Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Top Ten "Hannibal Episodes"

It's been about a year since "Hannibal" ended, and I think it's a good time to look back on what Bryan Fuller and company managed to accomplish with the series. Though there's always hope that the show might continue in some form, especially in the current, content-hungry media landscape, everyone has moved on to other things. And frankly, I think the show went just about as far as it should have. Episodes are unraked and ordered below by airdate. You'll notice immediately that my favorite season was the second one. Some moderate spoilers ahead.

"Apéritif" - The pilot episode introduces us to the new versions of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, as well as the show's modus operandi. Here's where we get the first tableau of death, the first cooking sequence, and the first meetings of many of our players. And it shows off the series' stylish visuals and willingness to push the envelope with its disturbing content. May of the early reviews noted how gory the episode was, which is almost funny in retrospect considering how much worse was in store.

"Coquilles" - The first major directing credit of Guillermo Navarro, the celebrated cinematographer known for his frequent collaborations with Guillermo Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez. This is the episode with the notorious angel tableaux, which is still one of the show's most famous images. However, it's also got some other lovely, evocative visuals using religious symbols for horrific purposes. This episode also introduces Gina Torres's lovely Bella Crawford, one of the show's better inventions.

"Fromage" - My favorite tableau by far in the first season was the poor musician whose corpse got turned into a functional cello. There's just something so wonderfully campy and absurd about it, enlivening what's otherwise a fairly typical murder mystery of the week in the show's run of more formulaic procedural episodes. Fortunately, these wouldn't last much longer. The show also gets its first proper fight sequence between the killer and Hannibal, a nice preview of the more showy violence to come.

"Savoureux" - The finale of the first season provides a satisfying conclusion to the arc with Will's encephalitis, and Hannibal's machinations to deflect the BAU's suspicions away from himself. The way the show portrays Will's descent into feverish insanity is the highlight of this set of episodes, and there are some nasty shocks that are executed just right. Pun intended. I also want to extend special kudos to the final scene, which features the show's most prominent homage to the imagery of "Silence of the Lambs."

"Kaiseki" - Season Two starts off with a spectacular flash forward, before settling the audience in to the new status quo: Will in limbo, awaiting an unknown fate, Hannibal playing investigator with the FBI, and more grisly murders to add to the pile. This one has a particularly memorable tableau, the human mural, which actually features in two episodes. I give the premiere the edge, however, because of the final sequence, which is one of the most terrifying bits of nightmare fuel in television history.

"Mukōzuke" - The death of an ally pushes Will to consider crossing some lines and using his newfound powers of manipulation to strike out against Dr. Lecter. I'm stepping lightly here to avoid spoilers, but seeing a familiar face be turned into one of the show's most elegant tableaux really is a knockout moment. This episode sparked some controversy for understandable reasons - the fridge trope is obvious - but I think the development was handled very well, and it's pivotal for setting up the rest of this storyline.

Futamono - Lawrence Fishburne's Jack Crawford is a major part of the show, but he doesn't tend to get enough credit. He's the primary protagonist in this episode, where we see him pushing the investigation forward on his own. There are a lot of moving pieces here, including Hannibal getting cozy with Alana, an epic dinner party, Abel Gideon's last meal, and a surprise ending. The whole ensemble is firing on all cylinders throughout. I also love the tableau with the tree man, and the way that it's set up.

"Yakimono" - My favorite minor character in the show is Dr. Chilton, played by Raul Esparza. He makes a great comic foil, and when the time comes, a wonderful tragic figure too. This is his big episode, where Dr. Lecter frames Chilton for his latest murder and the abduction of Miriam Lass. This isn't a particularly violent episode compared to some of the others that we've seen, but it's Dr. Chilton's reaction to the carnage that makes all the difference. And then there's the shameless cliffhanger, which I can't even be mad at them for.

"Mizumono" - This is probably where the series should have ended, if I'm being honest with myself. How could it have topped itself after this? The devil reveals himself, wreaks bloody havoc on everyone who wronged and underestimated him, and we don't even hate him for it. I had some issues with the show's plotting leading up to this ending, especially how Alana and Abigail were handled, but the payoff is so spectacular. I can't think of any other television show that pulled off anything so daring and so horrific.

"The Wrath of the Lamb" - The second half of the third season was a retelling of Thomas Harris's "Red Dragon" novel, which both of the cinematic adaptations did better. However, the finale distinguished itself by bringing in the Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter relationship that we've watched develop over three eventful seasons, and taking it to a logical, poignant conclusion. I also appreciate that this is the only take on the Great Red Dragon that literally has wings, which wouldn't have worked in either of the other versions.


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