(Check out my thoughts on season 1 here~)
*As usual, some spoilers ahead…
Usually, every series has seasons that are decidedly better than others. For example, I think it would be hard to argue that season 2 of Arrow (2012-2020) was not a head above the rest or that season 3 of Legend of Korra (2012-2014) did not bounce back hard from the epic failure of its almost unmentionable prior season. It seems to be the natural course of television. When it comes to Hannibal (2013), though, I find it hard to sever one season from the whole. It is such a fluid show, each season bleeding effortlessly into the next. It seems almost discourteous to single any one season out from the rest of this body of work. In regards to horror, though, I think that the second season of the show really emphasizes and articulates the horrific and profane themes introduced in the first season. The second season of Hannibal (2013) is arguably much darker and more dreadful than the first with a strong undercurrent of rage and vengeance propelling much of its plot. The question of “What is evil?” dwells just below the surface of the mind. We wonder just how similar the faces of God and Satan are and, more, how similar their resemblance may be to that of Dr. Hannibal Lecter or, as the series progresses, that of Will Graham. Season two of Hannibal (2013) realizes the bloody consequences of the actions perpetrated in the first season as well as complicates the answers to the moral questions posed throughout the series. This makes for a season that is both physically and psychologically gruesome.
What stands out to me most about this season is the interplay between perception and belief, between knowing and unknowing, believing and disbelieving, light and dark. In this way, the whole season feels like a kind of back-and-forth game. There’s an almost dark playfulness to the interchanges that occur throughout the season. We know more lies below the surface of these exchanges. The figures of Hannibal and Will become representative of these binaries, weaving together and apart, each character a foil and complement of the other. This puts them in symbolic conflict, something noted through the series through visual cues and their positioning within scenes. For example, Hannibal is often shadowed, his face like an idol, a symbolic godhead, the only thing visible which is representative of his almost Luciferian role throughout the show. Shadows also creep and bleed over scenes and characters, symbolizing Hannibal’s influence. When Will is receiving “therapy” from Hannibal, scenes often grow darker, leaving Will shadowed. Other characters such as Randall Tier (“Shiizakana”), a former patient of Hannibal’s, also appear in swaths of shadow to seemingly demonstrate Hannibal’s influence upon their actions. In contrast, Will is often shown in brighter spaces, his cell at the asylum and his cell-box in the visiting room both appearing under starker lighting. The labs where crimes are laid bare for observation also exist under unapologetic and unforgiving light. This lighting can fluctuate, though, such as when Will and the orderly attending him conspire to murder Hannibal or when Beverly Katz discovers a clue that implicates Hannibal in the Chesapeake Ripper’s crimes. In those scenes, the lighting is considerably dimmer and darkening, seemingly implying his influence and how Hannibal is always in control of the situation, even when you think he’s not. Especially when you think he’s not.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me break down a bit more of the season and the aspects of it that I believe serve to construct it’s creeping sense of dread and horror.
When the second season opens, we are with Will in the cell that Hannibal ensured he would call home at the end of last season. Will’s fear from last season of not being let out of Dr. Chilton’s asylum for the criminally insane has been realized. Will appears to us in a state of constraint. We quickly realize how tenuous that constraint is, in more ways than one. Unlike in the last season where Will’s consciousness was compromised by Hannibal choosing not to treat his encephalitis which was causing lost time and mini seizures, in this season Will is terribly sane from the start. Almost cold and calculating. More, he is clearly and rightfully (righteously?) angry. It is a bitter and vindictive anger but also a resigned one? Will is being accused of the Chesapeake Ripper’s crimes after being framed by Hannibal — who actually is the killer. It is something Will knows for sure, can finally see. Unfortunately, Hannibal has “backed Will into a corner”, so to speak. This is where we first begin to feel that this season will be a game, one of perceptions and persuasions, ebb and flow. Hannibal made his moves last season and now it is Will’s turn to make his moves — and he does.
Even being confined as he is, Will is able to sow the seed of doubt in Dr. Chilton’s mind about Hannibal’s culpability (with the help of Gideon, the formerly accused Chesapeake Ripper) and conspire with an orderly (sympathetic enough to his plight to kill a bailiff in his trial) to kill Hannibal. While neither move is successful, it does demonstrate Will’s own growing moral ambiguity as well as his increasing willingness to kill someone who he believes is guilty and deserving. We see Will developing his own sense of justice in this unjust world. It is also the first inkling we see of Will’s transformation, his “becoming”.
There is an interesting interplay between confinement and freedom that occurs while Will is locked up that seems to further emphasize the importance of perception. Almost every shot of Will while he is in his cell is shot from his perspective, placing the characters who visit him behind the bars looking out, not so subtly conveying to viewers that those characters are actually the ones being constrained by false beliefs. In this case, their misinformed beliefs in Hannibal’s innocence and Will’s guilt. This perspective also demonstrates Will’s own frame of mind, indicating to viewers that he perceives himself to be free in comparison to those still unknowingly under Hannibal’s influence. The only time we really see Will physically constrained is when he is in the visiting room cell-box. Whenever he is in this box, he is, first, always on display and always being accused of crimes or actions he did not perpetrate. This framing further conveys to viewers how constrained Will feels by Hannibal’s lies. It is interesting that, when Hannibal comes to visit Will and profess that he believes them to be “friends”, Will states that the “light of friendship” will never reach them in “a million years”. The shot is also shadowed and and depicts Will behind bars, further connecting both aspects with Hannibal.
The early emphasis on perspective prepares viewers for the latter half of the series which essentially becomes a battle or game of perceptions, played out almost entirely between Will and Hannibal. That said, there are some interesting plays made by other characters that complicate this central conflict. Personally, I really like how Hannibal (2013) uses its supporting cast to create tension and suspense. All characters have a purpose and none are superfluous. Often, characters in Hannibal are used to reveal and conceal information, knowing or unknowing of their position “on the board”. Much of the horror of this season is generated amongst the supporting cast. In fact, it is while Will is being confined that we come across one of the most truly chilling scenes in this season and the one that I feel really sets the rest of the season’s action into motion. It occurs between Will and Dr. Bedilia Du Maurier, who was Hannibal Lecter’s psychiatrist until she chose to discontinue their therapy this season. No referrals either. Before Dr. Du Maurier, played by the wonderful Gillian Anderson, departs to parts unknown, she visits Will at the asylum. During this visit, she oversteps the safety line directing visitors to stand back from the cells. This triggers a security alarm. Probably, Dr. Du Maurier triggered this alarm on purpose so that Dr. Chilton, who has bugged his asylum with listening devices, will not hear the message she has for Will. This message is a succinct whisper: “I believe you.” It is a chilling line because of what it conveys — that she believes Will’s accusations against Hannibal. She believes Will is not crazy. Not guilty. It vindicates Will. Someone else sees.
For me, this scene not only serves to reinforce the importance of perception this season but also it is the first scene that seemingly addresses the influence over others that Hannibal exercises to maintain control. As mentioned, something quite horrifying about this season in particular is how it portrays the concept of control as this creeping shadowy current, unnoticed and unrecognizable until you are swept up so deeply within it that you cannot possibly escape. Both Will and Dr. Du Maurier are completely aware of this current that is consuming them. This contrasts with characters like Dr. Alana Bloom who begins sleeping with Hannibal and is subsequently depicted as being swallowed whole by dark waters, slithering across her skin and down her throat, drowning her. This depiction is somewhat similar to how in last season Will, suffering from Hannibal’s “treatment”, felt swallowed. Usually, those who become aware of this shadowy current are, well, consumed. Hannibal likes to toy with his prey, to “see what will happen”. Dr. Du Maurier points out later in the series, when she is dragged up from her hiding place by the FBI, that if you think you are ever in control, it is because that is exactly what Hannibal wants you to think.
Hannibal’s uncanny ability to convince people to unknowingly play his game of “what will happen” is described by Dr. Du Maurier not as manipulation but as influence, persuasion. In this way, Hannibal is set up as a kind of unstoppable force. It’s deeply unsettling and reinforces the idea of Hannibal being this “devil on your shoulder”. But, it’s more insidious because Hannibal doesn’t necessarily care so much that you choose “evil” so much as he cares that he has played a role in controlling or constraining your choices. It’s something akin to godly that he strives for. In this season, Hannibal really becomes this manifestation of destruction — the kind of destruction from which creation sprouts.
This creates an interesting dynamic between the characters of Will and Hannibal who are not so much faithful representatives of two binaries as they are representative of different intentions propelling similar objectives. (Does that make sense?) Will wants to destroy Hannibal because of the chaos Hannibal has created whereas Hannibal wants to destroy Will so that Will can be recreated. The end goal for both characters is destruction but for different purposes. It makes it difficult to really support one character over the other. In fact, it feels increasingly wrong to support either character as the season progresses, especially once Will and Hannibal begin introducing new pawns into their game. Hannibal sends Randall Tier after Will and Will sends Mason Verger (and his pigs) after Hannibal. Tier ends up dead and Verger maimed. Countless casualties build up. Before then, Dr. Chilton is murdered by Miriam Lass (both victims of the Chesapeake Ripper) and Beverly Katz is also murdered by Hannibal when she figures out that Will was right about his accusations of Hannibal being the Chesapeake Ripper.
The scene in which Beverly is killed particularly emphasizes the destructive force that Hannibal represents. On Will’s hunch, she investigates Hannibal’s home (while he is supposed to be away that night) for human remains and ultimately finds evidence in his basement stores (literally in the belly of the beast). In this scene, the basement is swallowed in shadows and from these shadows, we see the outline of Hannibal appear. He stands on the threshold between the stairs and the basement, illuminated from the back. This makes him appear wholly in darkness, the lighting from behind giving him an unholy halo. The scene places his appearance just over Beverly’s left shoulder, now visually making him the devil on your shoulder. Beverly, as if sensing his presence, turns to meet Hannibal’s shadowed profile just as he spurs into action and we cut away. Two gunshots go off, one exiting through the floorboards of Hannibal’s dining room. The next we see Beverly, she has been killed and dissected for Will to find. (“Mukozuke”) It’s deeply disturbing and really makes Hannibal seem like this not only unstoppable destructive force but also an unapologetic and unforgiving one. Hannibal killed and displayed Beverly the way he did to cause maximum pain for those he knew would discover her. This doesn’t feel like a game; it feels personal. The only parallel this scene has is the one in which the orderly Will asked to kill Hannibal almost succeeds in crucifying him, which occurs as a direct consequence of this murder. It’s a brutal and merciless scene, Hannibal turned into a bastardized version of the passion of the Christ. In this way, that scene almost seems like retribution for the indignity of Beverly’s murder. It’s very biblical in that “eye for an eye” way, underlining the focus of this season on the exploration of the nature of good and evil through Will and Hannibal’s relationship.
On that note, I believe it’s time to discuss the Wendigo. The Wendigo appeared at the end of last season, killing and devouring the stag Will had been envisioning. This stag is a fairly clear representation of Will whereas the Wendigo is a representation of Hannibal. The creature can best be described as Hannibal’s avatar, the two often sharing the same placement within Will’s mind. The Wendigo becomes visually aligned with Hannibal, literally appearing in his shadow at the end of last season. Throughout this season, it becomes a devilish motif, it’s antlers like horns and it’s form rather similar to depictions of Satan as a hooved beast. We often see the Wendigo take the place of Hannibal in several shots, the two almost superimposed. In Will’s visions, the Wendigo will often appear out of the shadows whenever Hannibal’s influence is sensed. As the series progresses, the Wendigo also comes to represent Will’s own darkest desires. As he wades deeper into the current, to try to bait and lure Hannibal for capture, Will’s own actions and intentions become more morally questionable. In fact, Will even envisions himself turning into a Wendigo, antlers protruding from his skin and shadows overwhelming him, swallowing him whole. In this way, the Wendigo becomes symbolic of not just consumption and destruction but also creation and transformation. We even see the Wendigo depicted as Shiva at one point, the god of destruction and creation in Hinduism. (“Ko No Mono”) In the last season, we saw the unbecoming of Will. This season, we see the becoming of Will and we come to wonder at whether he will be a monster or not. Will he help Jack Crawford capture Hannibal or will he help Hannibal escape? We have seen with who Hannibal is aligned but with who is Will aligned?
The becoming or, as some might say, the deconstructing of Will is quite compelling. It brings into question whether one must be a monster to capture a monster but also into question whether monstrous actions can be negated if done in pursuit of a just cause. Was it right for Will to kill and mutilate Randall Tier as a means of securing Hannibal’s trust? To manipulate Hannibal into believing that he also murdered and ate tabloid journalist extraordinaire Freddie Lounds? Arguably, that depends on your perception of the word “right”. Throughout this season, Will and Hannibal focus their discussions on the nature of God, necessitating further pondering on both good and evil. Both Will and Hannibal’s actions seem to naturally coincide with these discussions. During a discussion with Hannibal (because of course Will resumed his therapy) about killing, Will reveals that it feels good to hurt bad people. That it makes him feel powerful. It mirrors a discussion he and Hannibal had last season about God wherein Hannibal professed that killing must make God feel powerful. Why else would He drop church roof after church roof on His parishioners? It is understood by viewers that Hannibal believes that killing makes him feel powerful. In this way, like Lucifer, Hannibal deifies himself. He believes that one can become God — through killing. In this way, Hannibal’s cannibalism is a divine act. He is honoring his victims by eating them, devouring them so that they may become part of this transformative process, absorbed into the body of God.
While I find the the set up of the main conflict as a kind of game of cunning to be engaging and compelling at points, I also find it to be quite disturbing. Hannibal and Will move through the lives of each other with destructive force. I mentioned Beverly Katz and Mason Verger earlier but Margot Verger, Jack Crawford, Alana Bloom, and Abigail (who was presumed dead last season) all become swept up in the carnage. Will and Hannibal become so focused on themselves and their game that nothing else seemingly matters. We, like Will, want to believe that he is doing what he does to apprehend Hannibal but several of his actions do make us question his conviction. Will even calls Hannibal to let him know that “They know.”, a callback to last season when Hannibal called Garrett Jacob Hobbs to alert the killer that the FBI was on the way. This almost completes Will’s transformation into Garrett Jacob Hobbs, into a killer, that Will envisioned last season. It’s tantalizing, yes, but truly horrific to see the transformation and becoming of Will Graham into the very monster he has been hunting.
In the final “battle royale” of the season, we see Hannibal and Jack Crawford face off in Hannibal’s kitchen. Hannibal corners a seemingly mortally wounded Jack (“In the pantry”) when Alana shows up at the house to confront Hannibal. She finally sees him foe who he is and attempts to flee only for Abigail to appear alive and shove Alana out a window. Will arrives in time to call an EMT before his confrontation with the doctor. Dark clouds unleash pouring rain upon him, foreshadowing what is to come. During this final confrontation, Hannibal cuts Abigail’s throat and slices Will’s abdomen, both physically and psychologically gutting him. Killing people, choosing who lives and dies, is something Hannibal believes makes him God. Consuming people is a way to honor those he kills and a way to assert dominance over those he believes to be no better than pigs. Hannibal tells Will, “I don’t hide from God.” And yet, in this moment, Hannibal takes no part of his victims nor goes to any great lengths to ensure they are dead. This is clearly not about power. “I let you know me.” Hannibal tells Will instead, seeming to imply that the betrayal of that trust is the reason for his anger. That betrayal subsumes any other beliefs. Without “the light of friendship”, there is only darkness. It mirrors Will’s own feelings of betrayal from the end of last season, seemingly confirming that the these two characters have reached a stalemate. Hannibal leaves his home and all the people he once considered “friends” bleeding out, their blood like dark water, a shadowy current creeping across the floor.
Season two of Hannibal (2013) is decidedly more gruesome and gory that its prior season, the brutal and bitter confrontation started in the last season reaching its crescendo. Revenge and rage propel this story forward while betrayal and subterfuge keep it aloft, keep us questioning. Last season we were concerned with seeing but this season we are both afraid and yearning to know. To know the monster beside us. Within us. To look in the face of God and smile at the resemblance. I think what is most horrifying about this season of Hannibal (2013) is not that it compels us to question what we think we know about ourselves but that it makes us question who controls what we think we know about ourselves. Because there is always someone in control and if we think there isn’t, that is exactly what they want us to believe.
I had so much trouble writing this. Even now, I’m not totally happy with how it has turned out. When it comes down to it, I had far too many ideas about this season of Hannibal and too little time to organize my feelings about these ideas. As soon as I start to think about this show, I find it almost impossible to reduce it to any set of influences or ideas. It overwhelms me, something I believe is apparent in this review. If you take anything from this, I hope that the overwhelming and unstoppable force of this show and its characters comes through. I would love to hear your thoughts and main takeaways on this show, particularly on this season.