He was traumatized by Nazis. Yeah. That’s it. But I’m not here to talk about Hannibal Rising, so let’s leave that in the past (where it belongs) and move on to other, better origin stories.

The recasting of Freddie Lounds as a lady is actually a good choice. Like you said, she’s much more deplorable this way, simply because she uses her femininity to be even sleazier than your average tabloid journalist. She lies to law enforcement, she sleeps with cops to get what she wants and she fakes identities to get information. It did seem odd to me that Hannibal let her leave his office with the recording. Did he really think he could trust her? She’s someone so notorious she’s on the FBI’s radar. (And Hannibal’s, apparently, because he identified her almost immediately.) There has to be a reason she’s so interested in Will Graham, the current toast of Quantico. Eh. It’s obviously for sheer plot development. She has to release the interview so Creepy McPharmacist will find Will, etc, etc…anyway, it was all worth it to hear Mads Mikkelson purr how naughty she’d been. It was beyond creepy…and also threatening. We all know (well, Jason and I do, anyway) how she’s gonna end up.

I haven’t seen Bates Motel, nor do I care to, so I cannot comment on the use of technology. But I have seen weird mushroom corpse gardens, so…Jason, what are your thoughts on that particular storyline? It does seem like they will be having a “killer of the week” thing. Are you hopeful or afraid?

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JASON: If I’m afraid of anything, it’s that mushroom corpse garden. Maybe it’s because body horror is one of my biggest weak points, but that plotline gave me the full-on heebie-jeebies, from the reveal of corpses–the way each hand stuck out at the same angle and the camera just kept pulling back to reveal more–to that one jump scare that was directly lifted from Se7en. Whether it was an homage or a rip-off, it definitely freaked me out: is this how people felt when they saw the ‘Sloth’ scene for the first time?

Seriously, though, the focus this week on a new serial killer worried me a bit. There was bound to be some killer-of-the-week element, since it’s almost impossible to sell a new series if it’s not a procedural, but I’m still holding out hope that we’re not going to follow the same pattern every week. It’s the most boring route this series could go down, although if they keep up the good character work, I’ll be more forgiving. And as I said, this week’s killer was unnerving in a way that I don’t usually find stuff on television unnerving… but that could work against the series, too. The whole “mushroom garden” thing was bizarre and unsettling, but if Hannibal starts pulling out a super-crazy-gimmick-killer every week, the writers might try to top themselves every week and end up shooting past ‘over-the-top’ and straight into the realm of American Horror Story.

But the ‘Hannibal’ series has always hovered between realism and pure fantasy. Buffalo Bill–a killer who keeps his victims trapped in a well in his basement and then skins them to make a suit–feels like the kind of maniac you might hear about on CNN, but just barely. If you tweak just a few elements of the story, it swerves into Gothic-esque, B-movie territory… which is exactly what happened in the sequel, where the antagonist was a super-villain who kept a pen of wild boars and collected tears from the children he molested. I’m hoping that Hannibal the show never gets as outright ugly and gross as Hannibal the novel/movie, but Bryan Fuller wants to bring the fantastical, Gothic elements of the series to the surface, and he’s done a fine job so far. That room full of antlers was way more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than anything from Harris’s books, but it worked, and I’m still loving that bird-stag hallucination. Even when it shows up in this episode as part of an incredibly obvious dream sequence–oh, the Hobbs case is leading Will into the darkness–I’m on-board, because most shows wouldn’t even attempt such a blatant visual metaphor, and even fewer would pull it off as well as Hannibal.

Speaking of Will’s descent into madness, how great were those conversations between him and Dr. Lecter?

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KATE:  Oh, those scenes were wonderful, although I could do without Will’s survivor’s guilt. Similarly, I’m not a fan of him creeping around the hospital after Hobbes’ daughter. It feels like wasted space and story, although she’ll be a plot point in next week’s episode. Anyway, at this point I’ll take any scene that occurs in Hannibal’s office. That set design alone is…man, did you see that couch? The red walls? I love it. The costumes leave a little bit to be desired, though. Does anyone else picture Dr. Lecter not dressing like he’s a 70s game show host? Cause I do.

Next week’s preview seems to suggest that there will be a different killer every week. I guess it’s a natural growing pain of the show. After all, they can’t justify keeping Will around without something to investigate. Like you said, doing with that would mean they’d have to raise the stakes every week or introduce some weird special effects to keep the audience guessing. After two episodes, I’m starting to wish they had followed the path of season one of True Blood, which involved a single unseen killer terrorizing the town until the final reveal in the season finale. Frankly, it’s just hard for me to believe there are so many twisted, unique serial killers out there, especially when you consider how frequently they’re occurring. Again, this is a problem with most of the Hannibal books. There has to be something for Will or Clarice or Hannibal to investigate, but the audience won’t want to invest time if it’s a routine murder/suicide. You have to raise the stakes to making a woman suit (strangely, I buy it) to eating a still living brain of your nemesis to Nazis being…well, Nazis. Actually, Hannibal Rising didn’t really raise the stakes at all, which may be why it was so very awful.

Speaking of the mushroom garden, yes, that reaction shot was totally lifted from Se7en. I like to think that The Walking Dead has given network television the ability to pawn more gore on the audience and have it play off as acceptable. This show airs at 10 pm, which is a point in its favor. Hell, that’s half the reason Nip/Tuck got away with so much plastic surgery montages. At any rate, Hannibal continues to be a visually striking show. The shot of the last victim being ungagged will stay with me for awhile. Jason, we’re on the same page about body horror. Forever and always.

Continuum, “End Time”

In this article that went up nearly a year ago, right when Continuum premiered in Canada, Simon Barry is supposed to be selling the show. I mean, in a story like this, we hopefully get some insight into the creative process, but Barry is the creator of the show, it’s about to premiere, and part of his job is to make us want to watch it. I didn’t read this interview until last week, but in six sentences, Barry did the opposite of what he was supposed to do: he made me care less.

We made a conscious decision, early on, that our characters are not in control of what’s happening to them. They’re basically pawns. One of the things that’s different from other time-travel shows is that none of our main characters are controlling the process, or designed the process. These characters are part of somebody else’s plan. So the mystery of whether or not they are changing time will remain open until the end of the show. When we do our last episode, that will be part of the reveal.

So, to recap: Continuum doesn’t know how to do stand-alone episodes, and the series creator just single-handedly sapped all the tension out of the over-arching plot. Is there any reason to watch this show? I guess we can look forward to that “reveal” in the last episode, but I don’t want to wait an unknown number of years and slog through countless half-baked hours of procedural just to find out whether any of this matters.

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Oh no! Kagame carried out his plan to change the past! By… fulfilling it. Wait, what?

Barry’s comments, along with the events of the season finale, reinforce the idea that the plot of Continuum is a Stable Time Loop, a la Twelve Monkeys. “End Time” even throws in a Brad Pitt-esque crazy guy who turns out to be way less significant than he first appears to be. Here’s the thing: Twelve Monkeys is great, and yes, part of that greatness is the circular ending, which reveals that the hero’s efforts were preordained to fail. But—please don’t make me say this, Mr. Barry—Twelve Monkeys is a movie and movies don’t work the same way as television shows. Also, Simon Barry is no Terry Gilliam, but I don’t think anyone, least of all Simon Barry, is going to fight me on that.

“End Time” does its best to impress us, though, throwing out tons of plot points and new mysteries. There’s Jason the technician, who has a lot to say about the event that sent Kiera and the terrorists back in time. There’s the mysterious Mr. Escher, who helps Kiera out of a jam. There’s something about ‘The Privateers’, another group of time-travellers we still haven’t met. All of this stuff sounds interesting, but I’m just not confident that Continuum is smart enough to make it work. Within this episode, the script seems to be confused about Jason—he got sent to an asylum because he said he was from the future, but he clearly was from the future, so why does the show present it as a sad inevitability when his “time machine” is just a collection of crazy-person clichés?

As long as I’m nit-picking: it really doesn’t take much to talk Julien into a suicide mission, does it? I can buy that Julien would be young and angry enough to get confused about what happened at his father’s farm, but the show itself doesn’t seem to realize that the group Julien should be mad at is the government, not “corporations.” Unless I missed something where this version of Toronto has privatized law enforcement, the “they” that Julien is fighting against should be the exact opposite of who Liber8 is opposing.

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This isn’t so much a “nit-pick” as it is a “major inconsistency”.

Continuum could still work if I cared about the characters, and “End Time” reminds us that, yes, there are characters somewhere in there that we could perhaps learn to care about. The members of Liber8 feel more like actual people than they have since Kagame got back. The show even returns to the plot thread of Travis’s contentious relationship with Kagame, and Sonya’s split loyalties between the two. Even the blonde girl gets some characterization, even if she’s just trying to freak out Alec… for no discernible reason. Hey, it’s something.

Kiera, though… the show is in a jam with Kiera, because her greatest goal—to return to her family—means the end of the show if she ever accomplishes it. So we can’t get too invested in her mission because we know it’s never going to happen. Hell, if the show is good enough, then we don’t want it to happen because that means the end. While Kiera has show some personality now and then, it’s not enough to make me want to hang out with her. I hope that season 2 brings her closer to Kellog and Alec—and hey, let’s throw Carlos in there, too—because she’s much more interesting when she’s bouncing off her allies.

And speaking of Season 2, there’s that cliffhanger to address, and I have a confession to make. As the episode wound down and we got right up to the edge of discovering the message Future-Alec sent to Past-Alec, I tensed up. I wanted to know what Future-Alec’s plan was, and I groaned when the episode ended before I could find out. In short: I cared. I still do care! Or at least I’m curious, which says more about how much time I’ve invested in this show than it’s actual quality.

So, ten episodes later, where am I? Curious enough to keep watching,  but not hopeful enough to think it’s going anywhere good. I’ll tune in whenever the second season premieres, and if I have anything to say, I’ll let you know… but don’t count on it.

Other Thoughts:

  • This is the first full season of a show I’ve ever written about episode-to-episode. There were some bumpy parts—like the fact that I got about week off schedule here at the end—but I’d like to think I learned something about how to write about television. If you read any of these reviews… thanks, I guess? Or… sorry?
  • This might be my last chance to say it, so: the gimmick of using the word “time” in the title of every episode is really, really stupid, like Friends-level stupid. It wouldn’t be that bad if the titles made sense, but most of the time, they really don’t. Like this week’s: “End Time.” It’s not the end-times. It’s the end of the season, but that doesn’t count. And the pilot is called “A Stitch in Time” for no discernible reason. Whatever, Continuum. See you this summer, ya jerk.

Continuum, “Family Time”

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This can only end well for everyone involved.

“Family Time” is a well-plotted episode of Continuum that reveals just how sloppily written the show is most of the time. To put it another way, it’s an episode so good that it makes most of this season look terrible in comparison, and it’s not even that good.

The story-structure of Continuum, on a macro level and an episode-by-episode basis, has been shoddy since episode three. The first two episodes (which were originally filmed as a single two-hour pilot) set up the overarching plot in an effective way, but as soon as the show really got down to business and started telling new stories every week, things went south. “Wasting Time,” if you’ll recall, opens with intimations of a murder mystery that turns out to be anything but mysterious, hinges on an unexplained illness that one of the villains contracted off-screen, and ends up in a place that seems totally disconnected from where it began. Aside from the jarring effect of seeing Travis laid up without much reason, the episode flowed well enough that you didn’t notice what was happening, but a simple glance backwards from the end reveals little coherence.

Lack of coherence was also the problem with “The Politics of Time,” or as I prefer to think of it, “The Ninja Episode.” Obviously, I don’t hate ninjas on principle—I’m a red-blooded American man, I can get down with a ninja or two—but the fact that a shadowy martial arts warrior popped up in the climax of an episode about backroom political deals demonstrates how bad the writers are at crafting stand-alone episodes. Early on, these sort of mis-steps are forgivable, easily written off as a show “finding its voice.” Continuum is still relatively young, with only nine episodes, but due to its awkward ten-episode season, those nine episodes are nearly the show’s entire first year. It’s hard to come back from a bad first season. It’s been done before, but not often.

In “Family Time,” the show’s creators utilized some restraint that helped them out immensely: aside from a few cutaway shots, 95% of this episode takes place on the farm where Alec’s family lives. It turns out that Alec’s stepbrother Julien and his anti-corporation friends have a bomb they plan to use to start their revolution. When Kiera and Carlos discover the plan, guns come out on both sides, a few shots are fired, and before you know it, we’re steeped in a classic hostage crisis/face-off-with-the-authorities story.

By building the episode around a Dog Day Afternoon-esque storyline, the writers give themselves a solid structure that they manage not to completely ruin. They can’t craft a murder investigation to save their lives, but they’ve got escalation beats of this kind of story down pat. Alec reveals to Kiera that he keeps a gun in his office and—paging Dr. Checkov—that gun ends up as a major part of the plot. And unlike episodes like “Politics of Time” or “Time’s Up,” where Kiera is one step behind her enemy the whole way through, our hero actually accomplishes her goal in this episode: she stops the bomb from going off. I was let down that we didn’t get another big explosion, but the fact that we got some legitimate dramatic payoff for once more than made up for it.

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The official photo galleries for the past two episode have each included a shot of Kiera lying prone on the ground. This is not good. 

It helps that they feed into this basic story structure several long-developing plotlines, like Kiera’s damaged suit and Julien’s quietly seething rebellion. I know I’m something of a broken record with these continuity issues, but this show is at its best when it moves the overarching plot forward. The premise of this show is interesting, and the writers would do well not to ignore it.

“Family Time” keeps Liber8 in the background, but they do pop up for a couple of scenes. In one, Kagame watches the events on the farm unfold with great interest. We don’t know exactly why he cares so much, only that whatever is happening is fundamental to the creation of Liber8 and to his own personal evolution. This scene is placed right before the climax (where things really hit the fan and Julien’s dad ends up dead), and it adds a layer of suspense that wouldn’t be possible in a show where half the cast isn’t from the future.

What else? Oh, yeah, Kiera and Kellog sleep together. Maybe. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had something very stupid spoiled for me during a Google search, and this is what I was talking about. I found out later that the spoiler-ific page I saw was actually a forum post, but that’s beside the point. I don’t feel the same anger and betrayal that this person felt about Kiera and Kellog hooking up; if anything, I’m pleased to find that Kiera and Carlos are going to continue being just friends.

Kellog presents a reasonable argument to Kiera about why they should be together: he’s the only person she can really open up to about what she’s going through, and the odds are that her husband and son don’t exist now anyway. It’s not an outrageous plot point—if it actually happens, and again, I’m not certain that it does—but it does seem a little pointless. I want to say that it’ll probably end up being a major part of Kiera’s series-long arc, but the lumpy, inconsistent first season we’ve gotten so far gives me little faith that the writers have any long-term plans… or, at least, any that I care to stick around and watch.

 

  • This week, I stumbled upon a news story released when Continuum premiered in Canada in May of last year, featuring some choice quotes from creator Simon Barry. Some of them are humorous—he directly addresses the similarities with Alcatraz—and some of them are… disheartening. I’ll talk more about it next time, but for now, you might want to take a look for yourself.
  • Part of the problem is that Continuum is stuck at season length halfway between American television (usually closer to sixteen or twenty episodes, gives a show more time to figure itself out) and British television (one season is usually only six episodes, just long enough to tell one good story and get out).
  • The flashback in this episode makes it seem that Kellog was only guilty of trying to help out his sister and got himself arrested before he could even become a full-fledged member of Liber8. Not only does this swing his alignment way too far in the direction of ‘heroic’, it doesn’t make any sense: if Kellog was arrested at that point, how did he become such close friends with Lucas? How was even considered a ‘terrorist?’ Does anyone on this show’s writing staff know what anyone else is doing?

Continuum, “The Politics of Time”

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“The Politics of Time” introduces a character portrayed by Tahmoh Penikett, known to many for his role in Battlestar Galactica, but known to me for his roll in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Dollhouse was a show with an interesting science fiction premise that tripped all over itself whenever it stepped away from serialization—sound familiar?

Dollhouse picked up a lot of steam halfway through season one when it dispensed with the boring episodic installments and focused on the overarching story. This sudden upswing in quality confirmed the beliefs of the Whedon-faithful and, perhaps coupled with some residual guilt on behalf of Fox re: Firefly, netted the series a second season.

Funny thing, though: after the miracle-level event of Dollhouse’s renewal, the creators went right back to the dull case-of-the-week style episodes that had nearly sunk the show to begin with. We had caught a glimpse of what the show could be, a surprisingly ambitious exploration of identity with apocalyptic implications, but now we were watching Eliza Dushku match wits with a serial killer in a warehouse. Even after the creators of Dollhouse discovered a winning formula for the show, they couldn’t resist shooting themselves in the foot.

This isn’t quite the same as what’s happening with Continuum: we’re really only halfway through the first season and the show is still going through growing pains, trying to figure out what kind of episode works best. But it’s hard not to see the similarities between Continuum and Dollhouse. Or, should I say… the echoes!

Get it? Because the main character in Dollhouse, her name was… uh… you know what, just forget it.

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I’d like to dedicate that last joke to my girlfriend, who will understand it but still won’t think it’s funny. 

We’ve seen what Continuum looks like when the writers exploit what makes the show unique, and it looks pretty good. They’ve already written one fantastic episode—“A Test Of Time” for those keeping score at home—and it hurts to watch them flail around, trying to cram their unique show into a lame procedural format.

It’s hard to say exactly where this episode went off the rails. I was uneasy from the first scene, which flashes back to a time when Kiera was sexually assaulted by her husband’s friend. Things got shaky when the show put an unusual amount of focus on Carlos, by far the most generic member of the cast. But even with all the uncomfortable revelations, undeveloped themes and dull, self-contained story-lines  it wasn’t until the ninja showed up that “The Politics Of Time” revealed itself to be Continuum’s worst episode so far.

Where to start? This episode is a big old mess, stranding the characters in the middle of a dull murder mystery that feels completely separate from the rest of the series. Alicia Fuentes, a reporter who happens to be Carlos’s childhood friend and occasional booty call, is murdered, and the obvious suspect is Jim Martin, candidate for union president and fellow childhood friend of Carlos. Carlos is too close to the case—he was having sex with the victim hours before she died—but he refuses to reveal his connection to his colleagues, because… actually, it’s not clear why Carlos risks his entire career over this case, but if I had to connect the dots, I’d say he feels a responsibility to solve his friend’s murder. That’s just a guess, though. Maybe he actually forgot that he knew her, it wouldn’t surprise me.

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Carlos is kind of dumb, is what I’m saying here.

Anyway, with all the childhood connections, shady political deals and murdered reporters, this plot-line feels more like a Dennis Lehane novel than an episode of Continuum. There are still plenty of sci-fi touches to remind us that we are, in theory, watching a show about time travel, such as the ongoing pseudo-drama with Alec and Kiera’s suit, and Kiera using her future-tech to solve the crime. The use of the fingerprint scanner was mildly clever, and I found it hilarious that Kiera solved the murder by doing basically the same thing that Bruce Wayne does at the climax of The Dark Knight.

Of course, that little bit of techno-wizardry brings us to the stupidest reveal of the show’s brief history: the murderer… is a ninja! Okay, technically, it’s Jasmine, the spiky-blonde-haired member of Liber8, who has no personality and probably isn’t technically a ninja, but still. Seriously? You can’t throw me into the middle of Mystic River and then tell me that Emily Rossum’s killer was a member of the League of Shadows.

“The Politics of Time” is mostly beyond salvaging even before Talia al Ghul shows up. The return of socially awkward Kiera is always welcome, but it was overshadowed by that bizarre flashback in which Kiera is groped and then, in the worst-written scene the show has ever done, discovers that her husband cheated on her before their wedding. This explains why Kiera seems kind of cold towards her husband in some of the flashbacks, but it was a strange choice by the writers to add this dark bit shading to her marriage, just when her husband was starting to seem likable.

There are two possible reasons why the writers included this flashback: to form a loose parallel (very loose, like sweatpants loose) between Kiera’s past and Jim Martin’s situation with his wife, and to set up a romantic pairing between Kiera and Carlos. I’m not crazy about Kiera and Carlos coming together, but it’s sadly inevitable, isn’t it? They’re a male and female partnership, they’re both attractive, and even if Kiera’s not single, hey, her husband cheated on her, so what’s the big deal, right?

The flashback wasn’t show-ruining bad or anything, but why go through all that trouble just to mess the show’s basic premise? Kiera’s just dying to get back to her family, but it’s starting to seem like she’s better off in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next episode’s flashback reveals that her son is actually a bank robber.

Look, I’ve been wrong before. I thought the fourth episode was one giant waste of time, and while half of that episode was pure filler, the other half was set-up for the fantastic episode that followed. “The Politics Of Time” ends with what I will generously call a “twist” that ties this week’s shenanigans into Liber8’s master plan, and I have to admit, I’m intrigued. Kiera’s adversaries are building up quite a force, and it’s hard to figure how she’s going to best them.

But in order to find out, the two forces have to actually come up against each other, and no matter how well this episode might set up future developments, right now it feels like a time-killer run-around case-of-the-week that involved murder, infidelity and ninjas but was somehow still really uninvolving. Continuum has my faith, but after this episode, I think I’m having a crisis.

  • Seriously, that scene in the bathroom is painfully bad. Who talkes like that? “Well, I had an affair with your husband, I mean it’s n.b.d., whatevs.” 
  • I don’t even remember what Kiera’s suit does. She sure seems to be doing fine without it.
  • Kiera is pretty quick to forget about that piece of the orb that Kellog stole.
  • So: I realized about halfway through the editing process that I’ve been spelling Kiera’s name wrong for at least the last six weeks, which, my bad, but when I Googled ‘Continuum Kierra’ to confirm my error, I was confronted with a MASSIVE SPOILER. Now, considering this show is actually six months old, I ain’t even mad—though really, why would you just put that right in the headline—but the spoiler itself is so stupid that I’m already angry about it. For anyone following along with the SyFy airing schedule, I’ll just say this: it’s so, so much worse than I thought it would be. You’ll see what I mean two episodes from now.