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Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller on that terrifying cliffhanger

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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 fourth episode, “Takiawase.”

Warning: If you don’t want to know what happens immediately after the end of episode four, skip the next couple of answers.

The A.V. Club: Episode four ends with what’s an atypical cliffhanger for this show, in that it is very big and action-oriented. But, come on, is there any way Beverley gets out of this okay?


Bryan Fuller: [Immediately.] No, she’s dead.

AVC: [Laughs.] What prompted you to make that move then?

BF: Well, she was supposed to die in the first season. It was originally going to be her ear that Will coughed up in the first season. So when I saw Hetienne [Park] on Broadway, I was like, “She’s fantastic. She’d be brilliant on the show,” and we didn’t really get to explore a lot with her in the first season, so I was like, we can’t kill her yet because we haven’t done anything with her. It felt like, let’s have her be the ally that Will earns, and she starts to believe, and then we know it’s episode four and she’s starting to believe, so [Laughs.] she’s not long for this world.

I thought Hetienne was great in the first four episodes, and we got to see her integrated into the world, doing much more. She does more in the first four episodes of the second season than she did in the entire first season, I thought. She’s such an interesting actress in her own right that she’s likable. You can’t just kill somebody to kill somebody. It has to sting for the audience, and it has to sting for the other characters. A lot of episode five is non-dialogue scenes where you see everybody’s reaction to what has happened. … I’m excited about people’s reactions to all of that that happens in episode five. [Breathless.] You’ve gotta see episode five!

AVC: You’ve mentioned several times you see an actor on stage and you just have to work with them on TV. What do you think stage performers bring to television?

BF: I think they bring a sense of commitment to a world. When I was working on Star Trek, we always found that anybody who had a Shakespearean background, in terms of their training or experience, [was] able to sync up to another world more easily than, say, an actor who’s primarily dealing with a grounded reality. It’s a harder hurdle to get past. I think being a stage actor, you’re trained to create a world, and I think Hannibal is a world that we’ve created, and it’s not necessarily the real world. It’s a heightened reality, and it is a morality tale, so we need actors who can navigate, who can bring emotional honesty to a heightened reality.

AVC: Will is getting his memories back, and you’re filling in some of the gaps in season one. Was that always the plan? Did you have thoughts of what had actually happened when you were writing last season?

BF: There was, once Will says, “The answers are in my head, and I’m going to find them,” I felt like we were obligated to tell that story and to keep peeling back the onion of his memory, or the pomegranate, as it were, peeling back membranes and finding these clusters of bloody seeds that he has to deal with. We did that with the intubation of the ear, and then we did that with the reveal of, on some level of consciousness, he was aware what was going on in Hannibal’s dining room when Gideon was there, and is able to access that it causes him to seek out Chilton, to see if he can help him answer some of the mysteries that are locked away in his mind. It felt like it was a way to keep Will active. He can’t actually go out to investigate things, as much as he can go in and investigate things, so we needed to have some device for him to continue his investigation. To be active while he’s incarcerated and going inside his mind felt like a really strong way to do that.

AVC: Did you struggle with finding ways for Will to be active?

BF: It was always part of the conversations when we were story-breaking. “Okay, Will’s not active enough. Will has to be driving this.” We are telling Will Graham’s story, so it was very important to seek out those ways to keep him active when he’s incarcerated. That was the big thing: We need to get outdoors and see him in his mind palace fishing to give us a sense of the power of his imagination and also the transportive power of imagination in general. I think we hear from survivors of terrible atrocities, and how they survive is their imagination. It’s such a wonderful gift, and there was a line that we cut from an episode where they talk about how imagination is the greatest virtual-reality machine known to man, and it’s between our ears. It’s that kind of, almost, masturbatory transportation where you can go someplace and make it as real as you need it to be in your mind, even though you’re locked in a cage.

AVC: What made this the right time to go back to the story of Bella, because that was such a haunting and great part of season one?

BF: Well, I love Gina Torres, and I think she’s such a soulful actress. We knew that we wanted to bring her back, and we knew we wanted to see more of that story, and I thought she was so wonderful in the first season and heartbreaking. Facing your death with this dignity and also a demand to die on your terms felt like it was, on one hand you look at people who are dealing with cancer and the power that they take, there’s all sorts of ways to deal with a life sentence. Some people rise to it; some people fight it tooth and nail; some people deny it. If this is a woman that we last left hearing that she was not going to do chemo, she wasn’t going to do any of that stuff because she didn’t want to go out that way, and then we find her a few months later, and she has succumbed to her husband’s wishes to go through chemo and to keep trying to preserve a life, for her to be sitting down with Hannibal Lecter, who is a grand taker of lives, to be talking about the willingness to leave it behind, to take control of her own destiny and end her life on her terms, before cancer can take those things away from her, was such a fascinating journey.

Also, a controversial journey, because you’re essentially telling the story of a character who is ready, willing, and able to give up, but as long as it’s on her terms, and still make that a brave choice for the character as opposed to, many people would say, a cowardly choice, to just not try to live. I think there’s something so fascinating about the conversation of euthanasia, and how we, as a society, and just as human beings who are kind of wired to survive, to tell the story of someone who was willing to not fight so hard for survival. It just felt it was rich and complicated and honest and different from a traditional “I’m going to beat this cancer, come what may” story that you would see on a made-for-television movie. And someone who is so willing to say, “Okay, this is what it’s going to be. I don’t like it, so I’m going to stop it before it gets there, and I’m going to be fine, and I’m going to have a peaceful resignation, and that may be hard for everybody around me, but it’s not about them. It’s about me. It’s my life, and this is what I choose to do with it.” And then to have Hannibal… fuck her [Laughs.] in such a way and take that away from her and the moment she says, “No,” after she regains consciousness, it’s so heartbreaking because she knows that it’s going to be painful, and she’s just choosing not to go down that road.

On one hand, Hannibal’s being very manipulative, because he’s, once again, distracting Jack Crawford with the drama of his own life and taking the focus away from Hannibal’s own misdeeds by doing that. It’s very tricky. But at the end of it, he comes out as being the best friend that Jack Crawford could ever have because he saved his wife. Yet, what he did to Bella was cruel. But a different type of cruelty, and it’s going to be interesting to revisit Bella again this season after that choice was taken from her.

It just felt really rich and complicated, and we were saying something about life and the metaphor of what is suffering and what is too much suffering and how that applies in the Katherine Pimms story, with the acupuncturist who’s prone to lobotomies. I think what we do well on this show is finding ways for the metaphor of the killer to resonate with a character’s story, so for me it was a favorite episode. I find it very emotional. I find the scenes with Gina and Hannibal so honest, in a way. When she’s talking about her last, dying soliloquy, I find very effective and emotional, and Mads [Mikkelsen] was saying he had trouble not crying during those scenes because she was so moving. He got wrapped up as Hannibal Lecter in her journey, and what we talked about was, Hannibal is in love with Bella, at some level, not romantically but he loves this woman who is so strong and taking control of her own death and being fearless about that. He can’t help but admire her bravery in that, even though many people would call her a coward.

AVC: You had the apiarist acupuncturist played by Amanda Plummer. You get such great guest stars for these, basically, one- or two-scene parts. What’s that casting process like? Also, what fascination do bees hold for you?

BF: Well, bees are life. We did a bees episode on Pushing Daisies, so when we were talking about this and naming her Katherine Pimms, who was Chuck’s nom de plume on Pushing Daisies, whenever she would go undercover she was Kitty Pimms, so it was like a little poem to Pushing Daisies in a way to do a bee episode and do a different version of the bee death than we did on Pushing Daisies but in the tone of Hannibal.

I have been a fan of Amanda Plummer’s since The World According To Garp and think that she is always an actress that brings such reality to idiosyncrasies that you never feel like it is put on or an affectation. In fact, it is exactly the opposite, it is so kinetic and in the moment and real that watching the dailies of her, if there was a creak in the room, she would react to it and bring it into the scene, and if someone’s stomach gurgled, she would react to it and bring it into the scene. She is so in the moment in her performances that it’s captivating. I was very excited to work with her, and I was delighted that she came to play with us. It was so fun to hear the stories from Laurence [Fishburne] and Aaron [Abrams] and Scott [Thompson] about doing their scene with her and how it was just a master class of seeing what it is to just be alive and instinctual in the moment. I loved her performance in this episode, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with her.

AVC: It seems like the show’s sense of humor has been turned up just a couple notches this season. What was behind that choice?

BF: I think we’re getting more comfortable with it, in figuring how to apply humor, because [Laughs.] there’s an episode, episode eight, that is so ridiculous and over the top and has the biggest laugh that we’ve ever done on this series, but it’s all within the tone of the show. I think it’s about getting more comfortable with the world and getting more, “Oh, we can go here, and we can do that, and we can do this,” and I think if we do get a season three, the humor will be ramped up much more so. We’ve peppered it in. There was a little of it in season one, but not a lot. There’s a little bit more in season two. We definitely get more comfortable with the humor. I think it’s also—because it wasn’t something that we played a lot of—it was something where it’s like, okay, that’s a flavor we can start mixing into the dish and still be Hannibal.


Come back next Saturday for talk of the much-vaunted episode five.