If the opening scene of “Kaiseki,” the first episode of Hannibal’s second season doesn’t get you excited for what’s to come, then this probably isn’t the show for you. That opening fight scene (smartly put online early by NBC to whet appetites) was fantastic, setting a clear path for how the rest of the season will go. Jack will soon learn the hard way that he was wrong about Hannibal from the get-go, just like everyone else. What immediately caught my eye was the use of reflection in Hannibal’s weapon of choice, — the kitchen knife. His and Jack Crawford’s faces are reflected on the blade, both primed for battle. That theme of reflection in identity pervades the rest of the episode, much as it did the first season. In the first season, Hannibal saw Will as an ally. That does not change much initially. “[Will] see his own morality grotesque but useful, like a chair of antlers. He can’t repress who he is,” Hannibal says. “There an honestly in that I can admire.” But as the episode progresses, and Will spurns Hannibal’s friendly affection, Hannibal no longer desires to be reflected in Will. Hannibal wants to take his place. “You’re the new Will Graham,” Beverly tells Hannibal, who later recounts that he “got to be Will Graham today.” Similarly, Will is cognizant of these reflections, perhaps for the first time. Hannibal’s voice has replaced his own inner monologue.
The other big theme last season was surface perception versus reality. Hannibal was perceived as the good doctor, despite his behavior. Will was perceived as slightly off to begin with so accepting him as a murderer does not seem so far-fetched. Will could not convince anyone of reality because he wasn’t sure of it himself. Now he’s at fighting weight, ready to take on Hannibal. But his perception via the other characters is murky. As Hannibal and Jack Crawford dine on the episode title’s eponymous kaiseki — haute Japanese cuisine using seasonal ingredients — Crawford admits to Hannibal that Will can no longer be defined at all. But Will can define himself clearly for the first time. He has clarity. It becomes Will’s goal to take control of his own memory and perception, enlisting Alana Bloom in the process, their budding love from last season understandably tamped down a bit while Will sits in a jail cell. Her purpose now, opposed to last season when she didn’t have much purpose at all, is to clarify Will’s own reality for him by helping him to remember what happened to him.
Alana’s advanced role seems to signal a larger role for women in season two, especially with the introduction of Cynthia Nixon’s Kade Prurnell, an FBI investigator who is not so thrilled that Alana formally called out Jack Crawford for his role in Will’s fate. Her brief appearance bodes for an nice expansion of the world, necessary when one of the show’s main characters is confined to a mental institution for the next foreseeable episodes. While she’s a only guest star, Gillian Anderson, and her portrayal of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal’s shrink, is a highlight. She has the upper hand in the perception versus reality debate: It’s always unclear as to how much she knows about Hannibal, although she clearly does not trust him. A traumatic incident from their shared pasts has bonded them together, and as this episode reveals, is something that Du Maurier would prefer to keep out of the scrutiny of FBI investigation. “You maintain an air of transparency while putting me in the position to lie for you. Again,” Du Maurier tells Lecter after he gives her consent to discuss him as a patient with Jack Crawford. The subtleties in their scene together is a masterclass in understatement. Rarely shifting their tone or bodies, they separately telegraph terror (Du Maurier) and menace (Lecter).
It’s interesting that the episodic case of the week takes a back seat to the larger issues at play. It’s not a particularly welcoming episode for new viewers who skipped out on the first season, but, if anything, I’m happy that creator Bryan Fuller didn’t kowtow to pressures to welcome a new audience. The case that Hannibal, Crawford and the rest of the team investigate, even with its scant details, already feels as if it’s on a more gruesome scale than last year’s cases (although, I still have dreams of skin angels.) Someone is creating human models using a variety of different skin patterns. The fixation on skin felt like a nod to The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill, although his preoccupations with skin were certainly different than the crime on display in the pilot. It’s a taste for what’s to come, although the one unfortunate victim led to little insight on how it will play out. Alas, until next week.
- As always, this episode was visually thrilling, particularly the scene where Beverly Swabs the inside of Hannibal’s mouth and the final model scene where the unfortunate victim is placed on the human color pallette, yet is still alive.
- Major props go out to music supervisor Brian Reitzell for the score that initial fight scene. Fun fact: Punk kids may remember Reitzell as one of the drummers of Redd Kross.