As the very first scene of its second season tells us, Hannibal is a somewhat unusual show in that the audience knows exactly how it ends. Over at Slate, Mark Peters made a similar observation, arguing that because Bryan Fuller’s beautiful, engrossing show doesn’t need to ratchet up suspense about where the plot is headed, we have breathing room along the way to soak in Hannibal and Will and their relationship’s unraveling. It’s like True Detective in that way: a character study wrapped in a loosely structured police procedural.
Hannibal still has its run-of-the-mill serial killers. And given that the Wax Man (my halfhearted attempt at a nickname; I’m sure the writers will give us a better option soon) remains free, and with a live victim on his hands, at the end of the episode, he’ll probably be this season’s version of Garrett Jacob Hobbs, a lingering shadow and not just an open-and-shut case. His M.O. is abducting victims, overdosing them on heroin, and laying them out in an elaborate arrangement, preserved in wax. The initial crime scene is less than dignified—a bunch of discarded bodies floating at the base of a waterfall—but the overhead shot that ends “Kaiseki” is the kind of macabre showpiece we expect from the show that once gave us angel wings made out of skin and a totem pole made out of body parts.
Still, with Will in the asylum, Hannibal is finally focused on the downfall of its title character. He’s successfully manipulated the FBI into imprisoning a man he admires and respects far more than, say, Dr. Clifton. But he’s still drawn to Will in what Dr. Du Maurier calls an obsession, compelled to visit him even after Will’s finally realized that Hannibal is the dark stag who’s been haunting him for months. He even assumes Will’s role as FBI consultant for the week, correctly guessing that the waterfall bodies are rejects. As Katz knows, he’s not up to replacing Will entirely, but the symbolism of Dr. Lecter taking the place of his foil is pretty obvious.
Hannibal’s strange openness with the FBI, down to encouraging Jack to investigate him during the episode’s title meal, puts him on a self-destructive collision course with Agent Crawford. The bloody fist fight we know is on the way will happen in just three months, and until then, this season is going to be the story of Hannibal’s gradual unraveling, just as the last one was largely about Will’s. Captivity has given Will clarity and time to comb through his memories, which, as he tells Jack, are all he has. And Hannibal, for his part, can’t resist his fascination with Will, whose “grotesque but useful” talent is a mirror image of Hannibal’s own killer instinct.
Agent Crawford is still unconvinced, but he obliges Will by investigating Hannibal anyway. Alanna Bloom, meanwhile, files a formal report alleging misconduct on Jack’s part for putting Will back on the field. The first probe goes nowhere and the second faces disapproval of FBI higher-ups (CYNTHIA NIXON!), but Alanna is persistent. She’s still confident an on-the-record evaluation of Jack will reveal that Will is a murder, he just didn’t know it—and Jack agrees. But they’ve tipped over the first domino in the path that leads to Jack with a glass wound in his neck.
This is Hannibal, though, so the point isn’t the slow progression of the plot. There’s the borderline-hallucinatory tone that gives us images like a feast of rotting food with a Hannibal-stag at the head of the table, or a siren-like vision of Ilanna that engulfs Will in shadows. There’s the joy and dread of watching Hannibal prepare an elaborate feast of human sushi to mourn Will’s loss. There’s the endless winking nods to Hannibal’s true nature: “I never feel guilty eating anything”; “Jack Crawford doesn’t know what you’re capable of” answered with a flat “Neither do you”; “In that case, Frederick, you are dining with a psychopathic murderer.”
Mostly, it’s about the elaborate dance between Hannibal and Will. Much has been made of Mads Mikkelsen’s ability to do more with a barely noticeable twitch than most actors can do with a monologue. That’s on full display here in the form of the smirk that flits across Hannibal’s face when Du Maurier asks him what he can’t repress. As for Will, it’s good to see him un-debilitated by his brain injury, finally capable of tackling his adversary from the isolation of his cell. (Speaking of, the shot of him talking to Chilton in a cage he likens to a literal and metaphorical dunking tank was one of the more striking scenes of the episode.)
Hannibal has faith that Will can get to the bottom of this, even if it means the two of them switch places. At the beginning of a new chapter in network television’s most distinctive—and arguably, best—drama, so do we.