(SPOILERS) I think I've had it with Hannibal. I struggled to get through this run. They've done the character of Will Graham a huge disservice in overtly playing up the novel's "We're the same". And then there’s Hugh Dancy's twitchy, nervy performance as Graham. Initially a breath of fresh air, it has become an irritation. The end of the first season had me vacillating over whether to continue. Imprisoning Graham in the regalia of Dr Lecter was the kind of cheap shot you could tell the makers thought was daring and “mind-blowing” but was brought the fledgling series dangerously close to jumping the shark.
The problems of performance don’t just extend to Dancy. Mads Mikkelsen is so one note, the title character has become wholly disinteresting. It's not the actor’s fault. Hannibal, like all great monsters, should be used sparingly; not served up to the point of bloat in copious, tedious sessions of analysis and and preparations of human remains for lovingly shot dinner parties. Worst of all, the Bryan Fuller’s overarching plot doesn't make Hannibal seem smart, so it has the consequence of making everyone else look like complete idiots. I found it impossible to suspend disbelief through this season because the scenario is consistently so silly. It begs ridicule.
That said, the last couple of episodes of the season are at least engaging, managing to pull the storytelling away from its festering cyclic soirees. Particularly arresting are the grotesquerie of Mason Verger's fate and Michael Pitt's performance; somewhere between Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's Jokers. Raul Esparza as Dr Chilton is consistently good value too, one of the few players who manages to eclipse a (still good) big screen version, although he unceremoniously disappears two-thirds of the way through proceedings.
Honestly, I’m mystified by the raves this series is getting. Sure, it’s luxuriantly shot, but it’s masquerade as artfully decadent and intellectually stimulating fare palls so quickly; all it ends up having going for it is art direction and an over-burden prosthetics/latex department.
The conceit on which the first series concluded, the aforementioned not- so-clever flip of having Will incarcerated, was the point where the series finally devolved into self-referential geek gorging on any piece of Harris-lore available. This was okay when it was the stray line here or there, but the rejigging of classic moments and characters ends up becoming hugely annoying rather than the sign of a sure creative signature.
This all comes back to what I see as a fundamental betrayal of the character of Will Graham. In their overwrought attempts to maintain a (wholly, tiresomely repetitive) dialogue between Graham and Lecter the makers have reduced the character to a reactive plaything, who only exists in the reflection of Lecter himself. Unfortunately Dancy wears Graham’s every wince and grimace all over his semi-bearded face. Unlike the William Peterson Graham, who looks like your classic hero but is allowed space and unknown depths between the verbiage.
Mann’s Manhunter looks more and more like the only version that understood how to treat these characters. They are so ripe for over-enthusiastic melodramatics (or atmospherics) that reining it in is the only way to foster verisimilitude. Wallowing in the depraved elegance of Lecter is tiresome. Somehow this series mustered ratings sufficient for a third commission. When the series began, I was looking forward to seeing how Fuller adapted Red Dragon (Season Four, if it gets there, I believe), but by this point I just know it will piss me off.
2.1 Last season I was at least sufficiently intrigued to review each episode. I’m only going to briefly comment on them this time, as I found so much of it borderline tiresome. Even when there was an occasionally arresting twist or turn. Kaiseki (***) is a passable opener, with a nicely executed teaser for the finale as Jack Crawford engages in a no-holds barred slow motion fight with the badass Doctor. Gillian Anderson is the best thing in this series, all smooth control and low-key poise, but Will in prison is so silly, the series simply never recovers. It can’t just snap that back that shark again to the point before he was locked up.
2.2 Tim Hunter, as with the first episode, shoots Sakizuke (***1/2) with appropriate gothic sheen. But the latest serial killer, as revealed by the sub (if that’s possible) Human Centipede collage, has reached the point of empty attempts to out-gross the last one. Still, this has its moments; Lecter showing up at the killer’s silo (“Hello. I love you work”), Will sussing out what’s wrong with the array (“You are not my design”), Du Maurier visiting Will’s (“I believe you”). But then there’s the stealing of Lecter’s Red Dragon line about God killing and extending it ad nauseam throughout the season.
2.3 Hassun (***) has in its favour a trial, always good dramatic meat, and the excesses of the murder of the bailiff and the judge are diverting, but such excesses ensure it reeks of pissing on any chance of a coherent universe. Obviously, this series exists in a hermetic world at the best of times, but the inundation of crazily excessive murders creates a mundanity and not in a banality of evil way.
2.4 Takiawase (***) More decorative corpses, this time involving beehives. This looks to break out of the general Lecter veneration when Katz listens to Will and goes to investigate Lecter. So that’s it for her. There’s also a nice moment when Lecter saves Mrs Crawford (another dull character, a forlorn attempt to eke out some pathos and feeling in the series; it’s too damn predictable and cynical to do that) based on the toss of a coin. Amanda Plummer plays a nutter, which is unusual for her.
2.5 Mukozuke (***) On the one hand, this has some dramatically strong material. The orderly who worships Will and would have bested Lecter if not for Graham’s intervention, is an effective plotline. But the continued stupidity of all around to Lecter’s activities is as unswallowable as that ear that end up in Will’s stomach. In a series like Dexter (at least at first) enough care was taken with concealment to buy into the essentially absurdity. Here, I’m sure we’re supposed to think “Ohhh! Isn’t he clever?” about Hannibal. But the continued activities of the Chesapeake Ripper, the refusal to listen to Will and the seeming stasis of the plot in deferring any forward movement make this episode dissatisfying overall. Also, it pushes Will into the mode of a man willing to go outside the law. Will’s entire ethos is based on knowing the difference between right and wrong. That’s his speech regarding the Tooth Fairy’s upbringing a nutshell. It isn’t intriguing to make him murkier than he is already, it’s a slap in the face followed by a kneecapping. He becomes weak and insubstantial. A puppet. Nice to see Eddie Izzard back, though.
2.6 Futamono (**) Just why? So Lecter’s now a hit with the ladies, including Doctor Bloom who we now realise is an absolute moron. She must inherit the “silly woman” role, the one who falls for Lecter’s “charms”. And so she provides the old alibi gag, since Jack is (finally!) on to Lecter even though he’s also a complete moron compared to any of his previous incarnations. So much so that he continues to dine round at Lecter’s place, this time on Eddie’s leg.
2.7 Yakimono ( *1/2) God, this is bad. My Girl is back, but of course she’s now totally ‘armless (well, partly) and cannot recognise Lecter. She fingers Chilton instead, and somehow manages to shoot him in the face through the interview room two-way mirror. Apart from the scene being utterly ludicrous, we’re supposed to believe that anyone would seriously suspect Chilton?
2.8 Su-zakana (*) Okay, there’s a great line in this one (“Is your social worker in that horse?”), two even (“You might want to crawl back in there”), and Jeremy Davies appears, playing a nutter, which is as unusual for him as it was for Plummer. But this is crap, from the set up of Will and Jack playing out a plan that never for a moment convinces (not because the writers haven’t put Will in a place where we think he might be capable of murder, but because if the audience can figure it out, it’s no wonder Hannibal can) to Hannibal restraining Will from killing the serial killer.
2.9 Shiizakana(**) This is the one with the guy who’s been watching Brotherhood of the Wolf on a loop and as a result designed himself a special suit. Inevitably Hannibal meets up with him, but this time because he’s an old patient. Woo-hoo. Yeah. The tedium of the appointments between Will and Hannibal would drive anyone to murder. “It’s not an animal. It’s a man who wants to be an animal”. Maybe Fuller and co are saying Will Graham was never all that smart or insightful? More Lecter on God and churches (yawn; or, “I know that line! Woo-hoo!”). Katherine Isabelle is great as Marian Verger, so that’s something.
2.10 Naka-Choko(*1/2) I don’t care if it’s to bait a serial killer; when you have your hero desecrating a corpse and making his own special exhibit from it, you’ve massacred a character. I guess I’m just not in synch with what Fuller has in mind for this show. I certainly don’t think he’s come up with a fresh or distinct take, since there have been two seasons now of the same dreary repetitions and bloody tableaus. The one great element of the last few episodes is Michael Pitt’s thoroughly unrestrained, crazy-hair and sheepskin-coated, performance as Mason Verger. It’s not enough to make this episode good, though.
2.11 Ko No Mono(**1/2) Even the “Did he kill Freddie?” plotline is tiresome, since the whole charade was set up in Episode Eight’s fishing scene. And I don’t know, for some reason I’m not affectionate or grateful to see the throwing away of the Lounds flaming corpse this way. On the other hand, Verger’s “rudeness” is a hoot, making a mess of Lecter’s office and going on about camp. This is the kind of kick in the pants the series desperatelyneeded, all that wry dreariness finally galvanised by a performer who can only get higher. As for the latest corpse sculpture (Shiva-stylee), it’s scraping the barrel.
2.12 Tome-wan(****) Probably the season’s standout, even in all its gag-making lack of glory as Mason Verger is pressed into devouring his own nose. The Will-Hannibal interplay has continued to be exhaustingly lifeless, and this “manipulation of each other” plot has failed to offer respite. However, when it comes to the action and Lecter having his way with Mason, complete with full-on crazy-ville camera work, the results are kind of irresistible. Pitt is hilarious, and disgusting.
2.13 Mizumono(**1/2) Right from the first scene, with the split-screen appeals to loyalty from Hannibal and Jack, the season finale is so heavy-handed it’s not true. Superficially engaging, in terms of which regular character will Hannibal bloody up next, it also manages to be quite asinine. Alana didn’t check her gun before she blundered up to Lecter’s door (is that because she’s a “silly woman”? I guess at least she’s in good company with all the men). And Abigail is brought back for five minutes only to really die this time? Well, that was worth it. The enigmatic coda with Hannibal and Du Maurier on a flight for France is at least interesting (albeit echoing Hannibal), but she’s a lot more so than Lecter himself. Mikkelsen’s doctor is all cold cruelty, without the panache of Hopkins or the earthy magnetism of Cox. I’m little enough interested in the fates of the FBI, who are entirely dimwitted, but there’s also no frisson when Lecter escapes. I wanted to like this series. I’ve liked Fuller’s other series. But this show, now his most successful, is a big bag of dumb in a very well-tailored suit.