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Hannibal – Amuse-Bouche (Review)

Second episodes can be tough. Pilots tend to establish the core themes and characters of a show, offering a very clear blueprint going forward and perhaps hinting at the direction that you want to take things. They are grand mission statements, couched in broad terms and delivered with a sense of novelty. Second episodes are a bit less exciting. They are about putting that plan into action, defining the edges a bit, expanding outwards where necessary and refining as needed. It’s with the second episode that you really get a sense of what a show is going to be like in a more practical week-to-week sense.

By that measure, Amuse-Bouche works quite well at giving us a sense of putting the show’s feet on the ground and helping prepare us for what lies ahead for the rest of the season.

It's growing on me...

It’s growing on me…

One of the things I really liked about Aperitif was the way that it tried to eschew the “serial killer of the week” format that so many modern forensic procedurals take for granted. It allowed Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter to cross paths while investigating a horrific serial killer, but that killer was pushed to the background so the story could focus on the character dynamics. There were no boring lab scenes where stylish graphics try to make the application of basic logic seem exciting.

So the most frustrating part of Amuse-Bouche is the episode’s serial killer narrative. I mean, it’s a great case. It’s more like something you’d see on a show like Millennium than on any of the CSI spin-offs, and it connects thematically with Will Graham’s character, but I really don’t think we need another “serial killer of the week” television show. I’d be content with one case spread over multiple weeks, or even just a week or two of Lecter and Graham just chilling out, as they do.

Quite appetising...

Quite appetising…

Still, if you have to do that sort of “gruesome crime of the episode” format, I do much prefer that Fuller and his team seem to be tracing the evolution of the forensic procedural from Thomas Harris’ novels through Chris Carter’s underrated Millennium. While it’s a little disingenuous to suggest that Carter’s Millennium was several years too early – it still feels decidedly weird today – the first two years of the show are decidedly good television. They are a rather warped mirror predicting television’s fascination with brutal murder in a more intelligent manner than most of the police procedural shows which hit the air in the years since.

The fact that Hannibal feels more like the spiritual successor to Millennium than a spin-off from CSI is a very good thing from a quality point of view. My cynical side suggests that ratings are another matter, although I would always prefer one year of a smart well-constructed show to ten years of generic television comfort food. (And I say that as somebody who has a certain fondness for CSI and Criminal Minds.) Anyway, Amuse-Bouche seems to hint that Hannibal might be becoming a “serial killer of the week” show, but that it is at least doing it in an interesting manner.

Shining some light on the matter...

Shining some light on the matter…

On the other hand, this is greatly mitigated by the suggestion that the show will deal with arcs and fallout from events. Indeed, Amuse-Bouche opens with an investigation of the cabin belonging to the killer from the pilot episode, and Will Graham’s emotional connection with his comatose daughter is a point of much contention. I like the idea that Hannibal is going to be a character-driven show, and an essential ingredient of character-driven drama is a sense of continuity, which Amuse-Bouche seems to acknowledge.

Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter proves to be an absolutely fascinating creation. Mikkelsen is the show’s casting coup, the most obvious way of illustrating the show’s relationship with the source material and the other adaptations. Mikkelsen doesn’t look or sound like Anthony Hopkins, while still embodying a lot of the qualities the audience has come to associate with Lecter as a character. (Is it wrong that “European accent” is shorthand for “cultured, intelligent and possibly sociopathic”?)

Come into my parlour...

Come into my parlour…

We’re still not sure about Lecter here, and one of the smarter things that Hannibal has done is to generate a sense of ambiguity around the character, playing off audience expectations. Is he a killer yet, or is he still exploring and developing his appetites? The “previously” segment coyly hints that Lecter is the copycat killer from the previous episode, including Graham’s observation that the cannibalistic killer saw the victim as “a pig.” When Lecter offers Crawford some home-cooked “pork”, there’s a delicious cheekiness about the scene.

Amuse-Bouche also does a great deal to firmly clarify the relationship between the show and its source material. It’s quite clear that Fuller knows better than to expect his viewers to completely forget about Anthony Hopkins or the previous films. There are lots of coy references here. “You’ve been terribly rude, Miss Lounds,” Lecter tells Freddie Lounds at one point. It’s very hard not to hear Barney whispering that Lecter always “preferred to eat the rude” as the good doctor asks, “What is to be done about that?”

A dirty job...

A dirty job…

At the same time, changing the gender of Lounds demonstrates that Fuller is at least willing to play with audience expectations and familiarity. This isn’t just a rehash of a story that has already been told. It’s a new slant on things. It’s many of the same pieces, but it’s told in a different way, and could potentially play out in any number of unique fashions. After all, we all know the ending to this saga, right? So it’s nice of Fuller to hint that he might throw a curveball further down the field.

Similarly, the episode also lifts some dialogue from Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, in a way designed to remind viewers of Hopkins’ Lecter. Discussing Graham’s response to the shooting of Hobbs, Lecter ponders, “Killing must feel good to God too. He does it all the time. And are we not created in his image?” He clarifies, “God’s terrific. He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshippers last Wednesday night in Texas while they sang a hymn.”

Well, if you have to get shot anywhere...

Well, if you have to get shot anywhere…

In The Silence of the Lambs, it was used as evidence of Lecter’s perverse sense of humour, as a way of mocking Clarice Starling, who he probably assumed came from a religious background. Here, it tells us a bit more about how Hannibal sees himself. “Did God feel good about that?” Graham asks. Lecter responds, “He felt powerful.” It’s a nice way of hinting at Lecter’s motivations and his world view without being too blunt or direct about it.

It helps that Mikkelsen’s delivery is solemn and serious, in contrast to Hopkins’ playful and cheeky. Hopkins’ Lecter smiles to let you know you should laugh at his joke. It’s a gag to let you know how insightful he is. Mikkelsen is laughing at the fact that you won’t ever see the joke. It’s a private joke at how blind everybody around him must be. Mikkelsen gets some great lines here, and he wisely decides not to over play them, even as he promises to have Crawford and his wife around. “I’d love to have you both for dinner.”

Hungry...

Hungry…

Similarly, the dynamic between Lecter and Graham continues to be the most interesting part of the show. Lecter is very clearly fascinated and interested by Graham, and quickly “rubber stamps” the agent’s evaluation. He isn’t necessarily convinced that Graham is fit for duty (and he doesn’t care about that), but he’s more interested in getting Graham to open up to him. “Our conversation can continue unabated,” he proudly notes. I love that Hannibal is so delightfully ego-centric that the biggest concern with Will’s psyche evaluation was that it might kill their conversation.

Lecter seems to be toying with Graham’s empathy, wondering how far it will stretch and how carefully he can distort it. What does empathy with a serial killer mean? At the end of the episode, Graham suggests that he enjoyed killing Hobbs. That’s an interesting idea, and something which both makes Graham more compelling as a character, and which helps explain Lecter’s fascination with him. The hook of empathy – feeling for your fellow man – as a corrupting force is fascinating.

Talk about burying the past...

Talk about burying the past…

The use of the mushrooms on the bodies to create alcohol is a nice a touch, creating something of a thematic link between Lecter and our killers. The production of alcohol in the bodies was not the killer’s objective, but it plays into a recurring theme of killers as hunters and of victims as prey. The hunter consumes the prey, and one wonders if Lecter wouldn’t be quite happy to get some of that very gruesome home brew for his next culinary masterpiece.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but perceive a sly dig at NBC in the episode. Reading to Hobbs’ daughter, Bloom reflects on her own experiences with peacocks, the iconic emblem of the network producing Hannibal. “I even tried to raise peacocks because she raised peacocks, but peacocks are really stupid animals.” Given some of the creative choices made by the network in the past, it’s hard to dispute, even if it does seem a bit early to be biting the hand that feeds if you’re looking for a second season.

Out of the park...

Out of the park…

Still, Amuse-Bouche demonstrates that the pilot wasn’t a fluke and we might have something here. Consider it a season pass at this point.

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