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Bryan Fuller walks us through the second season premiere of Hannibal

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Every week of its second season, 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 premiere, “Kaiseki.”


The A.V. Club: The obvious place to start here is with that prologue. Was it something you filmed later and edited in, or did you know from day one you wanted to start with that big fight?

Bryan Fuller: I knew early on, after we had finished the fight sequence in episode eight of last year with Hannibal and Tobias Budge, played by Demore Barnes. Laurence [Fishburne] came up to me and said, “You know… I’m really good at fight sequences too.” And so I was like, “Oh, okay,” and then I was thinking, well, who’s Laurence going to fight? And I was like, well, he’s got to fight Hannibal eventually, and then I thought, I just don’t want to wait until the end of the season in order to see that. And I was being very greedy and selfish because I just wanted to see these two guys who had so much fight experience in various films. Mads [Mikkelsen] was so amazing in the Tobias Budge fight in season one, and we’ve all seen Laurence kick ass in the Matrix movies. It just seemed like, okay, we’ve got to get these two guys together. 

I knew that’s how we should open the second season. Because there was a talky scene and a talky scene and then there was another talky scene and I was like, oh my God, we need energy. So I thought, let’s just start with the end.

AVC: Does it make you apprehensive having that there, so the audience knows it’s coming, or do you feel like since everybody knows Hannibal Lecter’s eventually captured you can play around with that stuff?

BF: A) I think the audience knows that Hannibal Lecter’s going to be captured eventually, and B) we have so many other cards to play in the season that I wasn’t nervous about giving that one up. It felt like, well, we tell the audience this is where we’re going. This is what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a huge clash between these two guys, and how we get there is going to be part of the fun. We’re breaking the finale right now, and it’s interesting to look back and say, “Okay, this is where we started and where in the arc of this story does that fight happen? [Laughs.] How much do we have to play beforehand? How much do we have to play afterwards?” And we have such big moves in the finale that the fight is actually one of the smaller events in the finale.

AVC: You really shift the show’s status quo. What was the most difficult thing to figure out how to work into the template of the show?

BF: The interesting thing was, we shift the paradigm into what I think most would have thought a Hannibal series would be like anyway, with a villain behind bars consulting with the FBI on these crazy cases. And so it felt like because we changed the paradigm, it was like doing a first season again. We’re going to screw ourselves in the same way in season three, because the paradigm shifts completely again and becomes yet a different show. It took a while. The first two episodes were, okay, this is the new paradigm, this is what the show is like, and then we have the third episode, which is the trial episode, which for me felt like it was a very traditional episode of television. So the challenge there was: How do we make this Hannibal? How do we make it as exciting as the other cases without it just seeming like an episode of a law show? Then I feel like in episode four, everything takes off anew. Four, five, six, seven, eight are such a wild ride that I look at the first two episodes and go, “Oh my God, we’re sort of warming up there, and we really spring to it in episode four.” I’m curious, as a viewer, did you feel sort of a ramp-up with four? 

AVC: Absolutely.

BF: Yeah, it changes the show in a big way. Three felt like it was connective tissue to that, whereas one and two felt like, okay, this is its own movie, and it is really about the metaphor of a guy who’s constructing a human mural, which is essentially what Hannibal Lecter is doing with all of the characters in the piece. He’s just sewing them into their places, and they don’t even know it. So that was the fun for the metaphor of the killer and how it applies to the other characters. When you have that clearer metaphor to be told in the story—because Hannibal really is a morality tale, and it is such a heightened style of storytelling, because we have cases that so closely parallel what’s happening with the character’s lives that you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s convenient,” on one hand, and on the other hand it’s just thematic storytelling.

AVC: Was it difficult to justify to yourselves at any time any of the characters going to meet with Will?

BF: Yes. We’re always like, “Gosh, Will’s got a lot of visitors coming to the institution. [Laughs.] And how nice. I hope they all get day passes.” So there was some concern about how much of that we can do, because he’s getting visited by Jack, he’s getting visited by Hannibal, he’s getting visited by Alana, he’s getting visited by Bedelia Du Maurier, and he’s getting visited by Beverly Katz, so he has access to the characters. It was something that we were nervous about, but doing a little bit of research in that level of institutionalization, you are allowed visitors, and it is part of reality. At first I was like, “God, everybody’s pulling up to the institution,” and then it was like, well, that’s what would happen, and it’s a necessary buy for the narrative that we see that interaction. 

AVC: You pull out a lot of the Red Dragon/Silence Of The Lambs motifs in this episode but with everything flipped, so that Will is the one imprisoned. What were some things from those films that you were interested in visiting and pulling into the show’s language?

BF: There’s some interesting details of Hannibal’s cell in Red Dragon, where it has that sheer… it’s almost like a netting, between the bars and the prisoner. I wanted to be able to pull that off, but then we got into so many lighting issues, and how do you get in and out of there with this net over everything, so maybe we’ll be able to pull that off when we finally get Hannibal Lecter behind bars. But that was something I was hoping we’d be able to figure out that we weren’t able to adapt as literally from the novel that I would have liked to. There are so many Thomas Harris-isms in the dialogue. The poetry of the show really does hinge on going right back to the source material, finding quotes, and re-appropriating them—in many instances, it’s finding a great chunk of the literature and thinking, “Okay, how can we reconceive this so it’s appropriate for this scene and also has the Thomas Harris DNA in it?” That was very important for me to continue to do, to continue to sink tentpoles of the literature in the scenes, so it just would feel like we are continuing to adapt Thomas Harris’ work. It is, on one hand, our interpretation of the novels, but in another sense, it’s very, very true to his spirit and his purple poetry.

AVC: Assuming you run for six or seven seasons, how many things are in those books that you can pull out over that time?

BF:ton. There are little chunks of character work that we re-appropriated from some of the things that Francis Dolarhyde [from Red Dragon] is experiencing and his awareness of his becoming that we then apply to Will and to some of our other killers that become subjects in the cases. Taking those little nuggets and planting them in new scenes with different characters gives us that sense that we are in that world of a very specific kind of serial killer that is usually going through something transformative. All of those books are really about the transformation of psyche and soul at their heart. That’s something that we very much want to be part and parcel of Will Graham’s journey, particularly in the second season, because it goes back to that exchange with Hannibal and Will where Hannibal tells Will that he caught him because he’s more like him than he realizes, and we really embrace that this season and in order to catch Hannibal, Will has to go to some very, very dark places. [Beat.] I can’t wait for you to see episode five!

AVC: What was the process of developing Will’s mind palace, which is also suggested in the books? It’s very simple and elegant, which may not be what viewers are expecting.

BF: We knew very much that we wanted to represent the mind palace, and the way Hannibal Lecter talks about his own mind palace is that he is so specific in filling it with information, and even in Hannibal when he’s talking to Margot Verger, he goes to his mind palace and then Margot comes in and talks to him and references their first therapy session, and he says, “Oh really, is that what you remember?” And the literature goes on to explain that Hannibal knew fully well what she was talking about because he was just in his mind palace reading that document [Laughs.] and had come out. There was such specificity to Hannibal’s mind palace that I thought, okay, let’s keep that vibration of a mind palace idea and its rich, textured, detailed recording of Hannibal’s life and save that for Hannibal, and keep something that is much more soulful and serene and peaceful for Will Graham. It felt like Will Graham’s mind palace would be very different from Hannibal’s, so that wasn’t something that we wanted to literally translate a Hannibal point to Will.

AVC: How has being behind bars affected Hugh Dancy’s performance?

BF: It’s interesting because looking back on the first season, he already feels caged, in a sense. So I didn’t see a huge change in his style of acting as much as I felt him—as opposed to the world oppressing Will Graham and Will Graham building up a defense mechanism of his own cage to hide behind and protect himself from the emotions of others, which he is so vulnerable to—he now actually has a literal cage that is protecting him. There’s moments like when Beverly Katz comes to visit him in the institution, and he thinks she’s actually there as his friend, and then there’s that little heartbreaking moment where he realizes that she’s just there to use him to help solve a case, and you see the loneliness for the first time and the disappointment, and it’s so effective. That was one of the standout nuances that Hugh really impressed me with.

Join us next Saturday for discussion of the season’s second episode.