We seem to be going through a phase of television adaptations of well-known and regarded film and books, with Fargo, Penny Dreadful and Bates Motel all appearing on our screens this year. The pick of the litter was certainly the first season of Hannibal, based on the popular books by Thomas Harris, but also obviously perhaps more well-known from films such as Hannibal, Red Dragon and the filmic classic Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins as the iconic killer Hannibal Lector. The second series continues on from the brilliant work of the first season, taking us much further down the spiral of madness. For the sake of casual reading I will now point out that there will be allusions and sometimes straight up spoilers from season one from here on, as is the nature when reviewing a following season, but I urge you to go and watch the first season as it is fantastic television and you will not be disappointed.
We open with a bang as Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne) confronts Hannibal Lector in his kitchen leading to a well-orchestrated fight and leaving us with the anticipation through the series to see how it got to that point. We join Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) where we left him, locked up in a prison for the criminally insane as he awaits trial for the Chesapeake Ripper murders. Where series one of Hannibal was a cerebral, and much more violent version of C.S.I. the second season thankfully moves the story on and moves in to something quite different. They could obviously not have kept up a the serial killer of the week format, even if it did contain the most original and interesting murders and killers in this type of genre, as it would start to stretch credibility; at times it seemed Baltimore and the surrounding area had the highest saturation of serial killers, and inventive ones at that, in the entire world. Season two changes things, though there are still a couple of serial killers that need catching later on, the first half of the season preoccupies itself with Will’s struggle to prove his innocence, occasionally becoming a courtroom drama, and then the second half giving way to a very interesting and intricate game of cat and mouse as Will and Hannibal work around each other, manipulating and orchestrating, Will trying to catch Hannibal and Hannibal trying to push Will into killing. Also, anyone familiar to the books and films will find something, not only incredibly rich, but also new and exciting. Show runner Brian Fuller and his team of writers are taking Thomas Harris’s characters and some of the events he has written as inspiration to spin off in their own direction. Some events may seem familiar but play out in different ways, actions perpetrated by different characters, and it is all so carefully and excellently threaded together, from its exciting opening to the last episode that ties circles right back around and plucks out connections with the first episode of season one, that you will not mind any changes.
The cast still continues to be brilliant while adding some new talent to play some well-known characters in the Hannibal Lector world. Hugh Dancy builds on the work he put in to playing Will Graham in the first season, walking the line of the autism spectrum and showing the fractured and crumbling psyche of the brilliant but troubled criminal profiler. This season challenges you further with the potential spiralling and downfall of Will, and Dancy keeps us interested and engaged with the character even as we might have suspicions that he has crossed over to a darker side. He still effectively conveys Will’s seemingly crumbling sanity, haunted as he is by the fate of Abigail Hobbes and trapped in Lector’s web, all those around him who he thought he could trust now looking at him as a killer. Mads Mikkelson continues to make his version of Hannibal Lector his own, easily making you forget about Anthony Hopkins’ iconic portrayal as you watch him through the episodes. His Hannibal has a threatening physicality that really makes you believe he could easily hunt and kill a victim, while also remaining a charming, cultured and thoroughly pleasant individual from the outside. Hannibal really is the Hannibal and Will show, focusing as it does so heavily on the two characters and their relationship, and so it is a blessing that Mikkelson and Dancy can easily carry the weight. New additions to the cast include Cynthia Nixon’s FBI investigator Kade Prurnell who is investigating what went wrong with the case at the end of the first series. Katherine Isabelle and Michael Pitt turn up as the Verger siblings, Margot and Mason. Pitt is especially a revelation, all wide eyed craziness almost chewing the scenery as the detestable Mason Verger, the heir to the Verger pig meat empire.
What stands Hannibal apart from most shows on television, apart from its brilliant writing and grasp of character psychology, is its imagery. Whether it be the stag that imposingly appears, the ring of bodies that make up an eye when viewed from above or the terrifying, sleek, plastic black of the horned figure with its dead eyes, Hannibal always blesses you with rich, interesting and striking imagery; Fuller painting before your eyes. The soundtrack is also quite unlike anything else. Composed by Brian Reitzell, it claws at your skin with its screeches and winding noises that makes you feel like you’re being toyed with as well.
Hannibal continues to be easily one of the best written, constructed, interesting, intelligent and visually brilliant shows on television. Show runner Brian Fuller has said that he has a seven season arc planned out, and though the show is rapidly gaining followers its continued life has been hanging in the balance, and it would be a huge injustice if Hannibal did not get to play out its full story. If you haven’t watched it yet then start, you will not regret it. I really cannot praise it enough.