After a lengthy hiatus, "Hannibal," NBC's gory crime drama/psychological thriller, roared back into life with its second season premiere last week, promising an exciting sophomore installment.
The show, created by Bryan Fuller of "Pushing Daisies" (2007-2009) and "Wonderfalls" (2004) fame, is adapted from the universe of the Hannibal Lecter franchise of suspense novels by Thomas Harris. The acclaimed Oscar-winning film "Silence of the Lambs" (1991) is the most famous adaptation of Harris's work.
The first season of "Hannibal" introduced us to Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, who gives a deft and complex performance). Will, an unofficial consultant for the FBI, suffers from "pure empathy," the ability to completely relate to anyone - even a psychopath. For Will, who is deeply conflicted but unquestionably compassionate, the ability is a nightmare, slowly driving him insane as he relives brutal murders. Will's boss, FBI agent Jack Crawford (powerhouse Laurence Fishburne), hopes to provide Will with some stability by bringing in famed psychologist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to act as an anchor. Unfortunately, Hannibal is himself a psychopath - a cannibal, in fact. Throughout the first season, Hannibal commits murder after murder, and ultimately manages to frame Will for them. In a reflection of an iconic shot from "Silence of the Lambs," the finale ended with Hannibal visiting Will, who has been wrongly imprisoned in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
This season's premiere begins with a bang, before lapsing into a false calm. It launches right into high-adrenaline action, opening with a fight between Hannibal and Jack - only to flash back to the present, twelve weeks prior, as Hannibal calmly serves Jack dinner. The fight between the two will not actually occur until this season finale.
Will, still imprisoned for Hannibal's crimes, dreams of freedom and fly-fishing. Jack and FBI profiler Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) deal with the fallout from the previous season, including a potential misconduct investigation and increasing distrust of each other. Hannibal submits himself voluntarily for investigation in response to Will's continued insistence that Hannibal, not Will, is the "sensitive psychopath" behind the rash of murders of which Will is accused.
The rest of this season promises to accelerate toward the inevitable moment when Will proves Hannibal's crimes. Fuller has spoken of a "scrappier Will Graham", and the premiere delivers: Will warns Hannibal, "I'm going to remember, and when I do, there will be a reckoning."
"Hannibal" is unlike any other show on network TV, and perhaps even any show on cable. Its stunning cinematography, symbolism, emphasis on psychology, gorgeous architecture and eerily beautiful culinary spreads raise it to a level of intricacy and aesthetic achievement usually found only in film. Indeed, watching the first season back-to-back feels more like watching one long movie than a disparate set of episodes. The writing is first-rate, the acting outstanding. Fuller commendably creates diverse, interesting female characters and Dhavernas - whose Dr. Bloom is certainly well-crafted - surely has an illustrious career ahead of her. Mikkelsen is the premiere actor and a frequent sexiest-man winner in Denmark but is only just gaining well-deserved recognition in English-language films.
The psychological drama is also replete with some disturbing imagery - which is rather uncommon on network television. In fact, the gore and violence in "Hannibal" is graphic enough to have warranted a ban on certain stations in Utah, but Fuller has stated that the show will never depict sexual violence, at risk of glorifying it.
"Hannibal" is a perfect fit for NBC: while it has struggled in ratings, critical reviews declare it phenomenal and the social media presence of its fandom is immense. (Indeed, the show was trending on Twitter throughout much of the premiere.) NBC has so far offered profuse support for "Hannibal" despite its low viewership, but in the long term, "Hannibal" will need to find a larger audience, of which it is entirely deserving.