I know that I’ve said it before, but damn, ‘Hannibal’ is a good show. Naturally, as these things go, that means that it’s struggling in the ratings. After an initially strong start, viewership has dropped off to the point that its prospects for a second season are in doubt. This is why it’s so difficult and frustrating to get attached to a new series.
Episode ‘Entrée’ brings in some more iconic elements from the Thomas Harris books and the former movie series. Will Graham visits a mental institution for the criminally insane, where the inmates are housed in very familiar basement cells. The hospital administrator is the pompous boob Dr. Chilton.
A nurse has been murdered by one of the inmates, the brilliant but deranged Dr. Gideon (Eddie Izzard), who behaves more like the movie version of Hannibal Lecter than the way Lecter is portrayed in the show. His staging of the victim’s body matches that of the famed “Chesapeake Ripper,” who has coincidentally not murdered anyone in about the same amount of time that Gideon has been locked up. Chilton is enthused by the possibility that the Ripper is already in his custody, but Graham isn’t convinced. He believes that Gideon is just a copycat, though to what end he isn’t sure.
In the process of recreating the crime scene in his mind, Will imagines himself as Gideon in a particularly gruesome and disturbing re-enactment. This goes a long way to demonstrating just why Will is so messed up.
Jack Crawford has a personal stake in validating the Ripper’s identity. Two years earlier, he’d assigned a promising FBI Academy cadet named Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky from ‘Veep’) to poke around into some possible leads in the Ripper case. As relayed in flashbacks, Lass was cut from the Clarice Starling cloth. Sadly, she got too close to something and was never heard from again. Although declared dead, her body was never found. Jack blames himself for her death.
As Will and Dr. Bloom interview Gideon to determine whether he’s the Ripper, Jack receives a mysterious phone call from Miriam Lass. However, he recognizes it as a recording of her last words as she tried to call him. He and Will see this as a message from the real Ripper letting them know that he’s still out there and doesn’t like being imitated. Crawford then hatches a plan to use Freddie Lounds to run a story announcing Gideon as the Ripper, thus baiting the real Ripper into exposing himself. The ploy certainly works to get his attention. Jack receives another call from the Miriam recording that leads him to an observatory where he finds Miriam’s severed arm holding a cell phone. The killer had preserved the limb, and presumably the rest of the body too.
I don’t think it’s any surprise to learn that Lecter killed Miriam Lass. In the final flashbacks, we see that she visited his office to follow up on some research, and found detailed drawings on his desk that matched what the Ripper did to his victims. Lecter snuck up behind and strangled her to death. I’m not entirely certain whether this means that Lecter was the Chesapeake Ripper, or was merely mimicking (Will calls it “plagiarizing”) another killer, as we’ve seen him do before.
In the present day, Lecter invites doctors Chilton and Bloom for one of his home-cooked meals (this time, it’s tongue!), and delivers a variation of that famous “have an old friend for dinner” line from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. Mads Mikkelsen makes it a lot less comical or cartoony in the new context.
The genius of this episode is that it tells us right up front that Miriam Lass is dead, and yet still manages to make the depiction of her murder extremely suspenseful and harrowing.
I really want to see this show develop over a long time. I’ll be incredibly disappointed if NBC cancels it after just one short season.