The overall sentiment of Hannibal, even from those critics that didn’t like it all that much, is that it’s a visually stunning piece of television. Frankly, it’s gorgeous: the oversaturation, the soft-focus dream sequences, the constant juxtaposition of Hannibal’s pronouncements of creepiness with shots of delectable food (shooting food, by the way, is incredibly difficult so hats off to Hannibal DP James Hawkinson for making everything Lector makes look so good). What got me in “Amuse-Bouche,” though, was the growing fungus that is, in the mind of killer Elden Stammetz, meant to reach out and touch Will.
Stammetz desires to make a connection with Will, a man who makes no bones about his inability to create connections with anyone. Save serial killers, anyway. He thinks like one without the all-important distinction of being one. In one of the therapy sessions between Hannibal and Will—by far my favorite part of the two initial episodes of the series—Hannibal refers to Garrett Jacob Hobbs as Will’s victim, while Will thinks of him as simply dead, even though he admits to liking killing Hobbs in the final session with Hannibal, a notion that clearly freaks him out. He’s worried that he identifies with the serial killers he is trying to catch, he just doesn't know he’s bonding with one at the time.
Death isn’t an end game for Will, but what we consider the end always pushes a little bit farther than conventional wisdom would have us believe in a Bryan Fuller series. George still needed to escort a soul into the afterlife after the corporeal death in Dead Like Me, while Pushing Daisies played with death’s finality, or lack thereof. Stammetz kept his victims alive so they could become food for his mushrooms, prolonging their inevitable end to become life for another organism that could create a connection. (Of course, Hannibal views death as a means of sustenance as well, but rather than create new life, his sustenance only focuses on feeding him… and whomever he has over for dinner.) For Will, death extends through Garrett Jacob Hobbs, who continues to pop up in his dreams and hallucinations, coloring his investigation in a wholly different case, that of fungi-loving pharmacist Stammetz.
What makes Hannibal unique is how much of Stammetz’s apprehension is glossed over. How the FBI lands on Stammetz as their Farmer is of no importance. As Will and Jack stalk into the pharmacy to arrest Stammetz, Jack briefs Will on what he missed: A missing woman is the tenth diabetic to disappear after patronizing a Stammetz-staffed pharmacy. Will wasn’t involved with that casework. Once his job as profiler is finished, the story is no longer concerned with the case until Will can reappear. That can certainly be interpreted as a weakness in the plot, but I saw it as an economical way to focus on Will and how he is connected to Stammetz. “Amuse-Bouche” announces, through its storytelling, that it will not immediately devolve into something of a buddy-cop procedural featuring Will and Hannibal as a decidedly more deranged Starsky and Hutch. That works on a show like Elementary, but Hannibal wants to be more, and it establishes itself as such immediately through the focus on the larger arc.
While I appreciate the continued interest in the Shrike case and its effects on our hero, it leads to two problems. The first is that this episode has a lot of moving parts, and while it’s refreshingly complicated for a network drama, I still had to rewatch certain scenes of this episode to fully grasp it, a luxury that not every viewer has and not every viewer has patience for. The second problem comes from the tenuous connection that keeps Abigail Hobbs a part of this episode, namely Jack’s theory that Abigail was helping her father, despite little evidence beyond the amount of time they spent together. It’s a weak theory, but it allows Hannibal and Will to bond further as characters and brings Stammetz to the hospital to target Abigail. Still, I found it tenuous, at best, and I shrugged it off as soon as Will insisted that the Shrike worked alone.
For all of the talk of solitude and, especially, Will’s inability to connect, it’s Hannibal who is wholly isolated. Throughout “Amuse-Bouche,” he’s only seen with one other person, be it Will, Jack, or Freddie.
Ah, yes, Freddie Lounds, one of my favorite Thomas Harris creations. The once-male tabloid journalist from Red Dragon (played by Stephen Lange and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in onscreen different iterations) has morphed into a lady crime blogger, this time around played by Lara Jean Chorostecki. Lounds is ethically repugnant. She breaks into the Shrike’s cabin and destroys the career of a local detective who makes the mistake of being nice to a woman who he thinks is a protective parent, all in the service of the story. Chorostecki brings an innocent look to Lounds, conveyed almost entirely through her eyes that pop in the oversaturated color palate. Her face can appear truly terrified and out of her depth, like when Hannibal figures out her true identity or when Stammetz shoots the cop in front of her. But that innocence, that terror is betrayed when she turns up her mouth just so to reveal how little remorse she actually has. Crawford threatens to indict Lounds for her crimes as she looks at him mouth agape. Then her lips curl into a smile. “I really wish you wouldn’t,” she smirks back at him. Despite my affection for Caroline Dhavernas and Hettienne Park’s performances, Lounds is the only female character that I find intriguing. In a world dominated by a triumvirate of exciting male characters, Lounds, so far, is the only that feels truly plugged into the action.
I had to rewind a couple times to make sure I got caught it, but there was a quick moment when, as he was untying Freddie after her FBI smackdown, where crime scene investigator Brian (Aaron Abrams, of my beloved Slings And Arrows) whispers in her ear, “You used me.” It’s an auspicious note on the continued development of a team I already like, and would like to see more of, especially Park’s Beverly Katz, who has a deadpan intrigue. Her “You find any shiitakes?” line and Scott Thompson’s Jimmy Price bring a levity to Hannibal that is sorely needed (and a whimsy that Fuller is so freaking good at). Yet, Dhavernas’ Dr. Bloom still hasn’t found her place, other than to be concerned for Will and read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to a comatose potential serial killer. But we’re only two episodes in, so there’s certainly time to flesh (sorry) her out.
- When the hand of one of Stammetz’s victims reached up and grabbed Will, I screamed in my empty apartment. It reminded me of the ‘Sloth’ scene in Seven—where John Doe keeps a man alive, yet restrained and immobile—that has haunted me since I saw it. It also continues with the bleak David Fincher-ian sentiment that pervades what I’ve seen of Hannibal so far. There aren’t a ton of thrills in this episode but that scene alone is scarier than any other purported horrors shows I’ve watched recently.
- Equally chilling is the final conversation between Will and Hannibal, especially the final moments when Hannibal describes a recent church tragedy in which parishioners were killed when a roof collapses. “Did God feel good about that?” Will asks, desperately seeking guidance. “He felt powerful,” Hannibal replies. Ah! Loved it.