‘Secondo’, named after the second course of a traditional Italian meal, was an origin story… but not in the traditional sense. That much was to be expected: Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller has been very vocal about his appreciation of the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal Rising, or maybe more accurately of his lack thereof. As Hannibal Lecter aficionados know this infamous book gave the terrifying icon a backstory that unconvincingly explained to readers how Hannibal the Cannibal came to be. While not completely without merit, this approach for the most part demystified and defanged the character, and didn’t mesh well with what Harris’ earlier novels had told audiences about the famous fictional character. ‘Secondo’ then is a take on the Lecter origin story that’s far more in line with the presentation of the Hannibal character in Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs, and the first two seasons of this show. Fuller and his team of “Thomas Harris mashup DJs” have elegantly picked elements from Hannibal Rising, to then beautifully handle and reshape those in order to fit them within the established framework. The result? A riveting episode.
While most of ‘Secondo’ was about Will’s trip to the Lecter family home in Lithuania, let’s not forget about the reappearance of Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford. He showed up in Palermo not to catch Hannibal, but to look for Will. “Not my house, not my fire,” Crawford told Inspector Pazzi when the latter suggested they could work together to track down Lecter, and those words coupled with Fishburne’s beautifully understated performance told us everything we needed to know. Jack looked battered, was literally scarred, and acted like he’s still emotionally recovering from everything he has been through and what he has put Will through. “I borrowed his imagination and I broke it,” Crawford uttered once again, confirming a conscious that weighs heavily on him. But we also learned that now, finally, he understands Will. “Who among us doesn’t want understanding, and acceptance?” he asked Pazzi in the Palermo chapel, explaining why his former special agent is looking for Hannibal. At the same time he expressed his own remorse through these words, his guilt over how he treated Will and the Chesapeake Ripper case. Crawford is a changed man now who’s in Italy to save a friend, to atone for his sins and to hopefully find forgiveness and peace of mind at the end of this journey.
Meanwhile Will is spinning out of control; on his pilgrimage to find Lecter he’s becoming much like him. ‘Secondo’ saw Will visit the Lecter estate, a place where the grounds were covered in snails, the likely result of young Hannibal’s cochlear gardens, and a living metaphor that effectively illustrated to what extent this man leaves his mark on the places and people he comes across. There Will found a fountain marked by a bloody handprint, a man in a cage and the Japanese woman who had kept him there for years: Chiyoh, played by Japanese actress Tao Okamoto. Will learned that Chiyoh knew Hannibal, even that she knew of his peculiar habits, and that Lecter had told her that the man in the cage ate Mischa. “I accept what Hannibal has done, I understand why he has done it; he does what was done to her,” Chiyoh told Will, in order to shed light on Hannibal’s origins, echoing Thomas Harris’ words in the convenient and hard to swallow Hannibal Rising. “Mischa doesn’t explain Hannibal,” Will responded. “She doesn’t quantify what the does.” According to Will Lecter ate Mischa and then manipulated Chiyoh into taking an innocent prisoner. “He created a story out of events only he experienced,” Will called it. “All sorrows can be born if you put them in a story.” Hannibal’s acts were also supposedly meant to begin an experiment: Lecter was curious to see if Chiyoh would kill.
It’s a devilish plot that from a storytelling perspective gives you everything you need and want from a Hannibal Lecter backstory: the cornerstones of cannibalism, manipulation, curiosity and the fostering of codependency are all there. All these acts define Lecter, and his character is maybe even more terrifying now than before Fuller and his team elaborated on his origins in this way: Hannibal is still cruel and unpredictable, but the fact his heinous acts started at such a young age and that these machinations even hit those closest to him, add a whole new layer of perversity. Hannibal simply does what Hannibal does because it’s in his nature, or as he told Bedelia: “Nothing happened to me; I happened.” That’s not to say there’s no reason for Lecter to act this way: his reasoning is just warped beyond belief, as is his definition of forgiveness. While talking to Bedelia, Hannibal said he didn’t kill Mischa because she betrayed him: “She influenced me to betray myself, but I forgave her that influence.” It seems that Lecter loved her tremendously but that to him love equals weakness. It’s something that distracts him, threatens to endanger his superior and untouchable state; something that maybe even threatens to change what he considers to be his nature. Love ultimately makes Lecter vulnerable, which is something he can’t bear. It’s paradoxical then that, aside from punishment and humiliation, his act of cannibalism can also be Hannibal’s most monumental act of love: he ate Mischa and wants to eat Will to forgive them and make them part of who he’s meant to be.
As Will put it in last season’s finale though: he has already changed Hannibal. And Hannibal has definitely changed Will. These two men may not have consumed each other physically, but their thoughts and acts are definitely not just their own anymore. There’s a great shift in boundaries and an awareness of what the other would think and do. It’s no wonder then that Will wound up finishing Hannibal’s experiment for him: he freed the prisoner and when that man returned to take out his revenge on Chiyoh, it forced her to kill the attacker. “I didn’t want this,” Will whispered when he found the man’s lifeless body and a distraught Chiyoh. “Yes, you did. You are doing what he does,” she answered. “He’d be proud of you, his nakama.” While the truth is somewhere in between these two statements, the fact Will consequently strung up the dead man as a giant firefly doesn’t bode well for his mental state. It’s a beautifully twisted poetic gesture though: the firefly symbolizes not only change but also self-realization and an understanding of the meaning of life and your place in the world. After last week’s broken heart murder, this is Will’s response, a message that says he’s ready to become who he’s meant to be. Who exactly that person is remains to be seen, but the symbolism is appropriate either way, and a fitting precursor to the Red Dragon storyline we will see later this season.
‘Secondo’ is one of Hannibal‘s best episodes to date and the show itself is close to becoming the definitive Hannibal Lecter tale (if it isn’t already). 9/10