A review of tonight’s “Hannibal” coming up just as soon as I’m charming the way a cat is charming…
Okay, so we’ve had five episodes this season, four of them set in Europe. The first two were outstanding, though definitely pushing the outer limits of what the show’s dreamy and pretentious style will hold. The third leaned more towards the gibberish side of the scale than even this show should, particularly in any of the scenes involving Will and Chiyoh. Last week’s return to America to catch up with the supporting cast was much sharper, in multiple ways, even though its design meant Hannibal was all but absent.
Hannibal was back at center stage for “Contorno,” and was joined in Florence by Jack Crawford, but this was another bumpy episode in multiple areas. I’m not at the panic stage yet – the three episodes I liked were all great, and there were some nice moments here – but we’re definitely starting to see the seams a bit on the approach Fuller and company are taking to the material.
Start with Will and Chiyoh’s philosophical debate on the train to Italy. This is only the second episode to feature Chiyoh, and I’ve already begun dreading every scene featuring her. I don’t know if Tao Okamoto has a general difficulty acting in English (I haven’t seen her in “The Wolverine”), or a specific difficulty in delivering this show’s very precise and strange dialogue, but her delivery transforms what should be a mysterious character into a non-sensical one. Though Chiyoh has explained her ties to Hannibal several times, her scenes with Will are so inert as to make it not worth the bother to parse out her history or her intentions. This is a show that often makes little sense, but is so stylistically and emotionally evocative as to fill in all the necessary gaps. That’s not happening here, at all. Chiyoh shoving Will off the back of the train seemed a thing that happened only because the show needed to delay the inevitable Will/Hannibal confrontation another week or two, in the same way that “Game of Thrones” keeps tripping up Dany every time she’s on the verge of getting to the fireworks factory King’s Landing.
And there was quite a bit of that already happening in the episode’s Florence section. “Hannibal” has always been a show that’s required a hefty suspension of disbelief on the part of its audience. It’s not physically possible for one man to do many of the things Hannibal does (I always go back to the display of Beverly Katz’s body, which would have required a whole team of movers getting paid time and a half), but we go along with it because the character has, from both his history in pop culture and the way the show portrays him, taken on a larger-than-life quality. Expecting realistic, logical plotting from “Hannibal” is missing the damn point. But that doesn’t give the show license to throw logic out the window altogether. The rules do not apply to Hannibal, but they should on some level apply to many other characters.
So it’s one thing to ignore the notion of Hannibal being an international fugitive – the Chesapeake Ripper, or Hannibal the Cannibal, or simply that guy who sliced up a whole bunch of FBI-affiliated people in one night in Baltimore – while easily wandering the streets of Paris and Florence under an assumed identity. It’s silly, but if the show doesn’t hang a lamp on it, you don’t have to worry about it too much. But having Mason promise this multi-million dollar reward does exactly that, even though it’s theoretically designed to help explain why men like Pazzi don’t simply call Interpol in to catch Hannibal. If news of Mason’s reward is circulating far and wide enough for Pazzi to see it, then surely so is the larger news of what Hannibal did in the States, all the crimes he’s wanted for, the enormous danger he poses, etc., yet he wanders unmolested in his travels from home to work and back. He’s not disguised in the slightest (the movies at least occasionally had Anthony Hopkins put on a big hat while Hannibal was trying to keep a low profile out in the world), and if it’s an excuse to watch Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson debate philosophy and shampoo each other’s hair, that can work for a while. But the more the show talks about why Hannibal hasn’t been caught under this circumstance, the more it simply raises the question about why he hasn’t been caught.
It was satisfying to watch Jack beat the holy hell out of Hannibal – the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen our arch-villain – mostly using the instruments of torture that “Dr. Fell” so lovingly cares for at the museum. But at the same time, I spent much of the fight thinking, “Okay, how is Jack going to blow it?” Because as much of a beef as Jack has with Hannibal, he’s not the one who gets to catch him. That’s not how this series, and this season, have been structured. And sure enough, Jack stupidly tossed Hannibal out the same window where he knew Pazzi’s body was still hanging, rather than keeping him there to continue hitting him with various medieval implements. It’s a move that only happens because the show needs Hannibal to stay free until Will shows up, and one that makes no sense in terms of what Jack would do both in the moment, and after. (Hannibal’s in bad shape, after all, and we saw how quickly Jack made it up those steps; why stare when you can run after him, even in your stocking feet?)
Some of the issue comes from the act of taking material that’s fit well into various feature films and stretching it out over many weeks of a TV season. In the first two seasons, the show did very well at not making Hannibal’s continued freedom feel dragged out, or like something that made the other characters into idiots. That’s a much harder thing to do now that everyone knows exactly who and what he is. Fuller has already admitted that he had to tighten up parts of this season’s storytelling for exactly that reason. Some of these early episodes have been great, but others have me thinking he should have tried compressing things even more.
Some other thoughts:
* Last night, Deadline reported that all the actors were released from their contracts, and that Bryan Fuller’s “American Gods” now takes first position over a hypothetical fourth “Hannibal” season. This doesn’t make a season 4 impossible – it would just have to be scheduled around “American Gods,” and it’s much easier to get Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy back in place than it would have been to reunite, say, the entire “Deadwood” cast – but it does raise the degree of difficulty a lot. At a certain point, keeping the show going unfortunately becomes more trouble than it’s worth, even to Gaumont.
* Our latest nod to the films: Hannibal straps Pazzi to a furniture dolly, just as the guards in “Silence of the Lambs” used to transport him around.
* Even given what we saw of Alana last week, it felt jarring to have her be such a willing accomplice of Mason’s plan. That she called Pazzi to warn him – albeit late enough that she instead got to talk to Hannibal – seemed more in character, even in her new vengeful state.
* Also, Mason’s demand for a fingerprint makes no sense. Even if he assumes Hannibal is going to kill Pazzi, it could still have the effect of scaring Hannibal into running away again.
What did everybody else think? Are you enjoying Chiyoh? Are Hannibal and Bedelia entertaining enough that you don’t mind his continued freedom?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com