Wednesday, September 17, 2014

'Hannibal' Season Two (2014)

Starring Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelson and Laurence Fishburne
Developed by Bryan Fuller

Criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is in custody, accused of being a serial killer. The real killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson), has now taken Will's place at the FBI, assisting Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) in catching brutal murderers along the East Coast.
While Will awaits trial, Jack is under investigation for his mishandling of Will, perhaps he is even to blame for the murders Will is accused of committing. Will maintains his innocence, telling anyone who'll listen (or won't) that the man they really want is Hannibal Lecter. 

With the bodies piling up, Jack, Will and Hannibal play a dangerous game. One of them or all of them might be killers. And none of them can trust each other."Hannibal" is probably the most grotesque, the most beautiful, the most horrifying and the most incredible show on network television. It is so far beyond what one expects from a show on the Big 3 that it's unbelievable. On a simpler level, even forgetting how layered, complex and artful it is, I can't believe they get away with the sheer amount of horrific gore on this series.

I realize a show about a cannibal serial killer probably comes with an expectation of gore, but the truth is that, like the first season, much of the show's graphic depictions of death and mutilation have nothing to do with Hannibal's practically pornographic feasts. The food and the preparation of it is exquisite; the show's directors and photographers love to show us the care in handling and the beauty of Hannibal's gourmet cooking and presentation skills. His meals are luxurious, designed to get the foodie in all of us salivating.

And then you realize not what it is the characters are eating, but who.

The show's more viscerally grotesque sequences often involve not Hannibal's victims, but those of the other killers on the show. In the opening episodes, one such demented murderer is discovered preserving bodies and stitching them together into a mural. Two unlucky municipal employees discover his "castoffs" clogging a beaver damn in a river and we get a gruesome scene in which one of them trips and falls among the bloated corpses, accidentally stripping off their skin. Later, one of the killer's victims actually survives being stitched into the mural and is forced to pry himself out.

I nearly gagged during one scene involving someone feeding dogs later in the season. That's how gruesome this show gets. And yet, it remains arresting television for those that can handle the intensity of its violence and gore.

I've often thought that it's not things that jump out at us in the dark that's frightening about horror stories - it's inevitability. It's watching or reading or hearing a story and knowing that the victim is going to die and desperately wishing for a different outcome. It has that in common with tragedy, a horror of its own kind. In that sense, this second season of "Hannibal" is one of the scariest and most horrifying things I've ever watched. The show's writers and directors are experts at making sure I can't take my eyes off it, wondering what will happen next while absolutely knowing.

When one character discovers the truth about Hannibal, you know what the next scene will be but as it unfolds you pray that you're wrong. More so than the gore or the frightening surreal imagery that plagues Will Graham's imagination, that's the horror of "Hannibal." That's what gets the blood pumping. 

The final stretch of episodes and the season finale are steeped in a sense of impending doom. The finale can only be described as apocalyptic. It is without a doubt one of the most engrossing hours of television I have ever watched.

The cast is excellent. While the bickering of Price (Scott Thompson) and Zeller (Aaron Abrams) as members of Jack's team can sometimes feel like it stepped out of an entirely different show, it also helps provide much needed levity, lest the show collapse under the weight of its own seriousness. The show is full of guest and recurring characters who are delightful. Eddie Izzard returns as Abel Gideon, a murderer from the first season, and uses his time wisely. Likewise, the ever-lovely Gillian Anderson reprises her role as Hannibal's therapist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, and she gets some surprising twists as well. Her performance is cold, calculated and withdrawn, but purposefully so. Gina Torres also returns as Jack's wife Bella, who suffers from lung cancer, though her screentime is minimal. (Torres is also Fishburne's actual wife.)

Hugh Dancy's tortured Will Graham is a lot less crazy this season, since he's no longer suffering from a swollen brain and frequent fever dreams. But he still walks the tightrope that might be his undoing. Dancy's performance is more assured, even as his character often finds himself in over his head. 

Mads Mikkelson continues to be an impressive Hannibal Lecter. His movements and mannerisms are of a man of culture and class, but he's capable of all the brutal savagery a killer of Lecter's caliber must display. If there's anyone capable of standing next to men like Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins, it's Mikkelson, and he thankfully doesn't ape either of those performances. 

The second season of "Hannibal" ups the ante on the first in every way. The stakes are higher, the crimes more brutal and demented, and the revelations more devastating. Those who can't handle graphic images should stay away. Those looking for gripping, darkly gorgeous and complex television will find a unique experience here.

On blu-ray, the second season of "Hannibal" offers impeccable visual quality. The show's luscious images are often entrancing, even when they're going to give you nightmares. The color palette is highly filtered, often favoring strange yellows. The show seems designed from the ground up to be unsettling, and the fact that there's rarely a natural-looking shot, even when characters are traipsing through the woods, only helps reinforce that. But those colors are always well saturated and defined; reds and greens in particular are gorgeous. Textures on skin and clothing are immaculate, and single hairs on a character's face or head are delineated. In terms of sound, I occasionally found the music to be mixed a bit too loudly for my tastes, forcing me to sometimes keep the remote ready to adjust the volume. This didn't happen often enough for it to become aggravating. Overall, this is a gorgeous package.

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