The holy grail of dramatic storytelling on television is to unpack a story over the course of a season that simultaneously feels shockingly bold and meticulously planned. To make the viewer constantly feel both at ease and on edge. To reassure you that you’re in wonderful, capable hands which at any moment might wrap themselves around your neck.
‘Hannibal’, in its first season, may have just finished telling the best season-long story on TV this year. And that’s damn impressive.
Tonight’s season finale, “Savoureux”, built off of last week’s game-changing “Relevés” and brought the season a logical but still somehow unexpected conclusion.
Until last week, the driving mystery of ‘Hannibal’ was what exactly Dr. Lecter had up his sleeve. The serial killing cannibal skated through the season without even the slightest hint of suspicion, in the process building the closest thing he’s ever had to a family, comprised of mentally unstable detective Will Graham and young daughter-of-a-serial-killer Abigail Hobbs. Maybe, just maybe, Hannibal was genuinely interested in creating a support system for himself, with people who understand him, at least to an extent.
Nope. Hannibal Lecter has no desire for such societal conventions, and as “Relevés” brilliantly revealed, his purpose for this relationship-building was purely practical: He planned to frame Will for his crimes, with Abigail as Will’s final victim.
We see these machinations play out in the finale. Hannibal’s plan is staggeringly well put together, so much so that Jack Crawford and even Will apologist/love interest Alana Bloom can’t crack it. Alana gets the closest, but the sheer volume of evidence against Will – expertly planted by Hannibal, of course – jars her from her initial belief that Will was incapable of committing these crimes.
“These” crimes because, of course, Hannibal isn’t just framing Will for Abigail’s death, but for all of the copycat killer’s murders. Jack takes little convincing; he’s been trusting Dr. Lecter’s advice all season without hesitation. Beverly and the crime lab can’t get past the dried blood under Will’s fingernails. Alana asks all the right questions – including administering her own clock test to Will – but Hannibal’s a step ahead of her and defuses all of her objections. Hannibal’s own therapist, Bedelia, is convinced he is trying to save Will, not destroy his life. Everyone, it seems, falls for Hannibal Lecter’s masterful framing of Will Graham.
Everyone except Will Graham.
Hannibal knew Will himself would be the toughest to sell, but Will’s cooperation was hardly necessary. A suspected serial killer with now-confirmed brain problems will only further implicate himself by denying accusations, as Will does in the interview room with Jack. But when Will escapes from the hospital transport and shows up in Hannibal’s office, Hannibal willfully accompanies Will back to Minnesota to visit the site of Abigail Hobbs’ murder.
At the cabin, Hannibal impresses upon Will the idea that Will’s the serial killer. Whether Hannibal’s motives are once again practical (a confession would be so much easier) or driven by his complusive perfectionism, we’ll never know for sure. But Will resists, assesses the situation, and suddenly starts to see the big picture. He points his gun at Hannibal and questions him, but as Hannibal points out, if Will pulls that trigger he confirms that he’s a killer.
Seconds before Will can do just that, Jack shoots Will non-fatally. Jack and Hannibal commiserate at Will’s bedside, assuring each other that they’re not responsible, both disingenuous in their own way. We’re treated to one last dinner scene, as Hannibal visits Bedelia and the two dine on what’s left of Abigail. The final image of the season is Hannibal arriving in the maximum security ward of a psychiatric prison, visiting Will. “Hello, Dr. Lecter,” Will responds. Hannibal Lecter smiles.
Think back to the start of this season. After the first batch of visually-stunning, case-driven hours of ‘Hannibal’, could you have seen the season ending with THIS – Will Graham in prison and Hannibal Lecter visiting him? Hell, could you have seen that as recently as last month? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show play its cards so close to the vest as patiently as ‘Hannibal’ did this season, while knowing full well what hand it was holding all along. In poker terms, ‘Hannibal’ slow-rolled its audience, and it was glorious.
“Savoureux” worked not only because it brilliantly tied all the story threads together into a neat bow, but because it stands on its own as a beautifully acted, phenomenally tense horror movie masquerading as a television episode. I don’t talk about the work of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson a lot in my reviews because their performances are so conistently brilliant that I’ve run out of things to say, but their high-stakes mental duel was something to behold. The show’s visuals continue to be next-level, and the sound design – from the discordant pangs of Will contemplating his capacity for murder to the soaring choir behind Hannibal’s impeccable presentation of Abigail-stuffed wraps to Bedelia – was pitch perfect.
I don’t know what else to say. I feel like ‘Hannibal’ has taken me on a journey, and until we arrived tonight, I had no idea where we were headed This season, I suspect, will only get better in retrospect, allowing viewers to connect some of the more mysterious early-season dots.
It’s a remarkable achievement. My hat’s off to the team behind ‘Hannibal’ for telling a fascinating story in a fascinating way. Season two can’t get here soon enough, but when it does, you better believe I’ll be ready to devour it. Bon apetite.