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Hannibal 2×01 “Kaiseki” Recap

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Perhaps the most beautiful, gruesome and best network show has returned, with a Japanese flair. NBC’s Hannibal is back, and this week, the episode is titled “Kaiseki” after a traditional Japanese dinner known for multiple, small dishes arranged on specific plates to bolster the dining table aesthetic.

Appearances are everything, but only the finest local ingredients are used in a balancing act of taste, texture, looks and bright colors. A Kaiseki normally features an appetizer, sashimi, simmered dish and steamed dish, so Hannibal aims to present us with a tasty and filling meal to kick off its second season. And thus ends my Wikipedia regurgitation.

Does Hannibal‘s premiere live up to its name? Yes. It’s tough to follow such a pulse-pounding, shocking yet almost obvious finale, but Bryan Fuller and company pick up the pieces quite well.

It helps to start with what seems to be a dream sequence, because it can’t possibly be actually happening, until, SHIT, it’s going down: Hannibal’s cutting meat (of course) and preparing a world class meal, when Jack arrives. And he knows. Jack goes for his firearm, but before he can, Hannibal has lodged a knife into his hand, and then the two have a fight for the ages, using the perfect (and fitting) backdrop of the kitchen, with cutting boards, knives, fridge doors, pans and everything used in the brawl. Jack appears to somehow have the upper hand, seemingly choking Dr. Lecter to his death…but he makes the mistake of relenting, and Lecter lodges a shard of glass into his neck. Jack retreats to Hannibal’s wine cellar, locking the wooden door behind him, clutching his spurting neck, with Hannibal trying to bring the door down.

Fade to black and the title: “12 Weeks Earlier.” Whew. You can start picking up the brain tissue that leaked out of your ears and stuff them back in. We certainly know where this show’s heading, and we always did, but what a way to premiere.

We have a repeat of the same scene…only this time Jack is firmly under the illusion of Hannibal’s innocence, as they dine on Hannibal’s own version of the Kaiseki. Jack makes a comment about feeling guilty about eating something so wonderfully prepared and presented, and we get our first wink-wink line of the episode from the Doctor: “I never feel guilty about eating anything.” Jack couldn’t place the fish…to which Hannibal responds: “He was a flounder.” I bet he was. Over their ravishing meal, they discuss how Jack must investigate Will Graham’s claims, and put Hannibal’s life under the microscope. As always, Hannibal is more than amenable and gives the illusion that he’ll do anything to help the FBI.

Meanwhile, at the Baltimore State Hospital, Will Graham is still having loopy nightmare/dreams. The constant dream in this one is that he’s fishing (for truth? For answers?) and his reverie is constantly interrupted by the Stag, now permanently drenched in Hannibal’s visage. The imagery is, as always, fascinating and fantastic, although I may get tired of Stag Lecter eventually. Will is woken up from his daydream by Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raul Esparza), the headlining doctor of the institution Graham finds himself incarcerated in. Will refuses to talk to Chilton, because he’s scum, and only will talk to Dr. Lecter, or anyone else ABOUT Dr. Lecter.

At the FBI, we meet Kade Prurnell (Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon), who’s the Head of the oversight committee/person who is going to $%%@ up Jack Crawford’s day. She practically begs Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) to recant her report against Jack, but she refuses, knowing that Jack never should have had Will Graham in the field, and that he potentially helped create a monster in so doing.

Even with Hannibal likely staying low, murders are still happening in the world, as discovered by two Parks & Recreation guys clearing debris from a Beaver dam. The debris turn out to be several semi-preserved bodies, and now we have the season’s overarching murderer. Stepping into Will Graham’s shoes, and clearly relishing the opportunity, Dr. Lecter advises the FBI on the case, visiting the crime scene. It’s clear that the bodies have been injected with silicone and rubbed in lacquer in an attempt to make perfect human models. These were tossed in the river, because they were failed attempts. Who knows how many more bodies there are? While we only get glimpses of the deformed murderer, and one line (“You have good skin”), it’s pretty obvious that Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) is gonna be another memorable villain for the series as Mason Verger (he’s the main antagonist in Thomas Harris’ Hannibal book, but I’ll stop short of sharing any other details).

As always, Hannibal is a series of different conversations between world-class actors talking about grisly murders and disturbing thoughts in the context of other world-class actors. Lecter visits Dr. Bedelia du Maurer (X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, so understated and mysterious here), where they talk about his “obsession” with Will. Hannibal wants to see him, knowing that Graham has asked for him, which Bedelia doesn’t see as a wise decision, clearly worried about manipulation from both parties incurred upon the other. So far, I wouldn’t worry about Lecter being manipulated by anybody.

Hannibal does what he wants, and visits Will. It’s a chilling scene, where Dr. Graham admits that he “can’t get you out of my head,” while also promising a reckoning. As always, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are SO freakin’ good (especially together), as Mikkelsen treats Graham as the ultimate, intoxicating curiosity, almost begging, wanting to be caught, or to renew their cat and mouse game. He even signs papers that will allow Jack to speak to Bedelia about Dr. Lecter, something that concerns Bedelia far more than it does Hannibal.

Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park, getting more of the spotlight here) seizes Hannibal’s suits and gets swab samples of Lecter’s DNA, practically apologizing for the procedure. She’s still shaken by the Will Graham bombshell, and her complicit part in not seeing the signs, but when faced with another killer, she returns to Will for help, bringing along her files and photos of the Model Maker’s victims. Immediately, Will sees the connections between the victims that had eluded everyone else: the murder is creating a color palette.

Dr. Alana Bloom remains the only one on Will’s side, though she stops short of believing any of his accusations about Dr. Lecter. She just knows that the Will she knows isn’t responsible, blames Jack and the FBI for what happened, and wants to help Will regain his true self. Dr. Chilton thinks she’s being played, of course, while Dr. Bloom plays with Will’s dogs (except for Winston, who always runs away back to Will’s house to find his Daddy. Awwww). When she visits Will, she works to recover some of his memories, and we get one of the creepiest, coolest and visually inventive sequences of a premiere and show filled with them: Alana morphs into a sexy, obsidian-like liquid, much like Hannibal’s stag, which envelops Will and splashes over him, sending him into dreamland, where we’re greeted with a cornucopia of animal and human carcasses in a tableau atop Hannibal’s dining room table. On Will’s plate, is a human ear, the one he impressively vomited out last season (I couldn’t find the video, but apparently there’s a woman who vomits on canvases for art). Kaiseki is literally translated to “stone in the bosom” and one can intuit that this ear, lodged within Will’s chest, is an allegory for that, as we get a flashback where we see Lecter stuff the ear into Will’s body through one of those doctor-ly hoses. Will clutches to this memory desperately, and rallies around it as proof that he’s right. Of course, no one else believes him, but it’s a key first step.

Frederick Chilton gets a snazzy, meatless meal with Hannibal (because he only has the one kidney) where he says things about Will and Dr. Bloom he never should be saying openly. But Chilton’s an asshole. They share a toast where Hannibal admits that if Will’s right, Frederick’s “having dinner with a psychopathic murderer.” Why doesn’t anyone listen to what Hannibal SAYS?!

While Will is arguably in the worst place physically, Jack might be the one most haunted by the events that unfolded last season. He clearly (and rightly) blames himself on Will’s meltdown and subsequent murders, and arrives at Will’s house to bond with puppy Winston and to mull over his demons. After a chat with Bloom (he doesn’t take issue with Bloom trying to ruin his career), he goes to see Will, searching for the man he once knew. Will raves about Dr. Lecter, not exactly easing Crawford’s pain and unrest, and as he walks away, Will promises that he’ll believe eventually. In 12 weeks.

Then, because this is Hannibal and it’d be wrong not have several scenes of sadistic murders and dead bodies, a man that we know Mason Verger captured and kidnapped, wakes up. We had assumed he was another victim…but instead he wakes up in a swirling, kaleidoscope of naked, oiled and preserved dead bodies at the bottom of a silo, finding himself as the centerpiece. It makes perfect sense when you consider Verger’s origin, and it’s also absolutely terrifying.

It’s clear Hannibal is going to be a riveting, unsettling diversion for another season, and hopefully, more of the country catches on to the hearty feast that Bryan Fuller and NBC are serving up every Friday night.

GRADE: A-