‘Hannibal’ Recap: A Broken Pony and The Fungus Among Us

Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBC

Hello, Internet! Before we hop into this horrifically delightful murderparty: welcome to Hannibal: the recap. I will be your weekly doyenne of death and darkness, traversing the epic landscape of NBC’s newest series. And it’s a brilliant one at that (aka don’t f**k it up, ya silly peacocks). It has built-in suspense (outside of the whodunnit 44-minute crime solving of most procedurals) thanks to the knowledge that most viewers have going into the show of what’s to come for our leading lads. Hannibal is a cable show on network TV: so of course that means it’s going to be a bit bloody for certain sensibilities. But the violence feels necessary rather than excessive — a bit of grounding horror to punctuate the misty dreamlike quality of the rest of the show. But that’s because where the show really plays is in your mind, and Will’s mind, and Hannibal’s mind — and the minds of all these killers. Who better than Bryan Fuller to execute such a feat: in his hands, the iconic tale of our cleverly calculating cannibal brings the mind to life in a myriad of exciting and truly engrossing ways.

Because people are fascinating — something our dear Dr. Hannibal Lecter knows quite well — and none pose more questions to the mind than those killers of the serial variety. Their bloodlust and intrinsic, uncontrollable need to kill is something most of us cannot possibly comprehend, which is probably why there are so many shows about murderpeople out on television today.

Someone who can understand them quite intimately, though, is Will Graham. Played by the masterful Hugh Dancy (Seriously — what are dinners like at the Dancy/Claire Danes household? And their kid! Imagine growing up with Will Graham and Carrie Mathison as your parents.), Will has danced with the devil that lives in his brain after killing Garret Jacob Hobbes: rode hard and put away wet (love a good race horse saying). And with a mind as overactive and unstable as his, the consequences of getting too involved are frighteningly serious. Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) knows he’s towing a very thin line with Will out in the field, but he’s willing to push him as far as he can — as long as it’s mentally sound to do so. Which is why the FBI needs psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) in their corner: to save their broken pony.

In the second episode of the season, we see a preview — an amuse bouche, perhaps? (See what I did there? The episode title was “Amuse Bouche!” I’m really quite clever.) — of what’s in store. First we got the pre-dinner drink (apertif), and now? An amuse bouche, natch: a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre (like a pig in a blanket but fancy) that is free and completely at the chef’s discretion. In this case we have to imagine there are several chefs in the kitchen, and we’ve gotten a single bite of each of our major players. And man, the ways in which Will is volleyed back and forth between kid glove care and full-blown exposure to the grim and gruesome things in his mind, feels exploitative. He tries so hard to keep his demons at bay — keeping the world at arms length. Described as both a tea cup and a broken pony (Will’s definitely at least a colt), Hannibal believes the rest of the world can only understand Will when they make him out to be a fragile but fancy toy.

But first let’s get to the new crop of folks that’ve sprung forth from the earth to greet us. First there is Freddie Louds (whom Thomas Harris fans will recall was previously a man in the books/films) — who runs the blog Tattlecrime.com. Louds is hot on the trail of the Minnesota Shrike, and thanks to a wee tryst with Agent Zeller, she’s now quite fascinated with our fair Will Graham, as well. “Takes One To Know One” says the title. Freddie also manipulates situations to get what she wants. But doing so has put her on Hannibal’s rude list — and we all know what happens when you end up there. But she’s in for the long haul, and won’t be going anywhere any time soon.

There’s also our mushroom farmer. Oh yes, the fungus among us! A crazy diabetic-coma inducing mushroom farmer, that is. In a storyline that would make even the most iron of stomachs lose their lunch (or at least skip the shitakes), we found pharmacist Eldon Stammitz and his reverence for the fleshy spores. He felt humanity could better connect (always with the connections, this show) if people were buried alive, covered in compost, and pumped with sugar water to grow a couple toadstools on their slowly-decaying skin. It was a gruesome, visually-arresting scene that harkened back to another unsettling horror cult-camp hit: Motel Hell. People giving rise to, essentially, an intricate web of connections that move beyond the physical and mental capacity of the human brain. It’s all quite philosphical yet rooted in scientific knowledge. Beautifully haunting, in a way — totally gnarly and disgusting and completely mental in every other possible way. S**t is f**king disturbing. I love it.

Which brings us back to Will. So haunted. He is a walking internal battle divided: one side that liked how it felt to kill Hobbes, the other disgusted by his own feelings. It’s revealed that Will has spent hours at Abigail Hobbes’ bedside (where we found Hannibal sitting at the end of the pilot) while comatose. Jack believes Abigail may have been Hobbes’ accomplice throughout his murders — something Will is none too keen to accept (though previews for next week’s episode have us thinking that perhaps he should just get on with that acceptance thing sooner rather than later). But that’s because, like the dogs, Graham has adopted her (lucky for his anti-social ass, she’s in a coma. Might like her less when she’s awake). Another stray. Another maybe muderperson or knowing accomplice.

Will’s inability to be socialable and connect with people is ultimately what’s saved him up until this point. There’s a killer being supressed. We know this because he’s haunted by the ease with which he delves into the minds of and empathizes with the killers he encounters at work every day. (And you thought your job had pressures.) But now, it’s no longer an imagination: he’s killed another human. Welcome to confronting your feelings, my boy! Therapy 101. Feel it. Only, Hannibal uses their newfound bromance as a a way to gain Will’s trust (which is proliferated by his rubber-stamping the psych evaluation, only to turn it around to gain personal insight into Will. A big no-no with this one, it seems.) because he feels a connection to Will — they’re more alike than different in many ways. It’s this need for a connection that drives Hannibal and (so far) the others to kill. A misinterpreted understanding of humanity, relationships, and spirit — or simply just another God complex?

For Hannibal, it seems to be a bit of the latter. It’s a tiny thread, but it’s there nonetheless, and we need that to understand the man and the mechanics behind him. Every other killer has a motive, a design, a method. Hannibal is not a serial killer with one particular homi-style: he does it in a myriad of ways and for lots of different reasons, as we’ve seen thus far. But it’s so much more than that, too. To Hannibal, death is beauty and connects him to a higher plane of existence — the ultimate expression of power. A psychopath with some smarts, talent, a seemingly good amount of money, and cooking skills no matter how gross? Oh yeah, I can see why he’s a dangerous and tricky fella.

“Killing must feel good to God, too — he does it all the time. And are we not created in his own image?” It’s a chilling quote and an even more horrific thought: Hannibal is a killer without remorse: to him, it is a calling inherently higher than himself. But does God like killing, Will wonders? Hannibal believes that, for God, it’s not about liking, it’s about the power: death is just a necessary evil. A means to an end — but one that can, when wrapped up in romanticized neo-religious ideals with a hint of mental instability, be seen as a thing of beauty. By killing (serially) and in such extravagent ways, you’re conceptually “giving a voice to the unmentionable.” And the look of revolted understanding that crosses Will’s face upon hearing Hannibal’s words makes it clear that even though he can empathize with it, doesn’t mean he thinks it’s right. Hannibal’s God Complex a Satan Complex.

But still, the basic truth lingers in the air: “I liked killing Hobbes,” Will mumbled. There’s more yet to be dissected in that fancy, delicate brain of yours, Will Graham. Can you contain it, or will it contain you? The things you’ve yet to learn about yourself, man. It’s going to be a real treat to watch. And yet we’ve only had but a small bite, a taste.

Needless to say, it’s all fun and games until someone gets eaten.

A Few More Things…
– Can we have a moment for that opening sequence? Between Dexter and Hannibal, serial killers have some seriously killer opening visuals. 
– Beverly Katz sure does seem to be into Will Graham’s brand of crazy. Something tells us she wants a bigger piece of that pie, ifyannowhatimean.
– … But then there’s Dr. Alana Bloom! Who seems like a really great actual match for Will. And how she lied to him about not keeping track as to whether or not she keeps track of how often they’ve been alone together? She is both scared of and in love with what makes Will so special.
– Kudos to Mikkelsen on his A+ delivery of the line to Jack: “Next time bring your wife. I’d love to have you both for dinner.”
– The stag and raven specter continues to plod his way through Will’s brain, occasionally stopping in the doorway of Will’s mental waiting room. Two animals, combined. It feels to me like a visual representation of the two parts of Will’s personality, but you can’t help but also see a bit of Hannibal in there, too — since we all know he was the one to set up the “negative” display in the field so Will could see the “positive” and in turn, hone in on Hobbes. He’s able to manipulate the mind in such insidious ways (fans of the Harris series will immediately call to mind his attempts to condition Clarice later in Hannibal’s life). But who’s the raven and who’s the stag? Which side will win? Can they be separated, or merely controlled as one single entity? So much left to unpack this season!

What did you think of the episode? Discuss it in the comments.

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