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 eighth episode, “Su-zakana.”
The A.V. Club: This was the episode where you rebooted the story and came up with a new chapter, and you did that after you’d broken the first seven and actually produced a number of them. What was the process for figuring out this back half of the season?
Bryan Fuller: We had several concepts in terms of what we wanted with the story we were going to be telling for Will. There were a few archetypes that we were bandying about the writers’ room in terms of Max Cady from Cape Fear to Hannibal’s Sam Bowden. What would that dynamic be? Then it organically fell into place that we needed to continue the seduction, in that it was all about: How do we shift the dynamic between Hannibal and Will once more? In the first half of the season, Will was adversarial and confrontational, and then he realized that didn’t work, so he started to plot and ploy and play wounded bird, and [Laughs.] that got exposed. Now he is in a place where he’s actually being as direct and honest as he was in the first season about some of the darker aspects that he’s noticing in his psyche or becoming aware of or finally accepting, and Hannibal Lecter is seduced by that. In episode eight, we have the fishing metaphor between Jack and Will, and that very much is the macro story for the next several episodes.
AVC: This episode starts with that dinner scene between the three of them and Will deliberately says, “I tried to have you killed,” in a wry, witty way. How often can you point out how ridiculous it is and still get away with it?
BF: I think the cabal is forming right now between these gentlemen conspirators, every one having a different dance partner in the circle, or the triangle. There’s some fun in laying it out there, for Hannibal to actually look at Will Graham and see that Will is playing things honestly with Hannibal. I think that’s what is so seductive. Will is opening up a bit, but he’s opening up like a Venus flytrap for Dr. Lecter.
Part of the fun of this show in the second half is that we’ve done some pretty ridiculous things. [Laughs.] We’re starting to call them out in a fun way that we hope is tonally consistent with the piece but also acknowledges that we’re sort of cuckoo—particularly when Will walks in and says, “Is that horse your social worker?” [Laughs.] We’re wearing our humor and self-awareness on our sleeve with that sort of thing, but we’re also breaking the tension and tone of the show and giving ourselves permission to have fun with the subject matter. Even though we’re going into a very complex psychological space, there’s a lot of instances in the next few episodes, particularly episode 12, that read more and more darkly comedic.
AVC: This episode and a lot of the episodes this season have been pushing things, the sound design and the editing especially, even further than you ever went in season one. For instance, a lot of the editing has become more blatantly artistic or impressionistic, like the flowers popping up on Hannibal’s score in episode six. What do you gain from that more suggestive editing than straightforward cutting?
BF: I think it’s what strikes us in the edit bay. I was going to say there’s no agenda to spice it up arbitrarily, but I think we love our arbitrary spice on this show. [Laughs.] There’s no kind of hard, fast rule about it as much as there’s, “Oh, wouldn’t that be fun in that sequence to have those flowers pop up with the notes and give us an interesting transition?” It’s just enjoying the craft of storytelling and taking advantage of as many tools as we can and hoping that we remain tonally consistent.
AVC: This episode has a season one feel in a lot of ways. It’s back to a case-of-the-week structure. We’ve already talked a bit about the therapy scenes being so important to it. Did it feel important to you to reground the show after episode seven?
BF: Yeah, it felt like we needed to, in many ways, reset a lot of the storytelling. We reset the dynamic between Peter Bernardone and Clark Ingram in a different version of the Hannibal Lecter/Will Graham dynamic, and remind Will of a version of him that wasn’t too long ago, as he steps into this new chapter with Hannibal Lecter. It was a lot about the juxtaposition of a proto-Will character in Peter Bernardone, and Will being able to champion his inner child, in a way, for lack of a better example. That felt like it was not only reminding the audience narratively of how far we’ve come in this friendship between Will and Hannibal but also reminding Will how much darkness there still is for him to travel through to achieve his goal.
AVC: This episode has the unholy turducken…
BF: [Laughs.] Yeah, we called it a turducken when we were breaking it, too.
AVC: A lot of the time, the killers or the method of dispatch of the victims is very metaphorical or thematic or a bleak commentary on whatever Will and Hannibal are going through. Can you talk about the process of figuring out what a case-of-the-week looks like on an episode like this?
BF: Last year when we did the Angel Maker episode, originally, Jack Crawford and Will Graham were going to go into the barn and discover the latest victim of the Angel Maker and as they were examining it, Jack would go out after the tiff with Will and Will would be in there alone and then out of a horse [Laughs.]—this was actually pitched, and it may have been out of the first draft of the episode, because Scott Nimerfro is very good that way, in terms of just throwing out something where you’re like, “Holy shit.”—the killer would rise up from a dead horse in the background. [Laughs.] I thought, “Oh my God, that’s so fantastic to have somebody emerging from a horse, but it’s too much for this episode.” Not that a guy hanging himself and flaying himself was too much as it was, but it felt like we were having bananas on bananas with crazy things. I just put it in the bank, and when we came to this point, we knew we were going to reintroduce a case-of-the-week format for the next two episodes to remind the audience and then go bonkers again. It felt like it was a visually dynamic death tableau, so I was like, “How can we take advantage of that?” We started breaking the story, and I had the idea that they find a corpse in there, as opposed to a body, but we need to build to the original concept, which is the villain crawling out of the horse’s corpse by the end.
So we started talking about what Will does as a hero and how the person who put this corpse in the horse should not be the villain but should actually be trying to do some strange form of honoring of the body and what that would mean. Actually, there was one point in the draft, and it felt like it had gone too far, but there was one point in the draft, where the bird that Peter Bernardone had put inside the corpse’s chest was dead. It would have been this weird little X-Files moment of what happened there? What magic took place? But we’re not necessarily grounded in the magic world, so I cut that line from the script. But in my mind, the bird was dead when he put it in the chest. It was really about exploring what death, love, and loss from afar is and how when we lose somebody or we lose somebody that we don’t really know but we hope that we could know, we imagine a friendship or how we could have helped them or how we could have prevented their death in some capacity. So it became an elaboration of all these concepts of grieving that we then found cinematic metaphors to weave into the story.
AVC: In this episode, we meet Margot Verger. What made this the right time to go to that part of the story? Also, you’re coming in through Margot, who’s a lesser known character but also has a very feminine, wry presence in a show that can be very masculine. How do you keep finding ways to insert the female point of view into this world?
BF: I think the show, at its heart, is a story about heterosexual male friendship, and it is an exploration of all of the idiosyncrasies of that dynamic. It’s, in a strange way, the horror or operatic version of In The Company Of Men. The female characters in the series, we just killed off a major one, so it was a hard choice to lose a female voice on the show, but it became the best choice for the events that it needed to set into motion. We were cognizant about having another strong female on the show to, in a different capacity, step into the vacated spot that Hettienne [Park] left as a strong, interesting female character.
Even though, in the novel, Margot at this stage of the story really should be 6 years old— because when she first was in therapy with Dr. Lecter, she was a little girl, and she was horribly molested, and it was very, very dark—I didn’t want to tell that story, so we generalized the sadism of Mason Verger so it wasn’t a sexual sadism. It was more, this is a bad man who, like Hannibal, gets off on what people do under certain circumstances.
In the novel, she’s a very masculine character, who has had years of steroid abuse and is a lesbian, and it was unclear to me in the novel whether she was either transgender or a lesbian as a result of those horrible abuses and that horrible childhood and [Beat.] that’s not how transgenderism or homosexuality works. So I didn’t want to contribute to that misconception of what it is to be transgender or a gay woman.
It was important for her to have a strength to her and the idea of the reason she’s going into therapy not being because she was this victim of horrible abuse. Which she is, in a different way. She grew up with a sadist, who was incredibly cruel and will be even more cruel in the future, but I like the idea that she’s in therapy because she tried to kill him, as opposed to because she was so victimized, that she had taken an active role in her victimization and had enough, tried to turn it around, and it didn’t go well for her.
It was interesting to put into the Hannibal Lecter relationship another patient who has a capacity for murder that can be used as a reflection on what Will Graham is going through in a different way. And how do we tie these stories together? I was very happy that we got Margot to play with, because there is something very nontraditional about her, and she feels like she belongs in the universe in some capacity. I’m excited that we have Katharine Isabelle playing the role, because I’ve loved her since I saw Ginger Snaps, and I actually worked with her a decade ago on the NBC remake of Carrie. So it was fun to be able to work with Katharine again and also bring some more female energy onto the show, which is a very male story.
Come back next Saturday for thoughts on episode nine.