It was brutal and amazing. Where Season 1 was extremely good, the closing episodes of Season 2 have made the NBC thriller nearly perfect. I actually think the show has reached the point where it actually improves on the Thomas Harris novels, as the better films (“Silence of the Lambs” and Ridley Scott’s “Hannibal”) did.
I’m not even sure where to begin. The dialogue is downright beautiful. And this is a big improvement over the first season — in their zeal to portray highly intelligent characters, the screenwriters seemed to try to make every line sound brilliant — and it sometimes backfired awkwardly. Repeated phrases and forced wordplay made the story’s accomplished academics sound like garrulous undergraduates trying to impress freshman girls at an off-campus party. (Trust me, I know how they talk because I was one.)
In the latter episodes of season 2, the writers seemed to have gotten their game on. You actually do get the sense that these are incredibly bright people discussing their worldviews and motivations. I am not the most cerebral guy out there, and I’m the first to admit it — but I really feel that there were some goddam compelling examinations of themes like sociopathy, the sanctity of life (or a sociopath’s inability to perceive it), mortality, grief and bereavement, God and morality, and forgiveness.
I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think the screenwriters actually exceeded Harris’ prose in rendering Hannibal Lecter as a three-dimensional character — and this is coming from someone who LOVED Harris’ baroque “Hannibal,” which examined Lecter at far greater length than “Silence.” For the first time, we get a coherent sense of an ideology for the character, linked closely to his inability to feel empathy and his apparent inability to feel love for other people. And because the character is a genius and the dialogue here has improved, it’s very well articulated.
Lecter kills people (and fears his own death very little) because he perceives them as objects, in only physical or aesthetic terms: “We are orchestrations of carbon, you and me — all our destinies flying and swirling in blood and emptiness.”
The characters themselves are better this season. I’m sure that many others will disagree, but I think Season 1 failed to give us a truly likable main protagonist. Will Graham, as scripted and as portrayed by Hugh Dancy, was too weak, self-absorbed and charmless to be a leading man in a police thriller. It made me miss Clarice Starling, who was strong despite her vulnerabilities, both in the books and the films. I wanted her to appear, all juiced up with girl power and dead-Daddy-Freudian-sublimation, and bitch-slap a little FBI training into Graham — maybe make him run that Quantico obstacle course a few times to toughen him up a little. Starling is Naomi Wolf with firearm training, and she’s awesome. The leading man on NBC’s show, for me, seemed to be Jack Crawford, expertly played by Laurence Fishburne.
That has changed. Now that Graham has completed a certain character arc (I’m trying to keep this spoiler free), the new, darker, badass Graham (who often seems psychotic himself) is a terrific character to root for. And he’s now frightening himself — his “Oh, yes.” line at the start of the finale gets under your skin just fine. Nice work, Mr. Dancy.
I’ve criticized both Dancy and Mads Mikkelson in the past for their interpretations of characters Graham and Lecter. Now I wish I could take it back. Their work in the last three episodes was amazing. They play off each other perfectly, and both actors handle heavy-handed lines perfectly. Caroline Dhavernas is also wonderful as Alana Bloom — this actress has a great range, and is especially skilled at portraying shock and surprise. I can’t imagine that’s easy for any actor, especially considering multiple takes. She’s great as an audience surrogate for any horror film or dramatic thriller.
As has always been the case, the directing, the use of imagery, the recurring motifs and color, and the musical score was just wonderful.
There isn’t much more that I can say without spoilers — beyond the fact that the finale was quite sad, even by the standards of serial killer thrillers. The ending of Graham and Lecter’s “friendship” was surprisingly moving. Lecter’s final assault on Graham’s happiness was … sadistic. And it’s heartbreaking when one character’s kindness to another is not repaid.
All in all, this is fantastic television. I’d rate “Hannibal” Season 2 a perfect 10.