Hannibal‘s second season starts off with a spectacular moment: a brutal fight between Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford and Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter. Both men dish out and take damage, and use the many objects on display in Lecter’s immaculate kitchen to come out on top, which means the two grab hold of knifes, a pepper grinder, a towel and even a refrigerator door to harm each other. When a seemingly fatal blow is dealt the screen cuts to black, giving us the text “twelve weeks earlier” before we’re shown Jack and Hannibal having a friendly dinner together, discussing the state Will Graham is in. Will, of course, became the resident of a mental asylum at the end of Hannibal‘s first season, and it’s Will’s quest for the truth and vengeance that propels this season’s plot forward. Because of the opening you have vague idea of where the story is headed, but the genius of its implementation is that you lack context and you really have no idea what will lead to Hannibal and Jack’s harrowing fight. And even when, along the way, you start to think you have everything figured out, you haven’t: Hannibal‘s many twists and turns will have you guessing until its excellent finale that leaves you gasping for air.
Giving anything more away about the second season’s plot would be a waste. Showrunner Bryan Fuller and his team of writers have crafted a story that takes many of the familiar material from the Thomas Harris novels and the subsequent movies, but twists it, mixes it and adds to it in such a way that the outcome is wholly unpredictable. It’s one of the show’s great accomplishments, since the character of Hannibal Lecter and the stories he has been a part of are engraved in the consciousness of many of the series’ viewers. Fuller has described the creative team as Harris mashup DJs, because they, for example, take a line from one of the novels but change its entire context to make these elements both feel extremely familiar but also extremely fresh and alien. The result of this way of working is that Hannibal is both a beautifully crafted homage to the work of Lecter creator Harris, but also a show that really stands on its own and is easy to get invested in, even if you have never experienced anything Hannibal Lecter-related before. Furthermore the show mixes thriller, horror and drama elements to create a captivating world populated by incredibly intriguing characters, many of which are recurring characters this time around. Hannibal‘s first season was much more constructed as a police procedural, but this season mostly takes a step away from that format: many of the one-offs span at least two episodes, which creates a more cohesive whole, despite the fact that in both seasons the use of these characters and cases is to further character development and it really does so effectively.
But the writing is only one of the areas in which Hannibal excels. Another area that’s incredibly impressive is the show’s visual palette, something that distinguishes Hannibal from anything else on TV. The cinematography, lighting, effects work and set design go hand in hand to create a series that has a look that immediately sets it apart: the use of darkness and deep colors creates an intimacy that pulls you into the show’s world, something that’s enhanced by the wonderful framing of all of the scenes. There’s an incredible eye for detail in everything Hannibal does and its visuals are incredibly striking because of it. Additionally the settings add to the sense of horror and surrealism that occasionally permeates the show: there’s a chase through snowy woods for example that’s hauntingly Gothic, as is the asylum interior Will finds himself in for a large part of the season. Add some gorgeously realized dream sequences to all of the above, and you begin to see how Hannibal has really managed to manufacture a unique identity for itself that’s both wondrous and scary. The same level of craftsmanship characterizes Brian Reitzell’s one-of-a-kind score that’s a calm oasis of strings at times, but a threatening storm of drums and percussion at others.
Everything about Hannibal makes it clear that Grade-A talent has come together to deliver a quality experience, and the acting is no exception. Mads Mikkelsen has embodied Lecter in a way that makes him definitive version of the character, a role in which his versatility as an actor is used to its fullest. Mikkelsen’s Lecter has to be vicious, cunning, devious and cruel one moment, and charming, disarming, vulnerable and kind the next, and it’s a testament to the actor’s skill that his Lecter is so convincing in all these different modes, which are often played simultaneously. Not only does this make Mikkelsen a mesmerizing presence to watch, it also makes Hannibal‘s Lecter an infinitely complex and intriguing character. Hugh Dancy is equally fantastic as Will Graham, a man who, during this season, explores a lot of sides of his character he used to be unfamiliar with. Dancy’s performance is crucial to the second season’s success since Will’s development is central to the season’s arc, and because Dancy adds all these layers to his character, which makes Will’s personal journey an incredibly strong plot line that keeps viewers on their toes throughout. Series regulars Laurence Fishburne and Caroline Dhavernas deliver wonderful performances as well, as do the many high-caliber guest actors, such as Gillian Anderson, Michael Pitt, Katharine Isabelle, Raúl Esparza, Gina Torres and Jeremy Davies.
Hannibal‘s second season is grade-A TV. Everything, from direction to writing to acting to music, is top-notch and the results are simply stunning. 9/10