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Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller on Hannibal Lecter’s grand design

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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 seventh episode, “Yakimono.”


Bryan Fuller: Seven is basically—Beverly goes down the chute, and then Gideon goes down the chute, and then Chilton goes down the chute. Everybody who believes Will Graham is screwed. And I love that Will Graham tells them. Part of the fun of the new, scrappy Will Graham was the idea of him saying, “Okay, Beverly knew; she died. That means you’re next, and after you, it’s going to be Abel Gideon, so it’s in both of your interests to help me expose Hannibal Lecter, because otherwise you’re going to end up dead.” And he was right.

AVC: Chilton, correct me if I’m wrong, is the first character from the literature that you’ve killed who’s still alive in later books. Do you feel that shakes things up, or do you worry about not having that character to play later?

BF: [Frank] Serpico survived a bullet to the face.

AVC: Okay.

BF: [Laughs.]

AVC: This episode ends with Will resuming therapy, and getting out of the hospital. Why did you need to pull him out of the hospital, and what is his thinking behind going back to the devil’s lair?

BF: The idea—and it’ll become much clearer in episode eight where you understand exactly what Will is up to—but it felt like we had completed the arc of the institution. We had Will very actively investigating Hannibal in his own way by not only going interior to his mind, but also using those around him who can be his own avatars out in the world to dig up clues. It felt like because we had completed the arc of the Chesapeake Ripper in some sense, that it was good to exonerate Will, and since he was never convicted of anything, it’s easier to get them out, once proof has been discovered that they’re guilty or innocent. So we wanted Will back out in the world, because we needed to continue to shift the dynamic of what’s happening between Will and Hannibal, and as we end this episode, seven, with “Let’s resume therapy,” we were launching a whole new psychological arc where it is Will and Hannibal. Will now, of clear mind, is beginning his own seduction of Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal has been working very hard to seduce Will, and now, it’s up to Will to seduce Hannibal and perhaps lull him into a false sense of security, so he can ultimately be exposed.

AVC: Why do you think Will doesn’t kill Hannibal when he has the chance?

BF: Because I think he honestly wants to know why. I think there has to be—and I talked with Hugh Dancy about this quite a bit—there has to be an element of honest reality to Will’s fascination with Hannibal Lecter. This man built him up and destroyed him in the first season, and then continued to manipulate him through the first half of the second season. When someone is so invasive to your psyche and has had such an impact, if you ended them, it’s like, Hannibal successfully bonded with Will and had Will bond to him, and it was probably more painful to kill Hannibal, because Will knows that he is started on this journey into a very dark place, and Hannibal Lecter may be the only one who can help him understand it.


AVC: We’ve talked a lot in these interviews about the idea of Hannibal as the devil. It almost feels like this episode pushes that to its furthest extent.

BF: Oh, it goes further. [Laughs.]

AVC: How much do you sit around and figure out how he does all this stuff?

BF: Well, we had a lot of stuff that we cut out that we simply couldn’t afford to produce. The show has a very tight budget, and it’s very streamlined in its storytelling. We had scenes where Hannibal goes down into his basement kill room, where we saw Beverly Katz go, and he goes through a door, and he goes into a steam tunnel, and you see him following that steam tunnel, and he goes down for like miles and miles and miles. So we essentially established a way for Hannibal to get in and out of his house without anybody seeing him and use underground steam tunnels throughout Baltimore to get around the city. We simply couldn’t produce it and couldn’t find the time. In our minds, he goes down in the basement and goes out a secret door into the steam tunnels, and that’s how he got to Chilton’s house, and that’s how he got back into his house without anybody noticing, but we couldn’t produce it, so we lifted that element and have the rationale in our brains, if anybody asks the question—but we just weren’t able to show you.


AVC: Hannibal obviously always has five or six different plans going at any given time

BF: Right.

AVC: How many of those are you guys conscious of in the writers room? Did his ultimate trump card with Chilton get invented on the spot, or did you have that in mind early on?


BF: We had that in mind early on. That was one of those things where we knew that Miriam Lass was going to come forward and say, “Here I am. I’ve been held captive by the Chesapeake Ripper for the last two years. And it’s not Hannibal Lecter.” So we knew that we wanted that, but as we were looking forward to that story, we understood around episode two or three in the breaking process like, “Oh, who has to go down for this is Frederick Chilton.” Then everyone was like, “Oh, God, yeah. It all makes sense. Because he did the Gideon thing, and so he has to be the guy to take the fall for Hannibal Lecter.” What I love about episode seven and Raúl’s performance is that he’s comic relief. And Raúl is aware that coming into this world, [his] purpose is comic relief. How he navigated that and the scene where he’s saying, “I’ve got a partially eaten man in my guest room and corpses on the property, and you threw up an ear,” is sort of embracing the absurdity of the situation and winking at the audience and saying, “We know. It’s over the top. We’re having fun. Come with us.”

AVC: Everybody takes Miriam seriously as an eyewitness, and yet, as Will says, her mind doesn’t necessarily have the greatest memory of what happened to her. How did you research or play around with these ideas of post-traumatic stress disorder?


BF: There’s so much going on with post-traumatic stress right now, and it has such wide effects on people in very different ways. They’re talking so much about soldiers who return from war and how varied the reactions are from being trained to be less human and then having to reintroduce yourself to society to become human again, and how there are so many steps on that path that are very easy to miss. We know that we had kind of a wide berth to do what we needed to do narratively, because post-traumatic stress disorder effects people in such different ways. It can obscure memories. It can reimagine events. Our brains are so tricky, because we perceive 30 percent of the world, and the other 70 percent, we just make connections to. In that 70 percent, there’s a huge possibility for fallacy.

It was just putting in the process. If you were returned in some way and you have been living the last two years in and out of altered states of consciousness where you were probably very perpetually drugged with some kind of suppression chemical on your brain, everything that we needed for her to experience in terms of Stockholm syndrome, in terms of incomplete memories, in terms of filling in blanks, I think Miriam Lass genuinely believes that Frederick Chilton is the Chesapeake Ripper. She is not twirling her mustache and raising a glass of champagne to the success of their evil plan with Hannibal. She’s still very much a victim. She’s still very much that FBI agent. But he got inside her head, and it’s the example that Jack Crawford, when he says to Clarice in Silence Of The Lambs, “Don’t let him get inside your head”—in our view he was speaking of Miriam Lass, because he saw what Hannibal is capable of doing and how he completely reconfigured her reality to fit his agenda.


AVC: What’s the writing process like this season? It seems like you just have a lot of people credited on every script. Are you all team-writing this?

BF: Yeah, with writing staffs it’s always so interesting, because whenever there’s one name on the screen that says written by, if you have a writing staff, it’s a lie. Everybody is contributing. I look at episodes and I see that idea came from Scott Nimerfro, that was Ayanna Floyd’s pitch. I can trace the DNA of its idea and inception, and with this—because we started this season with two-and-a-half months less time than we did the first season—we broke the first seven episodes and then started writing them and with no idea what eight and beyond was besides it involving Mason Verger, building on these things, and then we’re out! Seven was a bit of a void until we got to episode six. [Laughs.] “Okay, what’s coming next?” because we were in such a dither to get it done and get it ready for camera. It really is a testimony, when you see that many names on the screen, that it’s more of an accurate representation of what went on with the writing than when you just see one name.


AVC: Do you have writers who are specialists in certain areas or certain characters?

BF: No, not necessarily. We’re all very bizarre people in our own way. For instance, in episode five with Ayanna Floyd—who’s the writer who started that episode—as we get into it, we often re-break them and then start going, okay, that happened, but it needs to have a bigger impact on the story, and then if that happens and this other character would react that way, so it’s often about laying down layers. We have the first layer of the script that gives us the basic story, then we start layering on the emotional stories and approaching the script from the point of view of every character that’s in it at various stages of the scriptwriting process. It’s such a messy, subjective process that when they film, oftentimes, I’m doing polishes on scenes days before they shoot, because I’m constantly going, “Okay, we figured that out in the previous episode, and we need to track that through into this one…” and it’s often not until I’ve cleared the blast radius of the previous episode that I can see clearly what’s happening in the next episode. Then everybody rallies to make that happen.


AVC: The sound design and score for the show are non-traditional and yet so impressive. How did you decide to incorporate the idea of sounds as score?

BF: It really started when we sat down—David Slade and I are both fans of film scores, and David said, “I really think there’s one guy for the score, and it’s Brian Reitzell, and if you could listen to some of his stuff I’d appreciate it, because he’s the guy for the job in my mind.” Actually, I had the score for a couple of Brian’s soundtracks, and I listened to them again with a mind toward Hannibal going, “Okay, this is interesting” and I could see how it’s so tonal, and then I got on the phone with Brian and we started talking about different styles of composing. Coming from Pushing Daisies which Jim Dooley scored so beautifully, that was brilliant fun for me, because it got to exercise all of my soundtrack geekery and having character-specific instruments in the score and various themes that became layered and integrated. So it was a much more traditional style of scoring on Pushing Daisies.


I knew Hannibal had to be different. I would love to work with Jim Dooley on every project, but I knew if I worked with Jim Dooley on Hannibal we would fall back into our habits, so I needed to work with someone who was going to bring a type of soundtrack scoring that I had never worked with before, and also had much more of an atmospheric sound-design place in the show. I think so much of what Brian Reitzell does isn’t scoring; it is sound design. It is psychological sound design, and even when we first saw the pendulum swing, he had this fluttery butterfly thing on the soundtrack that was like the butterflies kicking around Will Graham’s head as they start to swarm. So all kudos for the sound work goes, I would say, 90 percent to Brian Reitzell, and we have a great sound team who gives us all of these elements that become integrated into Brian Reitzell’s score, but he is very much leading the charge on that. Then David Slade, the great gift that we have is that he supervises all of the sound mixes. The sound on the show is all David Slade and Brian Reitzell being auditory geniuses.

Come back next week for discussion of episode eight and the beginning of a new story arc.