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.
“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.
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