Every week of its second season, series showrunner and developer Bryan Fuller will be talking with The A.V. Club about that week’s episode of Hannibal, in a more spread-out version of our Walkthrough feature. This week, we’re talking with him about the second season’s 11th episode, “Kō No Mono.”
The A.V. Club: Where on Earth did you find the “eating a songbird whole” gourmand rite of passage?
Bryan Fuller: A couple of places, actually. It came at us from this interesting confluence of inspirations, one being Anthony Bourdain’s fantastic article on the ortolan bunting, which someone pitched in the writer’s room, “Oh, we should do this ortolan bunting thing,” and I was like, “Oh my God, that sounds fantastic.” It sounds like it would be this terrible communion of sorts, that once Will and Hannibal had sat down and shared the flesh of Freddie Lounds at Hannibal’s dining room table that the communion afterward to sanctify the event would be this ortolan bunting story. It’s also in the book Hannibal Rising, which I had to be reminded of by [executive producer] Martha De Laurentiis, because I don’t know that book as well as I know Red Dragon and Hannibal and Silence Of The Lambs. The one that I sort of gave a cursory read to was Hannibal Rising. The others I’m much more a student of. So I had completely blanked that it was in Hannibal Rising.
It’s an interesting scene, with the insert shots of the close-ups of Hannibal and Will chewing and swallowing and reveling in the flavor of this meal. It is a very disturbing meal. What they do—Hannibal describes a bit of this—is drown the bird in Armagnac and pluck it and roast it, and then it’s eaten all at once. So its bowels are full. Its stomach and lungs are full of Armagnac. So when you bite into it there’s this burst of hot liqueur mixed with its gamey intestines and everything that was in it. The crunching of the bones is actually so sharp that it cuts up the inside of your mouth, so not only are you tasting your own blood but you’re tasting this beautiful songbird at the same time, and it just seems so wicked that it would be an appropriate communion wafer for Hannibal Lecter to offer up in that regard. The scene has a very bizarre sexuality to it, because it’s all of these close-up shots of things going in men’s mouths and then swallowing and eye rolling, so it’s hard not to think of the sexual subtext of what’s happening between these two guys at the same time. It felt like a lot was going on in the scene, not only just the communion but the exchange of body fluids, in a way, and swallowing for God’s sake. [Laughs.] So we can’t claim innocence on that scene.
AVC: So the end of this episode reveals that Freddie’s alive. Jack is in on the plan somehow. How cognizant are you of not letting those story points stretch out too long?
BF: We had originally talked about, gosh, how long can we keep Freddie dead? Because we wanted to make sure that the audience felt that she was dead, and that’s why we used the flaming wheelchair. Those who are close to the material know that is how Freddie Lounds goes out, so we wanted to make sure that the audience felt that she was dead, and that the funeral was a real funeral. Also, telling the story through Alana’s eyes as she’s like, “What the hell is going on with everybody?! Everybody’s lost their minds!” and to really feel that kind of mounting panic and dread that she’s experiencing. We felt like to clear the path for episode 12 to really be the final episode with the arc between the triangle of Will, Mason, and Hannibal, we really needed to wrap that up by the end of 11 and put all of our cards on the table at that point. What I think is really fun about using the wheelchair death is it tells the audience that, oh gosh, Freddie very well may be dead, because they used the actual way that she dies. But in a fun way, I loved forecasting the moment between Hannibal Lecter and Francis Dolarhyde in the Red Dragon story where Hannibal Lecter is part of Freddie’s demise and says, “If you’re going to kill Freddie Lounds, this is exactly how she has to go out, because she faked it once and I’m not particularly happy with her for that.”
AVC: Why does Margot want to have a child with Will?
BF: That was a big element of the novel, was Margot’s desire to have a child and I thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if Will Graham became the device to achieve that goal?” That way, we had elements of the future story that we had recombined with other stories so they felt distinct from the novel but reflective of the novel at the same time. I think it goes back to that Thomas Harris mash-up DJ aesthetic that we have with this show, where we’re pulling elements that suit us for any given story and then mixing them in as needed. It also felt like a clever way for Margot to get back at her brother. We knew from the book that Margot had been cut out of her father’s will for being a lesbian and not being able to breed, and the stipulation had been put into the will that only an heir proven to be of the blood of the Verger clan would be deemed legitimate. So it set into motion a very crafty plan of Margot’s, “Well, I’ll get pregnant and once the baby is born I’ll kill my brother, and I will not have to deal with him anymore or his evil ways.” It felt like she was being very crafty, and she’s waving her uterus around like a loaded weapon. So that felt like it was part of the new Margot and part of her new agenda for dealing with her brother and also giving her a little bit more strength. Also, it puts her clearly on the chessboard as one of Hannibal Lecter’s pawns, and he is now influencing and moving her piece around to suit his greater agenda.
AVC: There’s a lot of business about parents and children in this episode, particularly in the therapy scene between Hannibal and Will, talking about Hannibal’s sister. What role does parenthood or childhood play within this show?
BF: I think it seemed like a natural extension of the things that we were exploring, about birth and rebirth, and so the idea of Hannibal being a parent to Will Graham and Will Graham having his appetite whetted with parenthood with Abigail Hobbs. And Hannibal taking that away from him, and yet somehow providing this opportunity to be a parent again and using the wounds of Abigail Hobbs to strengthen Will’s paternal instincts. And also drive him to protect the child that was his own. It felt like it was an interesting journey for Will to go on as somebody who’d been considering death so heavily and thoroughly, now to stop and think about life was, it seemed, a great way to throw his head in a spin. What is he thinking? Where will he lie? Where will his parenthood take him? Will it take him to killing, to defend Margot and what has happened to her? Will it go beyond that into fostering a relationship with his inner child? [Beat.] Do you have kids?
BF: I don’t either. But I’m told [Laughs.] that in order to fully become whole as a human being, you have to cycle through all of your childhood issues through a child of your own in some way, and that’s one of the blessings of parenthood, blah, blah, blah. So this seemed like the opportunity to tell a metaphorical story between Will Graham and his inner child, whom he is now trying to figure out. The audience should be worrying how that child is going to manifest.
It felt like there was a lot of parenting analogies, and also whenever we get into one of these themes of the show, it’s actually very helpful to focus our stories. I love thematic storytelling, and I love metaphors. It’s such a rich way to contextualize a story for a character, and also, it makes it a little bit easier, so the narrative doesn’t sprawl out from under your fingertips into directions that seem less controlled. I love having that thematic umbrella under which to tell a story, and it seemed that Hannibal was parenting Will, Will was parenting his inner child, in a way, and Margot’s talking about literally parenting a physical child that is the result of her trickery with Will Graham. To take all of those metaphorical manifestations of parenthood for Will Graham and then make them actually real, that there are tissues forming, and cells collecting, and they are growing to become something, just like whatever is growing inside of Will Graham is going to become something, it just felt like it was the right place to hit it and keep hitting it.
AVC: The case of the week is gone at this point. Now that you have that as an optional element, when do you know to bring that in, and when do you know to cut that out?
BF: I think if you look at eight and nine as a return to the case of the week structure of the first season, I feel like eight was successful, because the story of Peter Bernardone and Clark Ingram, his social worker, so closely paralleled what was going on with Will and Hannibal that we were, essentially, telling the Will and Hannibal story again and letting the characters themselves react to the familiarity of that. That felt like we were doing a case of the week, but we weren’t doing a case of the week, because it was so intricately tied into the Will and Hannibal story. Then I think with the Randall Tier story of nine, we were also telling a metaphorical story. But with nine we did too much of the case of the week in that episode, and the balance between the case of the week and what was happening between Will and Hannibal should have had more play in favor of Will and Hannibal than it did in the final product. So I sort of look at that as not necessarily… I’m so proud of the episode, but it’s not necessarily as successful as episode eight in terms of just being on point. But it felt like it was a necessary step to get us to the place where we were reminding the audience of that structure, and then by 11, 12, and 13, we’ve abandoned it, and we’re so deeply steeped in the mythology of the characters that we didn’t need it.
AVC: It feels like you have everybody in place for the endgame, but a lot of this episode is about Alana getting to a position where she’s a vital part. What did you see as Alana’s role, both throughout this season and in this episode in particular?
BF: Alana, I feel like, is the member of the audience that represents someone who hasn’t read the books or seen any of the movies. That is, working in the world, reacting with emotional honestly to these two men that are in her life and feeling the unnerving tension of the descent of those two characters and worrying about them and wondering what is reality. I frequently put myself [in that place] when we’re telling the stories. If I was in this world, and I had my friend Will Graham, whom I was worried about, and he had a new psychiatrist who was charming and Frasier Crane-ish, what would I be thinking? I would be so confused by the situation. I know Alana gets a bad rap for sleeping with Hannibal and turning her back on Will, but I feel like, given everything she’s been exposed to, she is a fairly accurate gauge to someone who doesn’t know the full story and is trying to navigate it to an honest place. But no one is being honest, so it’s increasingly frustrating for her. She is reflective of the member of the audience who doesn’t have any of the pre-existing materials and the characters.
She is reacting in a realistic way, as much as you can on Hannibal, because, let’s face it, we’re tethered to reality, but it’s a pretty long tether. You need somebody like Alana who has affection for these two men and yet her own opinion. Even when she was engaged with Hannibal, she’s always asking questions about what the story is, because, from her point of view, she can only be confused. [Laughs.] Given what information she has, her best-case scenario is confusion. I like that she is trying to hold on to preconceptions of people that she cares about. We all would find it very hard to believe that Hannibal Lecter is who Will Graham says he is, because Will Graham lost his mind, killed a couple of people, and tried to kill Hannibal, so he’s the one that looks bonkers for Alana. But we see him behaving in such a way where he’s giving her clues, and I think 11 is very much about how Jack and Will can’t just flat out tell Alana what’s going on, because she wouldn’t believe them. They have to show her. In the scenes when they are at the cemetery, when Freddie Lounds’ body has been desecrated, they’re not giving her information, but they’re prodding her into a direction where she has to realize herself what is happening around her, because if she’s told, she’s been told too much information that is wildly divergent, and it’ll be impossible to find the truth there unless she discovers it on her own. That’s how I look at that scene between Jack and Alana and Will where they know exactly what’s going on. They can’t tell her, because they don’t know where her loyalties are and also, what would she believe if she did actually hear the truth? I’m fascinated with what situation she finds her in and how she navigates her way to the truth.
AVC: The episode ends on a big reveal, explaining these last episodes. How tough was it to write Jack as somebody whom you’re sort of holding back from the audience?
BF: I think it wasn’t particularly tough, because I have Laurence Fishburne on our side, and Laurence is so dedicated to the soundness of Jack Crawford. The moment Miriam Lass pulled the trigger and shot Chilton in the face, he knew. He knew that this is all false, and this is all a manipulation, and Hannibal was very likely behind it, and that’s why he brought Miriam Lass to Hannibal’s office for the memory recall. In interpreting Jack Crawford is that you mistake his lack of commitment to another character’s point of view as one of not having his own idea of what’s going on. He sort of lets everybody say what they want to say but never gives them what he’s thinking, because that’s kind of what FBI agents do, they always ask the questions. They never volunteer information. So I feel like Jack, from episode seven forward, has been on the trolley and fully aware of what he’s had to do and has conspired with Will Graham for a very long con to trap and catch Hannibal Lecter.
What’s fun about it is that, because we’ve only seen him in scenes with characters who shouldn’t be knowing things, we’ve automatically assumed that Jack doesn’t know things, but he’s known what’s been going on the entire time. Ever since that trigger was pulled, he’s been fairly confident in what he has to do in his direction and breaking some rules himself, when necessary, to catch the man he needs to catch. So I think Jack is a savvy player in the story. He just has not been demonstrative, because we didn’t want to tip the audience into knowing too much before the reveal that he was in on it the entire time and was an architect of the conspiracy.
Come back next week for discussion of episode 12.