Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller discusses that bloody, jaw-dropping season finale
Hugh Dancy, Lara Jean Chorostecki (NBC)
Hugh Dancy, Lara Jean Chorostecki (NBC)

Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller discusses that bloody, jaw-dropping season finale

Is anybody left alive but Hannibal?

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 finale, “Mizumono.” 

Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

The A.V. Club: This episode is so tragic!

Bryan Fuller: I think, for me, the overwhelming sense of everybody rocketing toward their doom is what is so powerful, in that it has a gravitational pull—the doom vortex that Hannibal has created for everybody. The strange thing talking to friends who had seen it, and seeing Gillian Anderson riding off into the sunset with him was a kind of double-edged sword in that, on one hand, they were like, “Cool! More Gillian Anderson!” On the other hand, it was like, “Oh shit. She’s rocketing toward her doom now too.”

AVC: So is season three going to reveal Will Graham’s amazing crime-solving cousins Coy and Vance Graham? Is that where we’re headed?

BF: [Laughs.] I think for season three, in continuing our mash-up of Thomas Harris’ DJ instinct, we will blend of the novel Hannibal and also the novel Hannibal Rising and doing our own version of the Hannibal Lecter origin story, which will bear no resemblance to what is in Hannibal Rising.

AVC: When you sat down to start writing the season, were you always building to this moment?

BF: This was the moment about halfway through season one where I was very confident that this was where we had to be rocketing toward, and, because we opened the season with the fight with Jack Crawford, I knew that was going to take place somewhere around the middle of the finale, and I knew Hannibal was going to get away to create our fugitive storyline for season three. And I knew he had to leave everybody dying. The audience doesn’t know, beyond the wiseacres who will say, “Well, they’re not going to kill Will Graham,” who’s going to survive—or not, because Alana is lying dying, Jack Crawford is lying dying, Will Graham is lying dying, and Abigail Hobbs is lying dying. So in that way, if we hadn’t gotten a season three, I was, like, well this is probably perhaps the most depressing series finale [Laughs.] that we could have conceived of for this show. So I’m glad there’s a season three, so we can kind of pull some irons out of the fire and continue telling the story of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.

AVC: Was there a moment when you were worried this would be the series finale?

BF: Oh yeah. There was, I think because of the show’s very tricky reception in terms of ratings, there was always the question of, “Well, this could be it.” If it were, I think there’s something powerful about Hannibal Lecter dropping the mic and walking off the stage in the manner that he does. In that sense, if you are a Hannibal Lecter fan, and he is the character that you’re rooting for, it’s a happy ending! But hopefully, the audience isn’t entirely rooting for him, but I’ve talked to friends and my partner, and I was like, who’s your favorite character on the show, and everybody always says Hannibal. And I was watching the penultimate episode with friends, and when Hannibal got tased, they were all like, “Aww, leave Hannibal alone! What’s he done?” So Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is very seductive that way.

AVC: We never saw Abigail die and we never saw Miriam Lass die. Are you establishing that if we don’t actually see the death that there’s always a chance the character could come back later?

BF: Not necessarily a hard and fast vocabulary, but with Abigail and Miriam, it was absolutely intentional, because we wanted to have both of those characters come back, and I remember the conversation I had with Kacey Rohl before we started filming the penultimate episode of last season where her character apparently dies. I told her very directly, “Everybody’s going to think you’re dead, you’re supposed to be dead, but the idea is to bring you back in season two. Chances are it won’t be until the very end.” But she’s still alive, and what is that story that took place between Hannibal Lecter and Abigail Hobbs while we were watching all the proceedings of Will Graham in the asylum?

AVC: Did you think about playing that card earlier?

BF: The intention was always to have her appear in the finale. When we were trying to figure out Gillian’s schedule to get her back, because we knew we wanted to have a reveal of sorts in episode 12 with a surprise witness who was hopefully going to give Jack Crawford the information that he needed to finally prosecute Hannibal Lecter, there was a brief moment when it didn’t look like we would get Gillian that I was thinking, well, maybe we pull up the Abigail story and do with her what we were going to do with Gillian, and then Gillian broke her back to make the show possible.

AVC: Are we supposed to believe that what Beverly saw in Hannibal’s basement that shocked her so much was Abigail?

BF: That was the idea that we had always talked about. Did she see this poor girl down in the basement, and was like, oh my God, he’s been holding her captive like an animal this entire time, and she turns around in a rage of “you monster!”? That was something we had talked about. What exactly did Beverly see? In my mind it was always Abigail Hobbs down there in some way, caught with her hand in the candy jar. That felt like it was the genuine surprise. 

And also, we didn’t know, because we cut away, and we see the bullet go through the ceiling of the basement into the dining room, we didn’t necessarily know: Was that a dogpile on Beverly Katz with both Abigail and Hannibal? Although, I don’t think Abigail would have attacked Beverly in that moment. I think she was very reluctant to attack Alana, which is why she was so confused and upset when Will finally sees her, because she’s like, “This is not the plan that we had discussed.”

AVC: There’s a lot information thats being withheld from the audience this season. Were you, as writers, discussing that this is what Hannibal is doing with Abigail, this is what Will is talking about with Jack?

BF: Yes, absolutely. I think in those scenes, we wanted to make sure that there was someone present that couldn’t know the entire story in some way, so it made sense for the characters to not discuss certain aspects. And with Abigail and her resurfacing, there is something very intentional in all of the rebirthing—fatherhood thematics of eight and nine and 10 and 11 that were really all about setting up the Abigail reveal. We wanted to remind the audience of these paternal feelings that Will had for Abigail. We wanted to remind them of her place in the story, so when she steps out of the shadows, it feels like we prepared them for that eventuality and weren’t withholding all of the information. Because I felt like if we hadn’t reminded the audience of Abigail and her importance to Will Graham and she just stepped out of the shadows without any of that parenthood thematic exploration, then I felt like we would have been inappropriately withholding from the audience.

AVC: It seems like you’ve been holding back on depicting Hannibal’s crimes as they happen, and this episode really reminds us of what a dark and terrible person he is. How do you decide when to depict him being pure evil?

BF: I think, because we want to confuse the audience in terms of how they should feel about this character because he is a bad man, that if we constantly showed him as a bad man, then it’s going to be very easy to hate him. But if we show him only doing these bad things when we absolutely need to, then I think it gives us the real estate to rationalize why he is so seductive for the other characters in the piece. Why Will Graham is confused about the way he feels. Why Abigail Hobbs is confused about the way she feels about him that because they, like the audience, see all of these intriguing aspects of him and these very seductive elements of his character. So to complicate it with a lack of clarity felt that it was getting the audience in the right place for them to understand where the characters are. If that makes sense.

AVC: This episode is almost heartbreaking in a way when the Hannibal and Will relationship finally ruptures at the end. How did you get that balance—of having these genuine emotional moments amid all the carnage—right ?

BF: For me, when Hannibal smells Freddie Lounds on Will Graham and realizes he’s been duped, the heartbreak of that is one thing. You see him sort of go quiet and interior after he gets a whiff of Freddie, and then that dinner scene afterward, where he essentially is telling Will, his best friend in the world that he has ever had, “I will forgive you if you come clean right now. All will be forgiven.” And Will doesn’t take it. Will continues to move forward with his betrayal, and it’s a very quiet, solemn, sad scene for me, watching Hannibal. And I did empathize with him, because regardless of what he’s done as a monster, we all relate to the intensity of a friendship that feels so unique, and when that falls apart, it is heartbreaking. Because that someone who once had the ability to understand you and accept you was all a falsehood is devastating. So I felt like we were doing our jobs and making it feel appropriately impactful for Hannibal to suffer this loss.

AVC: What did you see as Bedelia’s role in the story of the finale and the season as a whole?

BF: For me it was an interesting way to have this woman—who I would argue is the most intelligent person on the show—and she was the one who figured things out without the overwhelming evidence that Will Graham had. She was smart enough to get the hell out of Dodge, and then got scooped up by Jack Crawford later on, and when she’s telling him that Hannibal is in control of this situation, I think what is happening there is she really is actually embracing her awe of this man, who is unlike any other that she’s encountered as a specialist in the psychology of humankind.

That is part of her role in season three is what does she expect to be getting out of this situation that continues to keep her intelligent and not just a dummy that is going along with the sexy, serial killer for reasons that are carnal. That’s not what we want. This is an opportunity, actually, for her to study something so wholly unique in the lexicon of humanity out in the wild. Out in its natural environment. So I think those first episodes of season three will go a long way in rationalizing and explaining exactly what Bedelia wants and expects out of the situation and how she’s going to continue to be as smart, if not smarter, than Hannibal Lecter.

AVC: Did you try versions of the scenes where Will and Jack talk about their plan or let others in on it?

BF: The show goes by so quickly when I’m watching it, going “Oh my God, it was so excruciating to make and write and produce,” and then, blip, it’s 42 minutes, and you’re gone. So the real estate for storytelling is so valuable that if there’s something that I feel like the audience can make the connection with without us having a long, shoe leathery scene, I will absolutely go that route and just put my confidence in the audience to figure it out and make those connections without having to spell it out. 

AVC: Okay, I’ve just got to ask. Is everybody dead?

BF: [Laughs.] Not everybody is dead. But not everybody lives.

AVC: This season, did you have some episodes you thought worked particularly well or some episodes you thought did not?

BF: I think, for me, the courtroom episode is one that if I could do the season again I would eliminate. Just because it was such a departure from the style of the show, and it felt like we weren’t doing anything particularly special in it that validated its existence in the lexicon of the season. That would be one that I would take out into the field and tell to stare at the flowers.

I’m generally very happy with the season. I loved the two-parter coming into the season. I thought that was a really interesting, strong way to set up the new season. I loved episode four with the story with Jack Crawford’s wife paralleling the Amanda Plummer story. I enjoyed episode five. That was Will Graham turning Hannibal Lecter from inside the asylum and actually launching an attack from that safe place.

The Verger story, I think, was mostly successful but had some bumps along the way integrating these two characters into the world that I think early on was a little shaky, and then by the time it got to 12, I felt like we understood their role and hit a stride with that. Twelve is one of my favorite episodes of the season, just because I think Michael Pitt is so much fun, and it’s Will and Hannibal as murder husbands, so there’s a lot to be had with the tone of the comedy and brutality of that story. I think I would like to have more of that tone in season three, with a little bit more of the humor than we had in season two. And I felt season two had a bit more humor than season one, so I feel like as we evolve, we have to keep folding into the omelet of the show different elements that continue to expand our own vocabulary, so every season of Hannibal is its own novel.

AVC: Where are you in the process on season three? With Hannibal and Bedelia escaping to Europe, are there any chances to film there?

BF: We are absolutely exploring it. That was one of the things that I said was very important to me. If we have to even get a unit that shoots somewhere abroad for exteriors to help us sell the Silence On The Lam through-line of season three. So yes, our plan is right now to shoot abroad anywhere from three to five weeks to help create that world of them on the run in a different environment, in a different country and right now we’re looking at what our tax incentives are in various countries to be able to pull that off.

So you were thrown by the Bedelia reveal?

AVC: You know, a little bit. I was trying to figure out who would be sitting next to Hannibal, and then, oh, it was Bedelia.

BF: Well, our original intention was for it to be Abigail sitting next to him. And then it felt like, with where we were going in the story with all of the parenthood thematics, that if Hannibal had plotted this escape for all three of them, and then Will had betrayed him, it’s basically like a violent breakup: This is where we were going, but you screwed it up, so I’m going to make sure that all of the happiness that was planned for us can never happen, because you betrayed me. And it is such a brutal, spiteful, vengeful, vicious act to spare this girl’s life, and then, everything that she meant to Hannibal was so intrinsically tied to Will Graham that he just had to raze the Earth of their relationship. Unfortunately, that included poor Abigail.

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