TV Review: Hannibal -- "Mukozuke"
Note: This article was originally published at CraveOnline.
Well, that sure was something, wasn’t it?
With “Mukozuke,” the fifth episode of the second season, “Hannibal” has officially become, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, the most well-crafted show currently on television. The series has always been an aesthetic feast, finding unexpected beauty in the macabre, and great ideas have always been bubbling beneath the surface, but in this season the producers finally figured out how to seamlessly mesh them together. Not since the later seasons of “Breaking Bad” has a show so perfectly used a mastery of film grammar to visually enforce themes through literary long-form storytelling. In fact, “Mukozuke” shows that Bryan Fuller and Hannibal Lecter may even have surpassed Vince Gilligan and Walter White in the use of cinematography to speak volumes.
Where “Breaking Bad” chronicled the moral decline of one man and occasionally flirted with the idea that he was no different from the rest of us, “Hannibal” has made the latter its modus operandi from the very first episode, establishing itself not just as an exploration of one violent individual, but of violence in general, and how it can seep through a culture and gradually corrupt it from the inside out. It might be named after Dr. Lecter, but he’s more an archetype than a three-dimensional character, a symbol of pure evil that distorts everything he comes into contact with. Previous episodes have posited that viewers at home, God, and even Fuller himself are all like him more than we’d like to admit; “Mukozuke” focuses on Will Graham and his transformation into that which he hates the most. He began the series as Hannibal’s essential opposite, but by the end he may be just like him.
The episode opens by cutting between Hannibal preparing food for Jack and Will receiving his morning breakfast. The editing not only establishes a connection between the two of them – they become nearly indistinguishable – it also reinforces the idea that Will has been served a meal of Hannibal’s creation. He’s imprisoned because of Lecter’s manipulations, but he’s about to be pushed into cooking a plot of his own. As the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Last week’s episode reminded us of the connection between Will and Abigail Hobbs that was severed by Hannibal. This week reveals that his bond with Beverly Katz (Hetienne Park) has indeed been ended as well. More specifically, it’s been sectioned, as her body is discovered in the observatory in half a dozen slices, neatly preserved between layers of glass. “Mukozuke” makes sectioning one of its primary visual motifs, and many shots feature vertical lines dicing up the frame, from window blinds to multiple barred cages sitting side-by-side. While it seemed unlikely that Beverly would escape Hannibal’s basement at the end of last week’s showdown, I certainly didn’t foresee that she would be dispatched in such gruesome fashion. It’s an astonishing set piece, and another example of how “Hannibal” depicts violence ethically, not just as a crutch for entertainment but as a visual and emotional gut punch that leaves a lasting impact.
Will persuades Dr. Chilton to bring Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) back to the asylum, hoping to get him to identify Hannibal as the real Chesapeake Ripper. Gideon was one of the more memorable subplots of the first season, a killer-of-the-week that gradually developed into a more integral part of Hannibal’s machinations. Like Hugh Dancy, Izzard seems to have grown into the role between seasons, adding little touches of nuance – a slight smirk when he figures out Will’s true motivations, the raising of his chin a fraction of an inch to communicate newfound confidence – to bolster his performance. Gideon is too smart to fall into Will’s trap. “He is the Devil, Mr. Graham. Smoke. You’ll never catch the Ripper. He won’t be caught. If you want to, you’ll have to kill him.”
So Will decides to do just that, using true crime blogger Freddie Lounds to communicate with his secret admirer, the copycat killer who murdered the bailiff in “Hassun.” It turns out to be Matthew Brown (a suitably creepy Jonathan Tucker), a man so infatuated with Will that he’s been working as an orderly in the asylum. He actually manages to knock Hannibal out with a tranquilizer at a public pool, but he has too much of an ego to let him die that easily. The killers in “Hannibal” all have egos, and they take credit for each other’s work. There’s satisfying poetic justice in the idea that Hannibal, who stole Will’s identity and passed his own off to Abel Gideon, could have his own reputation hijacked against his will.
This is when the minds behind “Hannibal” make their master stroke, bringing together the episode’s dominant motifs of blood and water into perfect harmony. They dissolve from Will’s face, having made the decision to resort to murder, into the drain in which Hannibal’s blood will flow. For a moment, his face is sectioned by the lines of the floor, and the drain acts as a small mustache, effectively transforming him into Hitler. In one fell swoop, “Hannibal” links one man’s violent impulses to state-sanctioned genocide. Will’s transformation is complete; he is now both a victim and a monster.
As Hannibal hangs by his throat in a cruciform position (one of many twisted symbols of rebirth – his potential death signifies damnation rather than salvation), there’s a flash of surprise as he realizes Will has unleashed his inner killer. And is that pride lurking on the edges of Mikkelsen’s eyes? Will doesn’t yet know that his assassination plot has failed. He imagines the water in his sink transforming into blood, just like the ice that preserved Beverly’s corpse. In trying to avenge her death, he’s become the stag he’s been hunting, and it’s unlikely that he – and “Hannibal,” as a show – will ever be the same.