Hannibal‘s premiere was entitled “Kaiseki,” a term for a multiple-course Japanese dinner. The “Hassun” refers to the second course therein, normally made up of sushi and other small side dishes. Most interestingly, a “Hassun” establishes the seasonal theme of the menu.
Since Bryan Fuller and company aren’t choosing these culinary terms randomly, or by accident, it’s clear that this episode title was picked precisely for that reason.
So what then is the seasonal theme of Hannibal‘s sophomore year? We’ll peel that back as my recap goes along.
Since this is Hannibal, this episode opens with a disturbing scene, as Will dreams of being in the electric chair, and sees himself pull the lever that will kill him, leaving his body a smoking mass. It’s clear he blames himself for his predicament. His decision to plead innocence, rather than take a deal from the FBI that could make his life at the Baltimore State Hospital “comfortable,” could haunt him. It quite literally does here, as he’s awoken by a guard holding a suit and telling him “it’s time.” Hannibal gratefully speeds up the plot here, thrusting us into Will Graham’s trial, something most dramas would stretch out over a full season. Hannibal isn’t most dramas.
As Will gets ready, we see Hannibal do the same, both of them putting on suit and tie. They’re quite literally foils of one another, obviously one of the key motifs for Hannibal that’s been established from the get-go. Their role reversal and continual cat and mouse game continues.
The prosecution (Maria Del Mar) argues, convincingly, that Hobbs’ Chesapeake Ripper made a permanent impression on him while he was tracking him down, and that he killed four girls in an unconscionable state. She also states that he’s the smartest person in the room and capable of creating a different kind of murderer profile to use as his defense.
Kade Prunell and Jack talk before he’s set to go on the stand, as a witness for the prosecution. Jack continues to wallow in his guilt, while Kade begs him to “let yourself off the hook.” He doesn’t. Jack argues that Will hated every minute of his work for the FBI, and that Jack continually pushed him into it, because Will was saving lives. Jack ignored the warning signs and counsel, and completely falls on his own sword in the courtroom. Kade angrily stalks off like the 2-bit villain she kind of is, while Hannibal is eating it up, (much like his special meals.)
Jack has just given Will his defense, and reinvigorated his defense lawyer, Brower. He tells Will that “this isn’t law, it’s advertising,” – a compelling and disturbing snapshot of the U.S. Justice system – and that he’s going to use Jack’s testimony to argue that Will wasn’t responsible for his actions, occurring after a psychotic break.
He then receives a letter, and an ear falls out on the table. “I think this was meant for you,” he says calmly. I love this guy. He’s cynical, sarcastic and whip-smart, and Shawn Doyle, the actor who plays him, is another winner for the Hannibal ensemble.
Jack and Hannibal share brandy or whatever ridiculously expensive drink that Hannibal would drink to celebrate. Jack feels relieved; he’s ready to leave the bureau if it comes to that. His wife Bella isn’t getting any better, and he’s been thinking about taking her to Italy (where they first met)… to die. Hannibal points out that he’s not going in the ground with her, and that the FBI could still be there when she passes.
The dismembered ear gets analyzed by Dr. Price and Dr. Zeller. It was removed identically to the way in which Abigail Hobbs’ ear was mutilated, suggesting that perhaps someone else killed her and the other women. At the very least, Will has an admirer, and this is a “gift.” It’s pretty obvious who this gift came from…
… segueing into Hannibal and Will chatting, with such glorious subtext. The ear is an opportunity; Hannibal cares what happens to Will, and Will admits that accusing Hannibal of the murders made him look insane. And he’s not insane (anymore). Insert semi-unnerving smile here. The subtext being: I killed this person for you to help you and your trial. While Will still believes Hannibal is responsible, but isn’t about to sound off on it any time soon.
Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) shows up to court to screw everything up, looking ridiculous (and great) wearing a garish sun hat in court. We get to see her swear on the Bible, and then flat out lie, as is Lounds’ custom. She was “very close” to Abigail, as she was writing a book with her, and tells the court that Abigail suspected Will wanted to kill and eat her like her Dad, and is sorry she didn’t believe her. Lounds is the worst. But Brower is the opposite: he calmly asks her how many times she’s been sued for libel. 6. How many times did she settle? 6. Boom, testimony smeared in poop.
Alana Bloom practices what she’ll say at the Baltimore State Hospital in front of a chained up Graham, when Brower calls her out: did she have a romantic relationship with Will? Bloom doesn’t see how that’s relevant, but Bloom is a fool, and Brower argues that the prosecution will smell it on her. She responds that she had no romantic relationship with Will, merely that he was a professional curiosity. Brower approves, stating that he can’t even tell that she’s lying. And it’s clear Alana is lying to herself at this point, and has been for awhile, one of the seasonal themes running through multiple characters (Katz, Jack, and Alana especially).
Price and Zeller figure out that the ear came from the court bailiff (poor guy), and that the knife used was the same one that “Will Graham” used, further muddying the case. It gets even murkier when Jack and company stumble upon the bailiff’s body, impaled on antlers in his home, the whole place going up in flames when the police arrive to inspect it. Price and Zeller are staunch in their belief that Will is guilty, whereas Katz, Jack and obviously Hannibal are open to other avenues.
Dr. Chilton (Raul Esparza), who might actually be worse than Lounds, comes to the stand, and argues that Will’s confused persona is a fiction, and describes a vain serial killer who gets off on saving lives and killing people. He’s really describing Hannibal. Will, meanwhile, is safe in his fishing daydream.
Hannibal brings photos to Will of the bailiff’s murder, and immediately, Will descends into serial killer mode, reenacting the scene in his head. He knows its a new killer, that this is a reproduction, because the man was shot first, and then impaled and mutilated. All of the other victims were mutilated BEFORE being killed. Of course, Will may or may not realize that it is the same killer, made to look like a different one ONLY to those who could figure it out (and to give the killer an out). Hannibal suggests lying to make it out to be the same killer: “The killer wrote you a poem, are you going to let it go to waste?”
Brower switches their strategy from arguing that Will was briefly insane and not responsible for his actions, to going for a mistrial and achieving reasonable doubt. He switches out Bloom as their witness with Hannibal. Awesome. As Dr. Lecter swears on the Bible and sits down, Will again sees his true form:
Hannibal isn’t too convincing on the stand, admitting that Will “is and will always be my friend,” and when he proposes that the bailiff’s killer was the same as that of Abigail Hobbs, the prosecution pokes holes in the theory immediately. The Judge (Barry Flatman) rules his “evidence” and testimony as inadmissible.
It was the last mistake the Judge would ever make, as the court janitor discovers his body mangled and butchered in typical Hannibal fashion: his eyes, brain and heart have been removed, placed in the scales of Lady and Lord Justice. As Hannibal says when he admires his handiwork with the police later: justice isn’t just blind, it’s mindless and heartless. Nice/gross. After the murder, the trial is forced to start again. The killer wanted a mistrial, and it’s become exactly the kind of circus that Kade Prunell didn’t want it to be. So, I guess Hannibal is going to draw this trial out a little longer, but when it involves this kind of murder and intrigue, as the judge, I’ll allow it. Of course, I also don’t want my brains cut out.
Because it’s Hannibal, Will has another stag dream, with another Lecter cameo. But we finish off on a touching moment, literally, between Alana and Will. Graham is perturbed by the killer, knowing that “he wants to know me.” Alana admits that she wants to save him, and then they hold hands. Perhaps she finally realizes that her feelings are more than professional. Figuring out the truth about oneself, and about others, is also one of the themes of Hannibal, and it’ll be interesting how it all comes about.
We know that Jack and Hannibal are going to face off in the future, and it’s going to be a bloody mess, but one of the other themes this season is rewriting history. Fuller and company warp and play with Thomas Harris’ original source material, and have used it to subvert audience’s expectations, turning it completely on its head by throwing Will into the chair and in the Silence of the Lambs routine, with Lecter on the outside looking in. Are they seeking to right the wrongs, or fix the changes, or are they blazing their own trail? We’ll soon find out.