NBC’s Hannibal ran for three seasons, but its concept called for at least twice as many. Undertaking a freeform adaptation of author Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter saga, producer Bryan Fuller crocheted 39 episodes out of Will Graham’s involvement with modern crime fiction’s most notable maneater without once mentioning the iconic Clarice Starling. In short, the result of the NBC severance was a bridge that reached not quite halfway across the river before being rudely interrupted by lack of funds. Happily, the unfinished symphony yielded great beauty.
In ranking all 39 episodes, the rich, once-in-a-lifetime series leads one down several paths. What’s the most fascinating aspect? Fuller’s fruitfully complex relationship with the source material, switching from solemnly pious to manically freestyle (even openly rebellious) at the drop of a hat? An equally complex study in the dynamic relationship between auteur (and not-so-auteur) directors and a showrunner who needs a stable of weirdly brilliant minds to realize his epic vision? The show’s evolution from vague Mentalist retread—possibly a canny bit of misdirection on Fuller’s part—to the grandest opera dedicated to the destructive infatuation shared by two men ever to air on network television?
Or is it simply about the story, meat and potatoes, and nothing more? Does the series rise and fall based on how tunefully a given episode renders the ballad of Will (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen)? In truth, all these concerns factor into a 39-episode ranking, to a degree that Hannibal makes for a solid, encyclopedic study of the different ways we experience pleasure (or displeasure) with episodic television drama. This ranking will endeavor to adhere to a rough calculus, weighing the complex pleasures from one episode to the next. In preparation, I revisited every episode, in its established order, but also checked in with a selection of isolated scenes, quiet and loud alike.
39. “Oeuf,” Season 1, Episode 4
The show’s only bona fide stinker. Scheduled to air a few months after the Sandy Hook shootings, the last thing NBC wanted to bring into American homes was images—or accounts—of kids being shot to death. The network pulled it, but it remains available online. Too generous a fate, it turns out, as it should have been lost at sea. Its disturbing content is the least of its liabilities. For a series that puts a premium on the unspoken, “Oeuf” spells everything out, clumsily, and its villain-of-the-week script plays like bad X-Files fan fiction. More like “Ooof.”
38. “Potage,” Season 1, Episode 3
Hannibal and Will co-establish surrogate fatherhood with massacre survivor Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), but “Potage” shows Abigail prowling the library layer of Lecter’s office, just as Will did in “Amuse-Bouche,” the previous episode. The rhyming image complicates the nascent phantom-family structure by indicating one core truth: As they stand on a stage-like platform above him, Will and Abigail are represented in visual grammar as Hannibal’s lead actors, before they’re anything else. That observation aside, a lot of water is tread in “Potage,” and high points are few, almost as if the series isn’t yet prepared to go off its diet of “killer of the week” and “artisanal crime scenes.”
37. “Hassun,” Season 2, Episode 3
Another phoned-in disappointment from Peter Medak, with staging so unimaginative one is tempted to forget the inventive stylings wrought elsewhere by helmers Vincenzo Natali, David Slade, and Guillermo Navarro. At one point, Kade Prurnell (Cynthia Nixon) and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) hold a long conversation in a hallway, and Medak merely has them stand face to face, like statues, droning dialogue at each other. Medak’s inability (or refusal) to rhyme stage directions with script tenor makes for one letdown after another. This is also the episode where the judge is strung up and has his skull opened; Natali would have located in the event the fleshy horror, Slade the trauma, Navarro the Grand Guignol grotesque. Instead, the gruesome find is a shock without flavor, leading some viewers to label “Hassun” as the series shark-jumper.
36. “Shiizakana,” Season 2, Episode 9
Will’s head is getting full of traffic, as “Shiizakana” opens with a dream of vengeful wish fulfillment that nevertheless reflects how much he understands Hannibal’s influence over him. His fever is no longer a symptom of illness, but of torment. Apart from that, “Shiizakana” is a minor installment in the second season, with a far-fetched killer—the one with the mechanical beast-jaws—who serves only to clear up a little narrative arithmetic (Hannibal owes Will for the attempt on his life), and whose resemblance to Francis Dolarhyde’s imminent “becoming” does for itself few favors. Competently and cleanly mounted by Vincenzo Natali, this would have been improved had the Splice director extracted it to feature-film form and, shall we say, put some flesh on its frame.
35. “Amuse-Bouche,” Season 1, Episode 2
Unlike the pilot episode, which opened with a garden-variety home invasion/double murder, the crime scene in “Amuse-Bouche” is a literal garden—of mushrooms growing from corpses. We’re not in CSI: Kansas anymore, Toto. We also meet Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki), who not only isn’t an obnoxious male chauvinist pig, but the personification of much of what previous Loundses would have hated: a lady with an impeccable sense of poise and style, even when she’s up to the same old yellow-journalism tricks. Appropriately, “Amuse-Bouche” is all about planting the seeds that will bloom into a grand design. Memorably, this week’s killer blows somebody away before turning to face Lounds, nonchalantly telling her, “I read your article.”
34. “Relevés,” Season 1, Episode 12
The first half of “Relevés” is a sea of routine business almost out of necessity, given that the series opens with a sudden, horrifying death by inferno. But in the quiet lurks Jack’s reluctant suspicion that Will’s blackouts may have more to do with the season’s trail of dead bodies and less to do with neurological side effects of sifting clairvoyantly through entrails. As is the nature of a season’s penultimate episode, “Relevés” stages the major players, and their agendas, for a climactic release, but doesn’t provide said release. Will Graham apprehends one guilty party (Abigail) and all but names another (Hannibal), but the price of apprehension is an empathy that comes on like a brainquake, rendering him useless as a lawman. It also makes him look guilty as hell. The main strength of the purposeful “Relevés” isn’t entertainment value, but its skill in transitioning from Georgia Madchen (Ellen Muth) being consumed by a fireball to a low-key procedural in which the investigator inadvertently nets himself.
33. “Savoureux,” Season 1, Episode 13
The least of the show’s three finales is one long anticlimax with a few waves of low-level revelation. The scene with Hannibal in session with his therapist shows the mad doctor in tears as he outlines his missed opportunity at fatherhood with Abigail. One of the show’s fundamental contours of emotional mystery is reinforced by the scene: that Hannibal is a genuine son of a bitch who shrewdly convinces everyone around him that he can feel emotions like a real human, but also that, under even that layer of psychopathy, he’s genuinely who he pretends to be. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it isn’t a good time to be Will Graham, as an orgy of incriminating evidence goes into full swing. The closing image, Lecter greeted by Will, the latter behind bars rather than the former, knowingly and humorously invokes our first meetings with Lecter in The Silence of The Lambs and Manhunter.
32. “Mukozuke,” Season 2, Episode 5
The image of Will in a straitjacket and a Silence of the Lambs-esque no-biting mask rightfully became one of the show’s lasting emblems, but it’s the Damien Hirst-inspired rendering of the Chesapeake Ripper’s latest victim that dominates the opening act, as one of the F.B.I.’s own is found in perfectly preserved slices out at the observatory. “Mokozuke” is a little sleepy after that, until a fringe character (a hospital orderly played by Jonathan Tucker) moves center stage to carry out the assassination of Hannibal, at Will’s behest. What follows is a memorably queasy set piece whose hamfisted bibilical symbolism is leavened somewhat by Lecter’s diehard gallows humor: “You’re setting a new standard of care.”
31. “Ko No Mono,” Season 2, Episode 11
The black-coated stag man who represents Hannibal in Will’s vision takes on two manifestations, one in dreams (as he oversees Will’s rebirth as a thing of the beast), the other a waking hallucination (a parody of a many-armed Hindu god), and no one’s telling if Will is truly gone for good, least of all, Will himself. A virtual catalogue of pain, “Ko No Mono” ramps up the tempo as Hannibal shuffles the chess pieces in a purposeful march to its second-season finale. This entails deepening the illustration of Mason Verger (Michael Pitt) as a sick bastard, pushing Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas)’s conflicted involvement in the imminent showdown, and the nagging uncertainty as to the Red Dragon-faithful fate of meddling journalist Freddie Lounds. In spite of all the anguish and torment, the comedy in Mason’s obliviousness to giving and then redoubling offense to Hannibal is payment enough to balance out Pitt’s atonal performance as the pig tycoon.
30. “Takiawase,” Season 2, Episode 4
Another garden made of people? Not quite. This episode’s killer only claims two lives (or one, or perhaps one and a half, depending on your math), and doesn’t even take ownership of the murder(s), instead restyling her crimes as a kind of ultimate therapy. Deciding they had nothing to lose and nothing to live for, kindhearted acupuncturist Katherine Pimms (Amanda Plummer) puts two elderly patients out of their misery with what can only be called bee-based palliative care of the most extreme variety imaginable. Sure, she’s off to the hoosegow, but her not-precisely-homicidal intentions give Jack a margin of pause to consider his own house, where his wife, Bella (Gina Torres), is facing down terminal cancer. “Takiawase” is the one-off contribution by TV vet David Semel, and he manages a tricky balancing act, but a crucial one: the untenable coexistence of compassion and depravity as two sides of the same coin. Hannibal’s one act of true kindness rivals his atrocities in terms of wrongly-intimate creepiness, but it’s nothing compared to the dark cloud that will enshroud the final scene.
29. “Apéritif,” Season 1, Episode 1
The pilot episode now appears strange under the weight of the 38 episodes that would follow, and most pilot episodes will do that. Perhaps to grease the wheels a little, production-wise, “Apéritif” threatens to look like any other crime series in the vein of “protagonist lacks social skills, but boasts quasi-supernatural intuition at crime scenes.” Only a little grittier. And the series wouldn’t lose its funny banter until three or four episodes in. Despite the awkwardness, a retrospective viewing of the pilot allows one to savor the details of new relationships and hidden motives. Will’s quaking delivery was never more convincing as it is here, and the contrast between his interpersonal difficulty and Hannibal’s graciousness (masking the truly antisocial and antihuman) is frequently amusing. An embroidery of borrowed styles not yet enhanced by anything uniquely its own, “Apéritif” nonetheless tantalizes with mysteries and abysses that would develop and resolve later.
28. “Dolce,” Season 3, Episode 6
In spite of its name, “Dolce” is neither sweet nor satisfying. An oddball transitional piece, it seems to occupy neither Italy nor Muskrat Farms, even if it begins in one and closes at the other. Throughout the episode, our principals are made somewhat the worse for wear thanks to their Florentine misadventures; only Chiyoh (Tao Okamoto) and, arguably, Bedelia manage to dance between the raindrops. Only a few privileged objects from Hannibal the novel make an appearance: the bonesaw and the cattle prod. Easily the episode’s highlight: Will and Hannibal exchange wistful nods as they reunite, each bearing new scars.
27. “The Great Red Dragon,” Season 3, Episode 8
The opening salvo of the Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage) arc of Hannibal, a storyline that would put an end to the series altogether, makes very strange an already strange man who would soon call himself the Red Dragon, by approaching him from oblique angles, his introductory shots nearly a silent movie of garish orange, backlights, and shadows, and then comforts the viewer with familiar dialogue from Thomas Harris’s 1981 novel. Or, for many, the 1986 Michael Mann film, as our Jack and Will recite lines that still resound with the voices of Dennis Farina and William Petersen, as if they’re performing Shakespeare or Beckett in modern dress, in the frozen north rather than the synth-scored Florida gulf coast. The mix of the familiar with the brazenly avant-garde is, at this point, Hannibal’s byword; what can be troubling is whether the heft of an entire novel might capsize a half-season, even one that takes twice as long as the movies do to tell the same tale. All of a sudden, every one of our familiar primary and secondary characters, each of whom has seen countless homicidal maniacs come and go, is beholden to the “new kid,” and “The Great Red Dragon” is nothing if not busy making the stitching secure. Ultraviolence-savvy auteur Neil Marshall makes his sole directorial contribution, a little underutilized as the episode is largely brooding and portent, save for the “woosh, woosh” that heralds the return of Will’s crime-scene mentalism.
26. “Entrée,” Season 1, Episode 6
Battlestar Galactica MVP director Michael Rymer’s second turn at the helm is one of the most ambitious first-season episodes, at least in terms of introducing new characters whose subplots would act as strong ripple currents for the remainder of the show. At the Baltimore looney bin there’s British comedian Eddie Izzard as psycho killer Dr. Abel Gideon, and Raúl Esparza as his warden, Dr. Frederick Chilton. (Esparza is, in the humble opinion of your episode-ranking servant, Hannibal’s finest actor, confidently in control of several different registers of seriousness, officiousness, and camp.) And in monochrome flashback we meet F.B.I. trainee and early-days Lecter victim Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky), whose disappearance would haunt Jack for years. “Entrée” is in many ways a multi-pronged inciting incident, setting events into motion that would force hands, wrong rights, and drive hidden things into the open. The grisly torture/murder of a nurse at Chilton’s asylum ranks high among the show’s most disquietingly violent set pieces.
25. “…And the Woman Clothed in Sun,” Season 3, Episode 10
It had to be apparent to the filmmakers who gave us Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs that Hannibal Lecter was more fascinating than any other killer who would emerge within the Thomas Harris universe. The Francis Dolarhyde arc of Hannibal works overtime to roll back these assumptions—a noble endeavor, but, at the risk of sounding harsh: no sale. Dolarhyde compels, it’s true, but when Hannibal shares the frame in this episode, during the Tooth Fairy’s projection of their illicit phone conversation as a clandestine therapy session, the brain cannot process why Hannibal isn’t the dominant figure in the composition. The crux of the problem is that Dolarhyde, in spite of his grandiose Red Dragon delusion, always represented the profane aspect of the serial killer, whereas Hannibal’s psyche held us in thrall as a vast, unknowable, yet irresistible abyss. Like much of this part of the saga, “…And the Woman Clothed in Sun” insists on Dolarhyde’s magnitude too much, and exerts no small amount of labor in doing so. Familiar scenes include Dolarhyde taking Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley) to see the sedated tiger, and, later, Dolarhyde visiting and devouring the Robert Blake painting, risking apprehension. Scenes involving Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) are something of a catastrophe of dialogue writing, despite a surprise guest appearance.
24. “Naka-Choko,” Season 2, Episode 10
Eleven minutes have passed before we’re through with the opening credits, and the story is still dwelling on the late, aspiring mecha-bear Randall, who departed in “Shiizakana” thanks to a shadowy Will/Hannibal alliance. With Freddie loitering and the Verger family shifting a little creakily to center stage, the show’s second season threatens to feel a little distended as it enters the home stretch, but Will’s languid slide into Hannibal’s amoral fog creates opportunities for some marvelously subtle dialogue and direction: The agreement between the two men to execute Freddie happens so imperceptibly, it only makes contact with Alana like a warm breeze over her head. The high point of “Naka-Choko,” even if you’re ignorant of third-season romantic developments, is the nauseating cross-cutting between an Alana/Hannibal love scene and Will’s seduction at the hands of a vengeful Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle).
23. “The Wrath of the Lamb,” Season 3, Episode 13
Fuller and his writers had sufficient time to take the third season’s finale and turn it, albeit hastily, into the series finale, but not enough time to cover their tracks. “The Wrath of the Lamb” spends valuable time covering the ruse Francis creates to excuse Reba from further involvement, and throw investigators momentarily off his scent. Once that business is concluded, the main event begins, as narrative machinery draws Hannibal, Francis, and Will into the same, small circle. “The Wrath of the Lamb” is powered by the steam of our curiosity, in that we think we know where things are headed, but we don’t know how they’ll get there, and the episode sails smoothly when it savors moments tinged with bittersweet finality. Still, the wrap doesn’t exactly satisfy, but titillates extensively: Francis’s brutal raid on the police convoy and the climactic, eschatological threesome are exciting set pieces, but when the end at long last arrives, it’s staged as unsurprisingly as a hammer falling on a nail. It’s likely that one of the weirdest and most darkly romantic shows ever to air on network television could only have ended with one kind of red wedding, but the fact that NBC presided over the ceremony with a shotgun did Hannibal’s aspiration for closure no favors.
22. “Digestivo,” Season 3, Episode 7
Mason Verger (Joe Anderson) and his revenge plot completely dominate really only this one episode of the third season, but thanks to the intercontinental crosscutting within the previous five episodes, it feels like the de-faced pork titan has been salivating down our necks the whole time. Thus, on paper (and in our hearts) it’s difficult to believe that “Digestivo” will conclude not only the Muskrat Farms arc, but the entire opening chapter of Fuller’s adaptation that began all the way back with “Apéritif.” This episode’s narrative function is also its liability, as the calculus required to push every piece along its correct path often feels a little too clean to contain all contaminants, reciprocity and bloody revenge. That said, its final tone, with Hannibal’s “between iron and silver” speech to Chiyoh, followed by Will’s cold shoulder to an imperceptibly yet deeply wounded Hannibal, is every bit the moving denouement we’ve paid into and earned.
21. “Sakizuke,” Season 2, Episode 2
Few action sequences on Hannibal don’t involve our principals, but “Sakizuke” opens with an escaped would-be victim, who wakes from presumed death to find his body sewn into a human color palette, then pursued by a madman through tall grass, then to a cliff, and over it. True to its name, “Sakizuke” isn’t a cornerstone or a keystone, but has component value just the same, trading extreme set pieces for a work-intensive hum of low menace, preferring to show the apex predator Hannibal Lecter with his claws retracted—ready, but still retracted. Memorably tart punches of flavor include Hannibal greeting the week’s killer from a raised skylight and Bedelia stepping all the way up to the bars of Will’s cell after various guests have remained behind the line, to whisper that she believes him.
20. “Futamono,” Season 2, Episode 6
Hannibal doesn’t lack for scene transitions that are elegant and dryly humorous at the same time. When Will asks, “Who does he have to kill before you open your eyes?,” the next cut is to Alana, whose eyes are wide shut as she begins to fall for Hannibal, presently carving up a heart that undoubtedly once belonged to a human. The perverse floral crime scene blooms in his eye on the subsequent transition; it’s in this part of the second season that Fuller began fashioning opulent editorial set pieces, making miniature art installations with footage and special effects, not unlike what the Chesapeake Ripper made with his victims. All part of the show’s great becoming. Bars between them and no encephalitis to interfere with Will’s reality, animosity between he and Hannibal (largely one way) has reached a fever pitch, as the latter does everything he can from his incarceration to apprehend the former. Appearing roughly at the midpoint of the season, “Futamono” is filled with grim business. Besides the aforementioned, which already sets an allegretto tempo to the proceedings, the end begins for Abel Gideon, as an assault by vengeful orderlies leaves him a paraplegic. Furthermore, Will begins to convert Jack to his suspicions against Hannibal, and someone returns from the past. Veteran director Tim Hunter, handy with violence and its aftermath here and in other episodes, sews dread into any available scenes of rest and hesitation, so that it’s hard to determine which is more sickening: a Hannibal/Alana courtship or a doomed man being served his own leg at the dinner table.
19. “Antipasto,” Season 3, Episode 1
We reacquaint ourselves with Hannibal in Europe, more or less in flagrante delicto, stalking new prey using a motorcycle and his continental charm. This phase of Fuller’s saga demonstrates that as the doctor is a survivor who can subsist with a significant degree of haute couture just about anywhere, even on the lam, out of a suitcase, and in rented quarters, the show itself can readily change its stripes without changing its essential nature. “Antipasto” kicks off a confidently experimental Hannibal that will open the door for some of the most avant-garde staging and editing seen on popular television since Ernie Kovacs, and it won’t all be sourced to dreams, afflicted minds, or sepia flashbacks. Long experienced on this show and elsewhere in dealing with shadowy horrors, director Natali is the right choice to introduce a new specter to haunt Europe (the specter of cannibalism), and “Antipasto” isn’t without a little Mabuse-like paranoia, filled with cuts to and from curious watchers, machine and man alike. Ultimately, the total absence of Will and other stateside correspondents cements the episode’s true preoccupation: Bedelia’s unfortunate but cryptic predicament, beholden and in thrall to a man who will almost certainly eat her alive.
18. “Secondo,” Season 3, Episode 3
Natali directing again, for the hat-trick following “Antipasto” and “Primavera”; the spinning wheel stops at Jack’s flashback and convalescence, as well as his own voyage to Italy and acquaintance with Inspector Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino). The real flourish of “Secondo,” however, is in Will’s investigation into Hannibal’s family house in Lithuania, where we meet the lithe, taciturn Chiyoh, setting off a tangent of story and character detail that finally touches on Thomas Harris’s most recent (and least discussed) novel, Hannibal Rising. Will’s discovery of what can only be described as Chiyoh’s kept man leads to some of the third season’s most surreal images, culminating in the ascension of a dead man as a symbolic firefly god.
17. “Buffet Froid,” Season 1, Episode 10
Despite its ghoulish title, the horror in “Buffet Froid,” as atavistic as any in the series, has nothing to do with people who eat people. In fact, it’s not at all the work of a killer, per se, but a diseased young woman with a deep-brain perceptual disconnect that mirrors Will’s increasingly intense fugue states. Director John Dahl mines the script for a gift basket of disturbing situations, like hands reaching out from under the bed, having your face peeled back across your skull, or waking up from a dream to find yourself in a nightmare. Humming more quietly behind these spikes in horror sensation is the disquieting coldness with which Hannibal is manipulating Will at the neurological level. His blank near-smile when examining Will’s scrambled-egg drawing of a clock could fill volumes.
16. “…And the Woman Clothed with the Sun,” Season 3, Episode 9
Hannibal still isn’t sure what to do with Francis besides telling his tale weirdly, but the second installment of his storyline, freed of the first’s obligatory expository and catching-up montages, uses blocking and editing strategies to make isolation and pervading loneliness a theme. Scene transitions will often iris-in on a body’s outline while all else fades to black. More than one scene has a character cross an unfamiliar space on faith alone, while Alana stands close enough to Hannibal to breathe authority down his neck, nonetheless separated by a chasm that may only be crossed lethally. Plot-wise, ”…And the Woman Clothed with the Sun” is a rest stop between peaks of uproar and carnage, but it has qualities that make it a peer with the show’s best: The episode occupies its moments thoughtfully and contributes detail where it may want for drama.
15. “Coquilles,” Season 1, Episode 5
In which Hannibal uses the eye-catching Balancing Siphon Coffee Maker. Also it’s the one where the killer turns his victims into angels by binding their hands and feet and flaying their backs open to form wings. “Coquilles” marks Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth) promotion to the director’s chair, and he makes his debut with guns (evocatively, portentously) blazing, in an almost unfair upgrade from the previous installment, Medak’s botched “Oeuf,” It’s here that the series begins to allow its horror-noir impulses, previously creeping around the margins, to dominate its compositions and coloring. Among several startling moments, a POV shot belonging to a hallucination, as Will envisions a dead man envisioning him in return.
14. “Rôti,” Season 1, Episode 11
For a series that likes to defer genre pleasures, Hannibal is dotted with a number of knock-down, drag-out set pieces, and Abel’s brawl (that is, acted out by Will in crime-scene trance) with three hospital employees during a prisoner transfer is one of the finest—a close-quarters combat masterpiece that nevertheless stays true to the show’s larger project of indexing awful ways to be murdered. Elsewhere, the episode leans a little too heavily on graphic manifestations of Will’s delusional state, beset as he is by antlers, water, and more water. Chilton, the show’s avatar of craven rudeness, gets the first of three rather overcompensated punishments: In a queasy set piece, Gideon removes his guts and leaves the job of putting him back together to his rescuers.
13. “Trou Normand,” Season 1, Episode 9
This week’s killer, as artistically ambitious as any other, turns out to be a sad old man played by Lance Henriksen (platinum level, as guest stars go) who can’t even be bothered to validate his macabre work with self-serving delusions of omnipotence or genuflection. No, he just wants to live out his remaining days in a warm prison cell, getting three meals a day at the state’s expense. “Trou Normand” also further develops the nurturing/manipulative relationship between Hannibal and Abigail, as well as Will’s increasing disconnect from reality. Director Navarro balances each component with subtlety and tact, giving the episode a pleasing solidity.
12. “Fromage,” Season 1, Episode 8
This episode provides appropriate relief of a kind that would have served the program well during the long, long Mason Verger arc. Having served their function in “Sorbet,” the pathetic Franklin and the silently intense Tobias Budge (Demore Barnes), truly a champion’s name, bid hasty their retreat, one more quickly than the other. “Fromage” gifts us with some of the show’s choicest lines (“I didn’t poison you, Tobias. I wouldn’t do that to the food”), and if the appearance of phantom Garrett Jacob Hobbs (Vladimir Cubrt) feels jarringly out of place in an arc that’s mostly meant for the psychotic Tobias, the showstopper of a brawl that caps things off more than compensates for any early wobbliness.
11. “The Number of the Beast Is 666,” Season 3, Episode 12
In which Freddie’s false death comes mostly true for Frederick Chilton. While Chilton has always been an arrogant opportunist and a smug prick, his place as Hannibal’s three-time recipient of just deserts, pushed to the edge of death, but never pushed over, is, in the end, sadly comical, and in “The Number of the Beast is 666,” Frederick squirms his last squirm for the Tooth Fairy. The great Raúl Esparza pushes his character to the limits more than once in this episode, but his tough-guy routine with Hannibal, taunting the shackled Hannibal with old age that’s inevitable even to the seemingly immortal doctor (“They’ll push you around and use you for sex”) might be the episode’s horror peak, if such a thing is measured in gasps elicited. The actual sequence of Frederick being held hostage and tortured by Francis is unusually long and duly unpleasant, but the episode’s real coup is sublimating the unpleasantness into the sniping that follows between Jack, Alana, and the bound Hannibal. (“That’s professional discourtesy.”) In the aftermath, two items of interest: Will struggling with guilt over the very real possibility that he’s once again doing Hannibal’s bidding, and the great Rutina Wesley, whose performance as Reba, conceptually a clichéd bundle of hesitation and brittle dignity, is one of the season’s most vividly human characters.
10. “Primavera,” Season 3, Episode 2
Credit Fuller for crediting our intelligence, waiting until the second episode of the season to indulge in flashback. “Primavera” opens with a refresher of Will’s near-demise in “Mizumono,” except the melodrama is muted, the pain of Abigail’s severed connection is accentuated, and we transition into his convalescence and recovery with dream imagery: the final death of the great stag, breathing its mighty last in a rising sea of blood. Natali takes the helm again, as he did with the season premiere, “Antipasto,” and with Will lurking around Hannibal’s faded footprints in Palermo, the episode has a distinctive giallo atmosphere, echoing throughout the legacy of genre masters Dario Argento and Michele Soavi. A hushed garden foot chase and a not-so-hushed reanimated stag cadaver affirm the essence of the episode’s grim, fairytale soul.
9. “Yakimono,” Season 2, Episode 7
A newly freed Will doesn’t mean a kinder, gentler Will, as the special agent can hardly contain his thirst for vengeance or his contempt for the probably doomed Chilton. Director Michael Rymer runs a tight ship that keeps the screws slowly tightening from stem to stern, but “Yakimono” is largely a showcase for the brilliant Esparza, whose Chilton is forced to take it on the lam thanks to Lecter’s master gamesmanship, hanging the Chesapeake Ripper moniker on the pathetic, stitched-together hospital administrator. But one of the great subplots of the season—not to mention one of Fuller’s designs in breaking away from the Thomas Harris master text—is in leveling punishments on Chilton that far outstrip his admittedly gauche existence. The result is a hard-earned pathos that is almost comical, with Chilton begging Jack for his life, only to be drawn into one, final trap.
8. “Su-zakana,” Season 2, Episode 8
Adding Jeremy Davies to the show’s roster of guest stars might raise hackles for viewers who prize Hannibal for its skillful juggling of subtle and absurd inflections; one expects him and Hugh Dancy to have a tic-off. But Fuller’s grand plan is grand enough, and diligent enough, to integrate even Davies’s most mannered contortions, and “Su-zakana” serves the slow-springing traps of the second season with a much-needed digression. Here the irresistible impulse to restore life, by Davies’s damaged cowhand, is proposed as an equally perverse response to his social worker’s homicidal urges—another funhouse-mirror version of Hannibal and Will’s sick pas de deux. Highlights: a bird that flies out of a cadaver’s heart cavity, one of a few images that might have been concocted by Thomas Harris himself, and Hannibal’s nonchalant “Mr. Ingram? Might want to crawl back in there, if you know what’s good for you.”
7. “Tome-wan,” Season 2, Episode 12
Watch carefully for what’s likely the only instance of Hannibal staring at anything or anyone with mouth agape. (Hint: It has to do with his office chair being mistreated.) But the vile Mason is soon to receive such a rich and disturbing comeuppance that the next season must work three times as fast to outdo it. And, in keeping with the aged-brandy, sweet-tartness of the show’s humor, it’s impossible to say whether Hannibal administers punishment as revenge (by proxy, on Will’s behalf) for terminating Margot’s pregnancy (and then some), or simply because he found Mason tiresome and uncouth. In any case, few episodes have a more aptly chosen food title: “Tome-wan,” like its namesake in Japanese cuisine, clears the secondary narrative with a decisive, gratifying stroke, in order to make room for final business. Unlike some of the lumpier Verger-family stuff in the third season, “Tome-wan” also retains what little there is that’s appealing about the Verger arc in Thomas Harris’s 1999 novel, and ignores the rest. Part of this episode’s ingenious construction involves treating prep work for the next episode as a natural delaying action for its own brutal conclusion. Your mouth will be left similarly agape, but not because Mason takes a knife to an expensive chair.
6. “Aperitivo,” Season 3, Episode 4
English television director Marc Jobst makes his sole contribution with the surprisingly emotional “Aperitivo,” employing the risen but damaged Chilton to thread the callback needle through subplots belonging to Mason (down but not yet out) and Alana (alive but not yet risen), among others. A slow, dignified evening walk of an episode that culminates with Jack’s final farewell to his terminally ill wife, “Aperitivo” establishes pretexts for several characters as they ready themselves for a rematch with the fugitive doctor. All well and good, but it’s an indicator of the show’s considerable wingspan that it has more than enough room for Jack to grieve, momentarily free and clear of macabre goings-on elsewhere.
5. “…And the Beast from teh Sea,” Season 3, Episode 11
An absolutely hair-raising suspense sequence and the amazing Nina Arianda (as Will’s wife, Molly) give this segment of the wobbly Francis arc a much-needed boost, as the Tooth Fairy, acting on unambiguous orders from Hannibal, descends on Will’s family with a Leeds/Jacobi-style massacre in mind. If this was a zero-sum game, however, the No Country for Old Men-inspired home invasion and escape would scarcely compensate for the subsequent silliness of the “real” Red Dragon kicking the crap out of Francis for his failure. But the episode has an overall robustness and, at the hands of director Michael Rymer, maintains a palpable dread of sickness and violence. Everyone, on both sides of the law (except for Hannibal, the cool customer), seems amped by the at-large Red Dragon, unknowable and, possibly even to Francis, unmanageable. The infectious bad vibes make for a propulsive hour, like a runaway train speeding blindly into bad territory.
4. “Kaiseki,” Season 2, Episode 1
Hannibal’s second season, of which “Kaiseki” is the premiere, is in many ways the finest of the three in terms of surprise, entertainment value, and the overall broadening and deepening of its power, still clinging to its procedural pretext, but ascending to its higher calling as the epic saga of Will and Hannibal’s amour fou. “Kaiseki,” now free to operate under the terms established by the first season, opens brilliantly with an alarming and too-close-to-call flash-forward skirmish between Hannibal and Jack, before retreating 12 weeks to the present; we won’t see this moment again until the season’s capper. The director is Tim Hunter, who also helmed “Fromage,” which featured another great scene of close-quarters combat (between Hannibal and Tobias), and the remainder of the episode sublimates the apocalyptic cold open into a brooding narrative that oscillates between true and false tranquility. Cynthia Nixon gives the story’s officialdom its barely veiled hostility as Jack’s misjudgments come home to roost. She gets one of the best lines in the whole series: “A federal examiner is someone who arrives at a battlefield, after the battle, and bayonets the wounded.” Hannibal’s silent glee in being “the new Will Graham” is another giddy highlight.
3. “Contorno,” Season 3, Episode 5
So taken with carnage and depravity is Thomas Harris’s 1999 novel Hannibal that the outrageous disembowelment and hanging of the corrupt Inspector Pazzi is merely one of the book’s top-five horror spectacles, and in “Contorno,” heralding the triumphant return of Guillermo Navarro to the director’s chair, it’s frankly second fiddle to the glorious ass-kicking that follows it seconds later. “Contorno” may not be much in terms of lofty artistic ambition, but its double comeuppance, set up and served with machine-tooled precision and giddy black humor (including a well-chosen Clockwork Orange/Rossini musical cue), makes for no small measure of satisfaction, impermanent though it may be.
2. “Sorbet,” Season 1, Episode 7
This transitional episode, designed (and named) as a minor pleasure, is actually a great one. The solo entry by director James Foley is rich with loving detail, brilliantly designed around a chain of doublings and double meanings, and paced with a light but compelling rhythm. Will declares the Chesapeake Ripper’s work as “theatrical,” and in the next moment we withdraw from the interior of an opera singer’s lungs, mid-performance. The episode’s gracefulness lies in the daisy chain of unrequited longing, as pathetic psych patient Franklin (comedian Dan Fogler) yearns to brush aside the doctor/patient barrier with Hannibal, who in turn, apparently blind to the irony, wishes to do the same with two almost-friends who remain beyond the professional veil: his own psychiatrist, the divinely named Bedelia Du Maurier (Anderson, a sigh of lightning in her first appearance), and Will, his own patient. This week’s killer, actually a well-meaning EMT trying to perform discount surgeries off the clock, parodies these impossible connections as the ultimate form of “trying to be someone you’re not.” Foley’s direction yields some of the show’s most unfussily lovely compositions (even simple shot/reverse shot conversations), and his direction of the cast seems to require that everyone drop their acting thermostat a degree or two and simply inhabit the moment. And, unless I missed something, it’s the only time we see Hannibal get a little tipsy—a few too many swigs of rosé during Will’s therapy session.
1. “Mizumono,” Season 2, Episode 13
The masterpiece that concludes Hannibal’s second season may be nominally obedient to storytelling tradition (checked emotions unleashed, lost things found, ulterior motives laid bare), but the bloody catastrophe is heightened by stirring elegance and formal daring, inundating the viewer with cascades of emotions, just as a literal downpour outside the house echoes the showers of blood and tears within. Among its boldest strokes, “Mizumono” leaves the mystery of Will’s moral quality—which side of the law is he on, anyway?—intact, while witnessing the perversity of his relationships come into bloom so fully and eloquently, even the best parts of the third season are but minor peaks by contrast. Thrills visceral and visual abound: the Jack/Hannibal scrap we saw at the season opener is expanded, embellished, and made even more troubling; Alana’s slow-motion fall into an apparent abyss is a vertiginous beauty. Finally, this is Mikkelsen’s moment in the sun, as his Hannibal Lecter must operate on several different conflicting levels without a hitch: a robust yet scarcely matched adversary for the Kodiak-bear Jack Crawford, a Terminator-like death machine for the newly disabused Alana, and, at long last, an angry, tender human soul in confrontation with Will. (“I let you see me. Know me.”) As pools of blood fill the house, it can’t be said with altogether certainty who’s been brought low, and by whom. The victor has spread incapacity around him like wildfire, but for all his ingenuity and industry, he’s no less naked than his conquests.
Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions
No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.
No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.
Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.
Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture
The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.
“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.
But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?
Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.
In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.
And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.
Will Win: Green Book
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.
Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman