Thursday, May 28, 2015

HANNIBAL Eps. 18/19: "Mukozuke/Futamono"



(S           P           O           I           L           E           R           S)

In which he is the devil, Mr. Graham.  He is smoke.

(With the clock ticking down to Hannibal’s third season premiere next Thursday, I’ve decided to combine the next two episodes of Season 2 into one essay.  Hopefully this double feature will still serve much the same purpose as the other essays in this series.)

In the grand, thirteen course, cinematic meal of Hannibal’s second season, “Mukozuke” and “Futamono” serve as a critical crossroads for the main characters and the narrative arc in general.  Allegiances shift, motivations become vague and cloudy, and the very fabric of the show’s reality begins to split.  And the genesis point for all of this is the murder of a supporting character not known for eliciting passionate sympathy.

Bryan Fuller’s choice to kill Beverly Katz is an interesting one.  All credit to Hetienne Park, who brought a steely, analytical reserve to her portrayal of Katz, one which served as a welcome corrective to the fog of deception that often envelops the other characters.  But that reasoned pragmatism (and a screen presence that was often limited to autopsy exposition with Zeller and Price, where she was the straight man…er, woman) wasn’t designed to form a strong connection with the audience.  At this point, she’s the most prominent character to be murdered, and that memorable moment at the conclusion of “Takiawase” when she discovers Hannibal’s sub-basement layer, only for him to discover her, grips the viewer as any good suspense beat would.  Still, the pure fact of her death isn’t an emotionally shattering experience.

Maybe Fuller’s intent all along was to use Beverly’s death as a blank slate upon which the other characters could project their burgeoning guilt.  Because the grief that Jack and Will display at her death scene is some of the most shattering that the show has depicted up to this point.  And it’s so affecting because of the buildup we’ve had with these characters, to the point that the subdued nature of their actual reactions comes across as seismic.

I’ve discussed the guilt that eats away at Jack extensively in this essay series.  Laurence Fishburne’s naturally stoic, fatherly presence is such a boon to his portrayal of the character.  In a show that thrives on some all-time great faces, his deep set, brooding features are a perfect canvas for all sorts of subtle emotional shifts and nuances, while still maintaining a constant sense of pensive contemplation.  The establishment of his long-term pain over sending Miriam Lass to her apparent doom, and then repeating it with Will (as well as the pain from Bella’s slow death march) has sometimes been expressed in his short bursts of anger.  But this is a man who internalizes his grief, the pressures of paternity both personal and professional tamping down any true catharsis.  So when he doubles over in agony upon seeing Beverly’s corpse on elaborate display, the audience feels that pain acutely.

Will’s moment of agony is even more gripping, for entirely different reasons.  Hugh Dancy is often such a livewire in this role, alternating between moments of near disintegration and semi-autistic coldness, that it can take a while during Season 1 to latch onto him emotionally.  He hits a real peak in the S1 finale, especially in his moments with Alana, but Season 2 requires him to take on a much more smoldering presence as he calculates an exit strategy while also struggling with his growing interior darkness.  As with Jack, his reaction to Beverly’s murder is motivated by guilt; Jack implicitly gives her permission to continue visiting Will, while Will essentially sends her off to Hannibal’s house of horrors.  The real crushing moment of his reaction comes when he attempts to enter his empathic vision of her death, but is overcome with sadness and heartbreak. Dancy’s brief, simple convulsion of pain is so affecting coming from a character who has always been able to view these visions as exercises in formal inquiry.

And the true weight of Beverly’s death sources back to Hannibal himself.  His character arc through the first seventeen episodes has been so complex and deftly shaded in ambiguity that even when we see him actually committing a murder, his childlike, amoral sense of inquisitiveness almost seems to balance things out.  But almost all of those murders (save his apparent slaughter of Abigail Hobbs) have involved the guilty or the relatively anonymous.  Murdering Beverly is his step beyond that barrier and into a world that both we and the other characters intimately know.  For the first time (aside from Will’s grief over Abigail), his murderous instincts have touched a raw nerve.  And the synthesis of her murder and his Machiavellian frame job from Season 1 is what drives Will to realms that he’s long feared.

Hurling Will headlong into the abyss during Season 2 is a bold move on Fuller’s part.  He’s clearly meant to be the audience surrogate, especially in a classic dramatic sense, so the depths to which he plunges in the name of catching Hannibal can often be wildly alienating.  His visions of his transformation, the black Wendigo-like antlers sprouting forth from his back, are potent, disturbing stuff.  And his manipulation of Matthew Brown, his guard and the murderer of Andrew Sykes, into attempting to murder Hannibal is certainly not standard heroic narrative material, even in revenge sagas.  The chilling image of Will’s blank expression overlapping with his vision of a blood-saturated sink, blending with the rivulet of Hannibal’s blood entering the drain at his spa (featured at the beginning of this essay) is a powerful image of a man becoming completely lost in his own private hell, the black handles of the sink becoming the inky recesses where his eyes should be (and another callback/foreshadowing of the eye imagery that dominates the classic Francis Dolarhyde storyline.)

Perhaps the most significant shift in alliances during this two episode run occurs when Alana Bloom sleeps with Hannibal, and subsequently serves as his alibi when Jack questions him about the disappearance of Abel Gideon.  Alana can be such a frustrating character during these first two seasons.  She’s the ultimate voice of reason and empathy when she reports Jack to the FBI’s IA department following his handling of Will, but her romantic rejection of Will drives him even further into his insanity spiral.  She’s clearly a very sensitive person, one driven by a deep sense of insecurity about the influence of her professional duties on her personal desires (which strongly connects her to Will and Jack.)  Trapped in a cycle of bad timing, she tries to serve as her own psychiatrist when she wants romance with Will, but when she finally decides to follow her gut instinct it leads her right into the arms of Hannibal, the ultimate manipulator.  Will’s central conflict is often driven by how he’s manipulated by Jack and Hannibal; Alana’s desire to do the right thing inadvertently makes her just as vulnerable to manipulation.

But being manipulated by Hannibal Lecter is not a permanent mark on anyone, so expertly has he honed those skills.  His psychological experiments in Season 1 left a trail of carnage in their wake, while also serving as master classes in subtlety.  But this two episode run shows a Hannibal who is beginning to relish his role as puppet master.  He spends so much time in the early parts of this season mourning the absence of his friend/lover interest that when Will orders his murder it almost liberates him from those concerns.  In many ways, he’s the jilted lover who decides to gain revenge on his ex by sleeping with his lover and going on a debauched rampage.  And that sense of liberated decadence also extends to the stylistic aspects of these episodes.  I’ve mentioned before how Hannibal has a viral effect on both these characters and the audience.  “Futamono”, in particular, offers a cavalcade of surrealist fancy, as his sheet music crossfades into Will, the notes later blossoming into the flowers of Sheldon Isley’s remains in the autopsy room.  When he tells Alana that he’s famished from the trauma of his death scare, the imagery shifts from a close up of his eye to a psychedelic montage of flowers blooming.  It’s rebirth on several different levels, but leading toward the death of the city councilman.  But these avant-garde leanings are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the madness of Season 2 goes.

As always, the leftovers:

*Aside from his subsequent cameo as a corpse, this is the last call for Eddie Izzard as Abel Gideon.  The Hopkins-esque delight he took in this character made him a memorable foil to Hannibal, and in this two episode sendoff he’s given a real sense of emotional grounding to complement his sociopathy.  Gideon might be a nutjob, but he’s a passionate nutjob.

*Brian Reitzell really outdoes himself with the score for these two episodes.  His extensive use of a bronze slit drum throughout “Mukozuke” creates a nightmare soundscape that is both atmospheric and completely unnerving (particularly in the immediate aftermath of Beverly’s murder and Will’s investigation of it.)  Following such a jarring auditory experience with the stylized, almost soothing harpsichord tones of “Futamono” is a great contrast, as well as a reflection of Hannibal’s growing power over all aspects of the show.

*Seeing Will strapped down in a gurney with a revised version of the classic Silence of the Lambs Lecter mask is such a bizarre, delightful sight.  And to hear him echo Hopkins as Lecter when he grills Jack about the Chesapeake Ripper’s motivations (as Jodie Foster receives in the film) is also a nice touch.  It’ll be interesting to see how far Bryan Fuller eventually advances into the Lecter mythos.  All of these references to the pre-existing works create a fascinating hall of mirrors that might only get more compelling if Jame Gumb ever shows up.

*And speaking of Silence references: “The last time someone rang my doorbell this early, it was a census taker.” (Hannibal, to Alana.)

*“All the things that make us who we are.  What has to happen to make those things change?” (Gideon, to Alana.)

*Freddie Lounds gets the prime gig of discovering Beverly’s body, while also playing quid pro quo with Will for the rights to his story.  She also gets a rare, completely human moment when she pleads with Jack not to enter the crime scene.  Lara Jane Chorostecki is such a pleasure to watch as this decidedly prickly character, so her eventual involvement with the further machinations of the plot to catch Hannibal is a welcome treat.    

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