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 fifth episode, “Mukozuke.”
The A.V. Club: Where do you guys find your locations, like the observatory and some of your other interiors and exteriors?
Bryan Fuller: We really do make an effort to find things that are as aesthetically interesting and compatible with the American Gothic quality of the show, so that’s very much purposeful. We go to lots of locations, and there’s a lot of stuff rejected, and it’s always like, “Okay, let’s find another one. Let’s find another one. There’s got to be another place out there. Okay, that one works.”
AVC: You guys film in Toronto, and that can be kind of famous for feeling generic. What are your directions to your location scouts to avoid that?
BF: The location scouts are amazing on the show, and we talk very much in a Cronenbergian vocabulary. David Cronenberg is a staple of the Toronto cinema scene, so we were constantly referencing that this has to be Lynchian or Cronenbergian in its aesthetic. That really applies across the board to, not just the sets that we designed, but the locations that we find. I think we’ve seen some great locations in the Cronenberg films over the years, so Toronto has quite a bit of diversity available to it, which is probably why so many people shoot up here.
AVC: In this episode Will turns to the dark side and plots the death of Hannibal. What makes this the right moment for him to finally actively contemplate killing someone?
BF: Well, I think he had it coming at this point. [Laughs.]
What’s interesting about the dynamic of having Will from an incarcerated place fire the shot, that was really about taking a moment in Red Dragon and reinventing it for us, which was when Hannibal gets a message to Francis Dolarhyde that essentially gives him Will Graham’s home address and says, “Save yourself, kill them all.” So we wanted to recreate that moment on the show. I thought, here, Hannibal Lecter has killed Abigail Hobbs, and we remind the audience of that emotional connection that Will had with Abigail and how it was taken away from him, and Hannibal does it again with even a closer, more valuable ally in Beverly Katz. It felt like if Will was going to throw that punch and have Hannibal Lecter killed, it would have to be this episode, because he would be furious that he procured Beverly in the ongoing investigation of his innocence and got her killed, for all intents and purposes. I think part of the action is out of his own guilt and his own feeling of responsibility and also just a very simple “he has it coming.”
AVC: What was the impetus for the secret admirer character?
BF: It was interesting, because when we were doing episode three, which is where we really introduce this secret admirer, he’s the one that killed the bailiff and was trying to exonerate Will a couple of episodes before, we wanted to plant that seed of that guy in episode three to really be able to pay it off in episode five and have Will have a convenient source for him to give a kill order to. We had talked about a couple of different things, and in the breaking, we had broken a much more complicated story where Will is getting messages through Freddie Lounds, and there’s a back-and-forth, and he was using a nurse at the hospital to relay messages and get them out and get them back in to him again.
It just took over the episode in a way that didn’t give much room for the emotional story of this loss and the impact it has with all of the characters, so it was kind of a last minute change where it was like, “Let’s just make [the admirer] a nurse at the hospital,” and we retroactively dropped some scenes in episode three that were on the clue trail to who the avid fan was, and as we were shooting three and writing five I was like, “No, that story is way too complicated. Let’s cut the scene from three. Let’s have the nurse at the institution be the avid fan,” because I remember this line from Red Dragon where Will, when he’s trying to come up with possible profiles for the Red Dragon, was thinking, “Is this guy someone who’s been in the hospital before? It’d be very easy for someone who’s been in the hospital to pick up the trick and be able to fool people and be able to actually function in that role.” So I thought that’d be interesting, to incorporate that into this episode as well, since there were other big Hannibal Lecter-in the-institution moments that we were reimagining for Will Graham.
AVC: Assuming you get to do the Red Dragon season, the Silence Of The Lambs season, down the road, do you worry about having pillaged so much of that or do you think it will just up the stakes for those stories?
BF: I think it ups the stakes, because if we actually do, for example, Will using somebody with access to the outside to launch an attack the way Hannibal did in the book, I think if we get to the Francis Dolarhyde story in adapting Red Dragon more literally, it would be turnabout is fair play, where Hannibal’s like, “Oh, I know how to get a hold of somebody from the outside and launch an attack as well.” There’s a few moments that you’ll see in this season that we actively take from the future and in each of those instances we have an idea how to slightly adjust it or make it the motivation for that act in the future.
AVC: Looking at Beverly, this episode gives her a really meaningful and mournful send-off. How did you build those sequences?
BF: I think when you look to that point, Beverly was going to die in the first season, and it was originally going to be her ear that Will Graham vomited, and that was something that we told Hettienne [Park] when we hired her. It was like, “We’re going to do this fun character arc for you, and you’re going to be Will’s ally, and we’re going to care about you so much, and then we’re going to kill you.” I really didn’t feel like we did the character justice in the first season, to validate it. Her loss wouldn’t have had that big of an impact, but it gave us the opportunity in this season to really play up her value to Will in that very first moment when she comes to visit him in the institution. He’s kind of heartbroken that he’s just there to talk about the case and you really feel that loss, in a sense, with Will.
As Will earns her trust and gets her to start looking at things, we start to care more about her, because she’s believing Will, and it’s a very dangerous position to be in, as she ultimately finds out. In order to really feel her loss, you have to see the impact of her loss on the other characters, which is why the big section at the beginning is non-dialogue reactions of people just absorbing the loss of the character, because I think whenever you sit down and you write one of those grieving scenes, they all become a little cynical in a sense, because there’s only so many ways that you can write, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” So to play it almost entirely cinematically and having just the reactions felt like it was a more honest, accurate representation of what it is to grieve, because you grieve in images. You don’t grieve in words. You grieve in emptiness; you don’t grieve in presence. It felt like that was a good way to feel her impact and her loss, was to see how everybody was reeling from it.
AVC: Are there books or movies or other TV shows that you look at as examples of how to portray death and its aftermath for survivors?
BF: I think there are a few that are fascinating. Twin Peaks was really an exercise in that, ultimately, wasn’t it? You got to see the impact of the family, of friends, of the town. It was a very elaborately constructed poem to grief and all of its absurdity and its unexpected comedy and also the depth of loss. I’ve said it many times before, this show reeks of David Lynch.
AVC: You say in the episode Beverly is being pulled apart like she’s being analyzed as a crime scene. Where did that idea come from?
BF: It was absolutely the Body Worlds exhibit that inspired that, and the art of Damian Hirst, and it was the breaking down of the biological mechanics and the exploration of what that was is so fascinating and beautiful at the same time that it felt like, and we say this in the script, that he broke her down the way she would break down a crime scene, and that was very much what we wanted to do. It was almost an affront to the FBI, like I’m going to break down your agents the way your agents break down a crime scene and understand them more through that process. Damien Hirst, the Body Worlds museum, and also the elaborate “F you” to the FBI.
AVC: Hannibal nearly dies in this episode, and we know, because his name is the show’s title, he’s not going to die. What do you look for when you put that character in that situation?
BF: I think what’s cool about it is you see him vulnerable. It’s the first time we really have seen Hannibal that vulnerable. Even in the book and the movie Hannibal, when he’s taken by the Sards and he’s trucked over to Mason Verger’s pig farm, there is an imperiousness to him where you don’t ever think he’s going to be fed to the pigs. But this instance, we wanted Hannibal to maintain his dignity on one hand, and then also be really impressed with Will. Like, “Attaboy. That’s the spirit!” is kind of the attitude that Hannibal has with Will in this instance and he’s enough of a grown-up in terms of his being aware of what he has wrought in this world with his actions, I think he figures he had it coming. The thing that does surprise him is that Will had it in him to take action.
AVC: Jonathan Tucker is in this episode, and he’s never been this creepy. How do you find the actors who maybe have that side, but are better known for other things?
BF: Well, Jonathan, we had just done a pilot together for the SyFy Channel called High Moon, and I had been a fan of Jonathan’s, honestly, since the remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, [Laughs.] because that’s when I first saw him. I was like, “This guy’s really good!” And he brings such a life and he plays a nebbishy, kind of nerdy guy who’s out traveling with his sister when they meet Leatherface and have that adventure, and I just had confidence in him as an actor, having gotten to know him a little bit as a human being and seeing that he really has so many levels to his personality and so many levels to his craft as an actor, that I didn’t really think too much about what exactly he would do, as much as I knew that he was going to knock my socks off. And I think he’s wonderful in the role.
Come back next Saturday for discussion of episode six.