“I’m a good fisherman, Jack.”
“You hook him, I’ll land him.”
Even through Hannibal’s plots and relationships are under more strain than ever in a lot of ways, “Su-zakana” returns this incredible show to it’s “murderer of the week” format. The episode, whose title refers to a Japanese palate cleanser, brings us a nightmarish (pun intended) scenario involving a corpse sewed into the uterus of a dead horse. Vintage Hannibal, you might say, if the word “vintage” can refer to a single season earlier.
Still, despite the way that Season Two has — to quote creator Bryan Fuller — “reset” Hannibal’s storytelling, the show cannily manages to move onward and upward instead of simply stalling out.
Exhibit A: Will’s ongoing psychological seduction of Hannibal Lecter. The quote at the head of this writeup comes from the opening ice fishing scene, wherein Jack complains about how much harder it is to catch a fish in the cold, when he’s not even hungry. The parallels to the Lecter situation are blindingly obvious, revealing a fascinating dynamic at play. In short, Will seems to be using himself as bait to expose Hannibal Lecter’s, um, sordid habits.
This is an interesting wrinkle for a number of reasons, not least of which is the simple reality that we’ve seen how dangerous Hannibal can get when he feels backed into a corner… and so has Will. In one sense, the way that Hannibal seems to genuinely view Will as a friend lends Mr. Graham an uncommon advantage. In another sense, it’s hard not to imagine that Will might be safer sleeping with a rattlesnake under his pillow.
Will’s interest in Hannibal echoes Lecter’s own interest in Will. Neither, it seems, quite know what to do with each other. Hannibal says as much, in one of the more memorable quotes of the past few episodes: “I can feed the caterpillar, I can whisper through the chrysalis, but what hatches follows its own nature and is beyond me.” Will will follow his own nature from here on out; what remains to be seen is how close to Hannibal Lecter that nature will take him.
Here’s why I like how explicit Hannibal plays the Will/Hannbial relationship: Most television thrillers get their juice from what the audience doesn’t know. Twists, reversals, and wrong guesses are the order of the day. How often in a show like CSI or Bones is the killer revealed to be “the one you’d least expect” in the penultimate act of the episode?
This show, conversely, operates on giving us a TON of information. Since we’re both a pop culture icon a prequel with this show, Fuller and his team of writers take full advantage of the unique type of suspense and audience baiting that can come from simply laying one’s dramatic cards out for all to see. Season One was rarely shy about letting us “behind the scenes,” but Season Two has really upped the ante. At this point, virtually all of the major characters have at least some inkling of the truth.
Anyway, the fishing scene (we were talking about it at one point, I promise) leads directly to one of the more slyly ingenious visuals of the hour: Hannibal serving fish to Will and Jack. I think this is the second time this season that his culinary tastes have strayed from red meat. Remember that vegetarian dish Hannibal served Dr. Chilton? Or am I making that up?
The rest of the episode, dealing with the bird in a corpse in a horse* is solid stuff, and the lynchpin performance from Lost vet Jeremy Davies comes across really nicely. These sorts of characters are really his stock and trade at this point, but that’s because he’s really freakin’ good at selling them. And if Davies is playing this case’s Will Graham surrogate, Chris Diamantopoulos is its Hannibal Lecter. Both do a really nice job of grounding this mid-season detour with some really strong character beats. The strongest of which is likely the standoff with Will, Hannibal, and this Diamantopoulos’ killer character.
I also understand that for those familiar with the literature, the mere mention of the name “Verger” carries quite a bit of significance. Unfortunately, I’m not in that crowd — my exposure to the Lecter stories has been limited to the screen adaptations of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. But for those of you who know more than me, the Verger’s came up in this episode.
Oh, and I can’t leave without bringing up the line, “Is your social worker inside that horse?” That’s a line of dialogue that could have convincingly come from Fuller’s much more light-hearted previous show, Pushing Daisies. That Hannibal isn’t afraid to go for those sorts of moments, is why we those of us who do insist on calling it a great show. Well, that and everything else.
*Worst children’s book ever.