If Hannibal’s first season did one thing perfectly, it was in helping us to forget what we already knew. Sure, we know that Will Graham will get out of jail, be cured of his wonky clock disease and will go to live on the beach in Florida in tiny shorts and Wayfarers and a synth soundtrack. We know that Jack and Chilton will at least make it to Silences of the Lambs era. And, of course, we know that everyone will realize that Hannibal has been feeding them people.
It’s that last and rather vital point that Season 1 worked hard to obscure. Was it always people? We didn’t necessarily see him hacking livers and lungs out of victims, although we saw all of the lead-up and aftermath. Maybe every now and then he sprung for some duck. Plus — and this is what the show does best — it all looked so good. There’s a certain amount of culpability that the audience feels when presented with a really good-looking leg of human wrapped in thinly-cut slices of person meat. When watching any of the other adaptations, you were never really asked to imagine how he was eating them — sure, with wine and some beans, but surely not that level of presentation. And whenever Hannibal got loose, he was basically enjoying his people meat raw and al fresco anyway.
Which is why, when all pretense was stripped away by the finale, there was something equally horrifying and cathartic about opening the second episode of the second season with with Hannibal literally table-sawing a leg and dismissively ditching its foot in the garbage. The message was clear: the dinner party is over.
Yes, it’s always people and yes, when you see him actually carving up a calf, all of those amazing dinners begin to look more and more disgusting. It’s also notable that the show now spends less time showing you the elaborate designs or the delicately-arranged table. Instead, we’re finally getting to the meat of the problem and it’s presented with an unspoken admonishment: you liked that food even when you knew what it was. Now you can see the mechanics of it in all of its bloody reality.
Though Tumblr is hardly a good barometer for normalcy, it’s also clear that a lot of people like this particular Hannibal in a way that people didn’t necessarily “like” Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox’s versions. Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal is so far removed from anything we’ve seen before — less human and yet more charming. It’s harder to imagine Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal strolling around on the outside without someone thinking that he was probably killing and eating people. He just had that vibe.
But while Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is clearly unsettling and a little “off,” he’s so much more elegant and composed. Even while he’s table-sawing legs, there’s something genteel about it. It also helps that Mikkelsen gets to re-set the clock and show us Hannibal in more than just a beige jumpsuit snarling around a prison cell. Here he looks like a waxy, bronzed skeleton dressed in a kaleidoscope of mis-matched plaid and paisley.
For that reason, I’m almost sad that the show will probably go the traditional route and unleash him as soon as he’s discovered. Watching Mikkelsen manage his “person suit,” as his former therapist put it, is fascinating. More fascinating than the prospect of seeing him in the same spot we’ve seen both of his predecessors — working as an informant for the FBI while perched on a prison cot. To be honest, it’s already getting a bit old having the show’s co-lead trapped in his prison dunk tank and only able to wander around in his mind palace.
For that reason, I almost wish that the point of the show was to bring us up to, but not including, the events of Red Dragon. While I love Bryan Fuller, two or three seasons of new material and then four or five seasons of a story we’ve already covered isn’t as inviting as he might think. Plus if they can’t get the rights to Clarice Starling, it makes any attempt to cover Silence of the Lambs a bit lame.
But for now, it’s fun watching things unravel. And maybe the food does still look a little bit good.