In its first two hours, “Hannibal’s” second season elevates the surprisingly-high bar set by the first — creating binge-worthy television that makes you, like the titular character, covet for more.
Picking up where last season’s finale left off, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is on the wrong side of prison bars inside Baltimore’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane, framed for grizzly murders he didn’t commit. The “friend” who put him there — Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) – has taken over Will’s profiling duties at the FBI.
Will’s friends don’t believe him. Hannibal won’t help him. The faster Will can unlock gruesome memories that Lecter has suppressed, the faster Will can get one step closer to freedom. Maybe.
Outside of the premiere’s opening holy-crap fist fight, the show’s best moments come via Will and Lecter’s slow-burn encounters, co-written by showrunner Bryan Fuller. The actors engage in the psychological equivalent of Michael Mann‘s “Heat,” as Will struggles to get out of the frame that Hannibal neatly put him in.
This conflict impacts the lives of Will’s former colleagues, proving especially difficult for FBI Director Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). Turning Will’s allies into enemies twists the screws on this already-tense procedural, giving Fishburne several scenes to shine as a guilt-ridden boss, enduring an internal investigation for endangering Will’s mental health.
It all goes down as the real villain, Hannibal, works grisly cases less as a seeker of justice and more like a tourist perusing carnival row.
Here are 5 reasons why you need to watch, based on the first two episodes made available to TheWrap for review:
1. That fight
The premiere, “Kaiseki,” opens with a jolt: Crawford vs. Lecter, in one of the best fisticuffs to ever air on network TV. From knife throws to body slams, this brawl has everything — culminating in a “Twelve Weeks Earlier” flashback that sets up the season-long path to answering how the fight started.
2. Will’s on his own
Cut off from his support team, Graham must rely on his already-frayed wits to save himself. An unlikely ally emerges in the form of co-star Hettienne Park, as her CSI tech seeks out Will’s “Murder Whisperer” abilities to catch “Hannibal’s” latest killer of the week. This season fins Will splitting his time between solving crimes from behind bars and accessing the aforementioned memories. In doing so, Dancy effortlessly finds subtle nuances to make us root for our very disturbed hero.
3. The death tableaus
Outside of ‘True Detective,” no other TV show comes close to designing increasingly-inventive murders and murderers. This week’s nightmare fuel? A killer uses human bodies like brush strokes to paint his frightening masterpiece.
Seriously, this show is so damn good.
4. The haunting visuals
Ink-black stags with human heads. Fishing streams flowing with corpses. A spiral of stitched-together bodies. The only thing more poetic than the show’s dialogue are its haunting visuals. Nothing else on network TV comes close.
5. Hannibal Lecter, FBI
Will knows that Hannibal’s guilty. Hannibal knows Will’ s innocent. And the fun of this show — and hopefully the season — comes from how long the two can dance around the truth before too many innocent bodies pile up.
That pile isn’t getting smaller anytime soon, as Hannibal is having too much fun helping killers instead of arresting them. In the first hour, Hannibal misdirects the FBI and almost definitely tampers (off-screen) with DNA evidence. That behavior is only going to increase, making it that much harder for Will to prove his innocence. This is a very inspired, very earned choice — can’t wait for the fallout.
And fallout is an apt term, as Season 2 positions Will as a timebomb, counting down to either the moment he remembers the keys to his freedom or forgets what life outside a cell ever felt like.
Either way, these early episodes promise that fans are in for some damn good television.