Some, Not All, of The Best of Last Year will be a very late series of posts of music, film, and other things that stood out above even the most exceptional in 2014. A best of list with no specific order or reason, much like the site itself. Just a compilation of more recent things to enjoy. Note: The introductory paragraph was culled from a longer work concerning shifting tones with televisions series. This post also contains massive spoilers for the first season of Hannibal and some spoilers for season two.
Some shows end their seasons on earth shattering cliffhanger that hold a promise of change. Not a simple change either, but one that would fundamentally change the essence of the show. Most take that promise and squash it within an episode or two (White Collar, Grimm). There is nothing inherently wrong with these shows, I enjoyed them, but there is a sense of disappointment when they didn’t follow through with their promise. It understanding though, once you have an audience you don’t want to lose them. Only a small number of shows find a balance between the old and new (Fringe, Lost and to a lesser extent House) while even fewer programs that take the promise of a new status quo and follow through on it with vigor (the final season of Fringe). Last year, show runner Brian Fuller led Hannibal to become one of those vigorous shows.
Hannibal was always heading away from itself. The show was announced as prequel to the well-known series of books featuring Hannibal Lector, the caged cannibal “cooperating” with Will Graham or Clarice Starling. The first season had elements of a run of the mill procedural with a new serial killer every week that always messed up and was caught. Underneath the surface was the mythology of the show, slowly working its way out to a seemingly certain end. During the final episodes of the first season the overarching story of the show took precedence and it became clear that expectations were about to be shattered. Viewers were left with the exact opposite of what they expected at the announcement of the show. It was Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lector villainy standing on the outside of a cell rather than in and Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham locked away.
The show quickly became a re-imagining, following lore and writing with loose abandon. This change up was as different as going from French cuisine titled episodes to Japanese ones. The second season took the revelation and proclaimed it as the new word, letting go of the stringent formula of the first season. There was a loose killer here and there, but they were mere fledgling pieces of the new direction of the show. The structure was reversed. The auxiliary stories now strengthened the intention of the whole. Hannibal became more about the mythology and the artistic representation of it, the journey and relationship between the characters as they careen into the void.
The unique chemistry between these characters is carried on by the magnificent cast. The pacing and the overall gory nature of the show invites a frightening tenseness. Dancy’s disturbed portrayal of Graham mirrors that of Gillian Anderson as they carefully dance around Lector with frayed determination. Every interaction imbues subtext via mere glances and tics. Mikkelsen’s performance in particular has a creepy subtlety that invites praise. In contrast to Mikkelsen’s demure nature is Michael Pitt’s exuberance as Mason Verger. Pitt brings Verger to life with a frightening insanity, easily the best villain to come around since Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Hannibal‘s second season furthered the focus on atmosphere. Surrealist sequences continue to infiltrate the show. The reoccurring stag, utopian visions of fishing, the delicately assembled murder scenes. They are all shot and directed with beautiful precision that culminates with its final episode, reaching the program’s highest artistic moment. I won’t give much away, but my initial reaction the season finale was one of awe.
The music soared without permission, the cinematography was masterful, and the actors and actresses became real amidst a surreality. It is the defining moment of the show, seeing all the elements that had been set up come together in a perfect destructive mess. I messaged my friend Dan immediately after I saw it. I described it as experiencing a symphony being performed while a waterfall of blood cascaded down onto jagged rocks as pure evil attempts to be loved. Watch the episode, it’ll make sense.
Those final scenes of the show, even the after credits section felt like an ending. If the series was canceled at that stage, it would have been a satisfying finish. The knots that needed to be tied were done so tightly and the ambiguity that we would have been left with would not have been hard to swallow. Instead we are graced with another season. Brian Fuller now has another promise he can either uphold or let fade away. My faith is in the former, but whatever happens, at least we were left with the majesty of that second season.