HANNIBAL Review: Season Two Premiere “Kaiseki”

Bryan Fuller's Lecter show has returned and all is right with the world. (Unless you're Will Graham.) 

I will remember, Dr. Lecter. And when I do, there will be a reckoning.

Last week Evan fretted that HBO's True Detective might have stolen some of the thunder from Bryan Fuller's NBC drama, and I admit that I've had the same concerns. After all, Hannibal came first - it broke ground on the most recent versions of an elegant, antlers-obsessed serial killer tracked by tortured men who are only a shade or two lighter than the man they're hunting (or are they?). But Hannibal is not on HBO. It's not starring Oscar winners; it's not written by an acclaimed crime fiction novelist or directed by one of Hollywood's most in vogue filmmakers.  

We needn't have worried. It's been so long since I've seen the first season of Hannibal that I'd begun to remember the series only by its symbols: antlers and beautifully appointed plates and very nice suits. Watching "Kaiseki," the season two premiere, reminded me that these are two very different shows, and we're allowed to love them both. They each feel represented by their settings: True Detective is as dirty and sticky as the Louisiana swamplands, while Hannibal is chilly and vaporous, like an autumn day in the mid-Atlantic. 

"Kaiseki" does just what a season premiere should, particularly one after a long hiatus: it offers a sense of immediacy, drawing the audience instantly back into the world we've been missing. I'm generally lukewarm on flash-forwards unless they're on Breaking Bad, but Jack and Hannibal's brawl in the opening moments of the episode gave Hannibal an urgency it was missing last season - a season I very much enjoyed, but that felt at times inert. And come on - it's not like we don't all know where this is going. No flash-forward can spoil the inevitable. 

The episode left me with a question, one that I asked myself last season but wonder more than ever with "Kaiseki" - who is the protagonist of Hannibal? After all, Lecter's name is on the show, Mads Mikkelsen's face on the posters. He's certainly a more compelling character than Hugh Dancy's Will Graham, whom I fear has a largely thankless role this season, as he sits behind bars imagining he's fishing (oh, that beautiful fishing dream broke my heart. Poor Will needs a vacation) and being visited by every member of the FBI just to give him something to do. Of course, we've been entertained by nearly all versions of Hannibal Lecter doing the same thing, but Hugh Dancy is no Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox. He's no Mikkelsen, either. 

No, as the title suggests, the hero of this show is Hannibal Lecter, and season two opens with our hero winning. He's "the new Will Graham," brought on to investigate the latest artistic serial killer, one who uses heroin, silicone, resin and color-preservative as his palette. Everyone trusts him, and he's free to continue hosting dinner parties (two this week, one with Jack Crawford and another with Dr. Chilton), wearing fat Windsor knots and eating folks. So why doesn't our hero seem happy? 

"I miss him," he tells Dr. Du Maurier, and she throws him a bit of highly professional shade as she responds, "You're obsessed with him. It betrays your clear intent to manipulate him." As always, I wonder what exactly Du Maurier knows about Hannibal, particularly when he gives her permission to speak to the FBI on his behalf and she replies, "You maintain an air of transparency while putting me in the position to lie for you...again." Hannibal assures her that, like Jack Crawford, she doesn't know what he's capable of, but I think she does. Gillian Anderson's performance on Hannibal feels like a crucial element, as she is the only character who stands equal next to Dr. Lecter. Their dynamic offers a balance the show would be otherwise lacking, as Anderson is every ounce as poised and powerful as Mikkelsen. 

The episode ends as the season opener of any good serial killer procedural might: with the camera retreating up from a cavernous pit of victims. I'm somewhat intrigued, but I also feel sorry for this new serial killer. Good luck being as interesting as the serial killer who's searching for you!

Next week's episode is titled "Sakizuki," a Japanese appetizer, and "Kaiseki" is the cuisine hospitality exhibited with Japanese tea ceremonies. I guess this means we're officially being treated to a multi-course Japanese meal this season, instead of the French delicacies we enjoyed last year. Just a cute naming technique, or will this season be more disciplined and meticulous than last season's rich and luxurious fare? We'll see!