Two Thanksgivings ago, we celebrated a night known for food and family by reviewing the first season of a series about food and surrealist horror. As it is Thanksgiving again, we have decided to dip back into one of our sites all time favorite shows with a review of, perhaps, the greatest single season in television history. With a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, season two of Hannibal took everything we loved about season 1, and simultaneously condensed and expanded upon it, while trimming away the fat. Why is Hannibal season two so good? That is what we hope to dissect in this review.
The Stunning Visuals
Hannibal‘s first season had some truly gorgeous and texture rich layers of beauty in both the way the stage was set and the way the set was shot. Season 2 took these gorgeous visuals to the next level with rich and oily detail permeating the canvas of the series. The elaborate tableaus of season 1 were topped, the impeccable presentation of horrific food was elevated, even the hallucinations caused by Will Graham’s encephalitis, are replaced by surreal depictions of his imagination. One of the most stunning visuals of season 2 was the Beverly Katz tableau, a reinterpretation of Damien Hirst’s famous Mother and Child divided art installation, in which the fan favorite character was cut vertically into clean slices and displayed between glass enclosures. Horrifying, and made more so by our love for the character, yet somehow beautiful as well. While other tableaus from Dr. Lecter show his disdain for the victims of his crimes, Beverly was displayed with what Lecter might deem respect.
Another stunning sequence in the season was the discovery of the Sheldon Isley tableau, his body grafted to a tree with poisonous flowers decorating his empty chest cavity. While the tableau itself is a work of art, it is the scene of its discovery in the episode Futamono that truly impresses, as well as a scene later on before the tableau is taken to the FBI. The former begins with Hannibal looking at the name of the victim from his Rolodex along with the dish he plans to prepare from him, with blooming flowers transitioning to the tableau itself. The latter begins with Hannibal at his piano composing a song, notes from the sheet music sprout into budding flowers as the scene transitions to the tableau being taken into the FBI. The implication being that these crimes of Hannibal’s are all a part of his art, the composition of a beautiful piece of music, and all of the other actors in the crime, the investigators, and the victims, are nothing but instruments he plays within the composition. The scene, like much of Hannibal‘s second season is as beautifully esoteric as it needs to be.
Lastly, in regard to visuals, Hannibal‘s second season stepped up their game considerably with the presentation of food. Perhaps inspired by the Japanese influence on the season, the preparation of human flesh looked even more delicious and exquisite than it had before. Which just might find you avoiding fine dining for a bit. So hey, it could save you money.
The Haunting Score
At first, the score to Hannibal may seem like pedestrian horror fare. discordant notes and shrill strings meant to convey horror. Hannibal series Composer Brian Reitzell, however, takes the cliche crime/horror genre score and adds a level of sophistication. Those discordant notes are the build up to an orchestral strike, those shrill strings are warming into a delicate solo. Season 2 plays with the Japanese naming convention of the episodes, each episode is named after a Japanese dish, as each episode of the first season was named after a French dish, by including distinctive Japanese percussion to the mix. The score never sounds like the lazy tones of a CSI, meant to inspire the horror we feel at a scene, but rather as if we were behind the scenes of an Orchestra just ready to begin a classical performance.
The Cat and Mouse Games
Actors Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen continue to show an amazing chemistry and sexual energy between eachother that elevates their already strong performances. “Sexual energy?” You might ask, don’t worry, their is an attraction between the 2 male leads of the series, but it is not a slash fan fiction portrayal of the source material. The attraction between Will and Hannibal is in the background, never completely surfacing, and as such, forms a tension that only heightens the metaphorical game of chess between the two characters. Hannibal becomes, in its second season, one of the greatest cat and mouse games to ever be put to a screen of any dimension. Surpassing Death Note, and Dexter‘s first season, the game played between Will and Hannibal is deeper, more personal, and with conflicted implications, as part of us knows that Will might actually find some semblance of happiness by indulging in the monstrous behaviors his opponent partakes in. Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford, Caroline Dhavernas’s Alana Bloom, Eddie Izzard’s Abel Gideon, and Raúl Esparza’s Frederick Chilton all, somehow, fit into the puzzle as well, without ever burdening the key relationship of the series.
The Game Changing Finale
From an answer to a previously glimpsed conflict, to a surprising character return, and the absolute shock and awe of its climax, Hannibal‘s second season closer is an absolute masterclass in how to craft a season finale. The first episode of the season began with a violent confrontation between Lecter and Crawford, a conflict at some point in the future. This conflict finally comes in the last episode of the season. With all doubt now cleared, Crawford, Alana, and of course Graham are all drawn into Hannibal’s home for an overdue confrontation. First Jack spars with the man, becoming gravely injured before closing himself away in the pantry as Hannibal brutally attacks the door for entry. As this is occurring, Alana arrives, holding Hannibal at gunpoint. A gun that has, unknown to her, already been emptied by Lecter. Alana ignores Hannibal’s warning to leave and pulls the trigger of the empty gun. Running from Lecter, Alana discovers, a very much alive, Abigal Hobbs who apologizes before pushing her out of an upper floor window, leaving Alana’s fate uncertain. Graham then arrives, calling for an ambulance for Alana, before entering to confront Hannibal himself. Hannibal reveals Abigal to Will, a makeshift family reunited. Expressing his heartbreak at Will’s betrayal, Hannibal slashes Abigal’s throat, and stabs Will in the gut. Hannibal leaves the house in the pouring rain, with Jack, Alana, Abigal, and Will all at death’s door. A remarkably off tone daytime scene follows to set up the 3rd season of the series, as the audience sits motionless, mouths agape at what transpired moments earlier. Masterful.
The Final Assessment
If it isn’t clear already, let us just emphatically state that Hannibal‘s second season is a masterwork of both storytelling and television showrunning which has cemented Bryan Fuller as our favorite Showrunner in an industry ripe with talent. David Slade did a lot to establish the visual design of the series along with Fuller, who also found great partners in Actors Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen. Each part of the series DNA is excellent on its own, and yet somehow greater than its sum when added up into Hannibal. That this series aired on network television is still an absolute shock.
What did you think of our review? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows. Happy Thanksgiving!