Hannibal: Season 2
based on Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
2014 • 13 episodes • NBC
What a time to be alive.
Maybe it’s because I binge-watched much of this season while out of my mind with a head cold that rendered me largely unable to string human words together, but few shows have energized my mind like Hannibal. Despite my previously mentioned distaste for binge-watching, Hannibal is surviving this method (I’m trying to catch up so I can finish the third season with the rest of the civilized world) and giving me plenty to chew on and wail over as I listen to Mediaeval Baebes. It’s a revitalizing experience.
Everything wonderful about Hannibal’s first season largely applies to the second: Mads Mikkelsen’s unsettling and deeply charismatic work as the elegant and secretly petulant Hannibal, its glorious, drippingly decadent camp, Laurence Fishbourne doing anything, its food porn, and the dogs of Wolf Trap, Virginia. Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, on trial for Hannibal’s crimes, becomes a more active character, his always troubled mental landscape now thoroughly compromised by Hannibal’s insistent influence. This gives the show’s always stunning visuals to take further liberties, from some truly imaginative corpses to a viscerally psychedelic explosion of flowers… in the lead-up to the arrangement of one such corpse. Fair warning, though: this season is also slightly gorier than the first—there are some moments that had me yelling “BRYAN I AM EATING.” (I am always eating while I watch Hannibal, which is really my own fault.)
But Hannibal’s second season is slightly less sparkling than its first. The introduction of the Vergers, Mason and Margot, occurs so suddenly and vaguely that it feels a little odd that they begin to take up so much screen time. Mason Verger marks the first time that the show is coy about a villain’s actions. Bryan Fuller has gone on record that he will acknowledge but largely elide the rapist nature of several of Thomas Harris’s villains, and Mason, who rapes children, is the first. I’m thankful that Fuller has done so, but it makes Mason a little murky in the beginning. Margot, the first explicitly lesbian female character on the show… who also beds Will in pretty short order. There is a good reason for this, but it’s frustratingly introduced after the fact. And a late-season departure, while it worked for me, also serves to highlight what the show (and television at large) could do further in terms of diversity. (If you know what I’m talking about, I will point you to the actress’s comments on the situation.)
Having brought up Margot (who is wonderful), I do want to talk about Hannibal’s use of gay subtext. Throughout my life as a fan—both as a feverish preteen hellbent on fetishizing queer men and as a queer adult rolling her eyes at the first part of this clause—I’ve only ever seen gay subtext utilized as romantic subtext. That romantic subtext was either to reinforce male friendships (which, when applied too heavily, just becomes queerbaiting: I’m looking at you, Supernatural) or to actually indicate that the characters were gay and in a relationship together when the creative team felt that they couldn’t come out and say it for whatever reason.
Hannibal, however, uses such subtext in order to effectively communicate that Hannibal wants to crawl inside Will’s brain and operate him as some kind of meat puppet to be his ideal companion. Western culture routinely denies that any other kind of relationship can be as all-encompassing and spiritually fulfilling as a romantic and sexual relationship, and Fuller is using that language to emphasize how all-consuming Hannibal and Will’s relationship is. Tension sparks off of them like electric heat, but it’s sensuous tension, not sexual tension. When Hannibal lays hands on Will (and, as the season progresses, vice versa), the question is not whether or not it is a violent act, just to what degree it is a violent act. Even Hannibal at his gentlest towards Will—lovingly washing blood off of Will’s hands—is rooted in manipulative violence on both sides. This is a relationship that cannot consummate; it can only consume.
I think I’m so fascinated by this because it inadvertently pushes at the darker corners of the accepted Western romantic narrative and shines a light on unhealthy behaviors that are so often validated because “it’s love!” Hannibal takes this to horrifying extremes, to be sure, but the core logic is there: an interpersonal narrative centered around the idea of possession, the idea that this person (or in the fundamental case, this woman) is mine, instead of the idea of partnership.
Like I said: what a time to be alive.
I rented this DVD set from the public library.