Welcome back to everyone’s favorite horror show about well-to-do cannibals — outside of the Real Housewives franchise, at least. The grand game of psychological Connect Four being waged between erudite gore-met Hannibal Lecter and the mentally unstable, Patronus-summoning Will Graham continues into its second season. Everything pretty much picks up where we left off, with roles and expectations reversed: Will is currently occupying the Psycho Suite at the Chilton Hotel & Resort while Dr. Lecter has become “the new Will Graham.” It’s a really exciting place to start for a show’s sophomore season, with all coils tensed and hammers cocked back.
And speaking of exciting starts, the opening scene of “Kaiseki” is a doozy. It starts almost abstractly, expressionistically, as Crawford enters on Hannibal slicing up some of his trademark mystery meat (is it pot roast or Pete roast?) and draws his gun, but not before Hannibal slings a kitchen knife at him. It erupts into a knock-down, drag-out fight that reminded me of the brutal and gorgeously photographed fisticuffs of both last week’s True Detective and Tom Hardy’s Bronson, but most of all it made me secretly hope it was actually a blow-by-blow re-enactment of the badassest fight ever to grace a strip of celluloid. Apparently something has happened to convince Crawford of Dr. Lecter’s true nature, but we’re going to have to wait to find out what since the show then skips back in time twelve weeks. This scene is just a proleptic amuse bouche, a taste of things to come.
Meanwhile Will stews in captivity, closing his eyes and going to his happy place whenever the strictures of his situation or the inanities of Dr. Chilton overwhelm him. The peaceful river scene he dreams up is contrasted with a gruesome one out in the real world: a pair of park workers accidentally dislodge a bunch of bodies from underneath a beaver dam, which provides opportunity for us to see Inspector Lecter in action. He surmises from the use of silicone and other preservatives that the killer had been trying to pull off a reverse Mannequin—turning live human beings into posed statues. Watch out Kim Cattrall!
Lecter knows by burrowing even deeper into the FBI he’s playing with fire, but a man of his high levels of intellect and psychopathy needs something to keep him amused. He asks Gillian Anderson’s shrink to sign him permission slip and while she’s loath to give him a forged bill of mental health, he makes clear she doesn’t have too much of a choice.
Poor Will is not doing too well as an in-patient. No one believes his accusations against Lecter, no matter how hard and fast he flings them. “I’m not the intelligent psychopath you’re looking for,” he says, trying out a Jedi Mind Trick. The writers are having a lot of fun with the fact that placing Will in a context like this genuinely makes him come off like a criminally insane supervillain. It probably doesn’t help that his inner monologue has been replaced by the steady tone and pinched vowels of Dr. Lecter’s voice. And then comes the revelation: if you are what you eat, then Will’s all ears. Hypnotism helps him to pull out the terrible memory (and graphic reenactment) of Hannibal tube-feeding him Abigail Hobbs’ ear. Don’t say this show never took you anywhere.
To me what makes Hannibal unique on network TV is both its psychological density—in this episode in particular, conversations burble with a subterranean river of connotations and implications—and its evocation of true horror. The difference between terror and horror has been phrased as the difference between “awful apprehension and sickening realization,” and while the show has its fair share of both, the primary emotion is, like for Will and his retrieved memory, less of dread of what’s to come than dawning revulsion of what might have already happened.