I sometimes get worried when a new TV series has too good a pilot episode. In many cases, the producers pour all their effort (and money) into the pilot, lavishing it with high-end production values, an A-List director and a finely-honed script to make the best first impression possible. Then, after the network actually picks up the show, they don’t have much left, and the quality drops off precipitously in the following episodes. This is especially a concern on a network like NBC, which doesn’t have a lot of money to risk on a questionable series. So, with that in mind, I went into the second week of ‘Hannibal’ with some measure of trepidation.
Fortunately, my fears were allayed pretty quickly. The second episode is just as good as the first.
In fitting with the theme of the pilot (which was called ‘Aperitif’), this one is called ‘Amuse-Bouche’. The next couple of episodes will follow a similar titling convention. I imagine that this gag will run out quickly and the writers will have to find another theme if the show gets a second season.
We pick up in the aftermath of the Garret Jacob Hobbs case. The FBI discovers the cabin where Hobbs killed his victims. Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) thinks that he may have had a partner, perhaps even his daughter Abigail, who’s currently in a coma after Hobbs slit her throat. Will Graham believes that he acted alone. Graham is also having PTSD flashbacks and nightmares about killing Hobbs. Crawford orders him to have a psych eval by the best psychiatrist they know, the redoubtable Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Meanwhile, a new case comes up when some kids hiking in the woods discover a farm of human bodies covered in mushroom growth. The victims had been kept alive by breathing tubes and IV drips. Graham eventually uncovers their common connection: They were all diabetic, and had been forcibly induced into diabetic comas and planted as living fertilizer. The perpetrator is a pharmacist named Eldon Stammets, who’s gone off his rocker and believes that mushroom fungi hold a secret toward discovering the interconnectedness of all life. He desperately wants to be understood by anyone… even anything.
Before the FBI captures him, Stammets learns about Graham and about the comatose Abigail Hobbs. He attempts to kidnap the girl out of the hospital to start his next garden, but Graham intercepts and is forced to shoot him. This is dangerous, in that Graham still hasn’t recovered from the trauma of his last shooting, and also isn’t a particularly good shot. Luckily, he hits Stammets in the arm and arrests the man without having to kill him.
Lecter has a subdued role in this episode, primarily concerning a red herring storyline about a woman who’d been snooping around the crime scenes. Initially, we’re led to suspect that she may be the killer, but it turns out that she’s tabloid reporter Freddie Lounds, who’s a key figure in Thomas Harris’ first Lecter novel, ‘Red Dragon’, and the two movies based on it. (This is the second gender change for a Harris character; FBI psychiatrist Dr. Alan Bloom has been turned into Dr. Alana Bloom for the show.) Lounds visits Lecter under the pretense of needing therapy, but he immediately sees through her ruse. He chooses not to expose her, because he may find her useful.
Lecter also has a juicy scene where he invites Crawford for a home-cooked meal of “loin.” Later, when counseling Will about his second shooting, he delivers a monologue straight from ‘Red Dragon’: “God’s terrific. He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshippers…”
There are a lot of homicide detective TV shows on the air right now. Many feature quite gruesome killings, and all seem to participate in a competition from week-to-week to outdo the others by inventing new, unique and bizarre forms of murder. Even so, I have to say that the mushroom farm is something I’d certainly never seen before.
The episode has tremendous character depth, far beyond the typical police procedural formula. It’s exciting and suspenseful, and just as stylish as the pilot. I also love that the writers have set out to reclaim the Hannibal Lecter character away from his depiction in the movies or portrayal by Anthony Hopkins. As good as ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is, Hopkins was such an over-the-top, flamboyant and theatrical villain that it’s inconceivable that any patients would ever seek him out for actual therapy. This Lecter is a different animal, more in keeping with author Harris’ original conception. As Mads Mikkelsen plays him, he may be cold and analytical, perhaps even a little creepy, but conveys an air of genuine brilliance. And he’s very careful not to give away his own psychosis, which Hopkins never was.
In short, I’m absolutely loving this show. It’s the year’s new series that I’m most excited about, and I’m very happy to hear that its ratings are strong enough (the second episode actually did better than the first) that NBC will likely renew it for a second season.