TV review: “Hannibal” is still striking, haunting

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From the February 27, 2014 edition

As much as there wasn’t a need for another Hannibal Lecter story, NBC’s “Hannibal” managed to present a fresh and exciting take with its prologue to the “Manhunter”/“Red Dragon” storyline. Season 1 offered a gripping take on the origin of the Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) connection.

Wrapping up Season 1 with [spoiler alert] Will finally realizing the true monster inside Hannibal was a powerful climax that sets up a very interesting dynamic for Season 2. Having Will in jail, framed for Hannibal’s murders, is an entertaining switcheroo from previous Hannibal tales. But the opening scene of the premiere is an even more shocking game-changer that will shade everything that happens throughout the season.

Following the opening sequence, “Hannibal” settles into its more conventional narratives. Will is still broken, making his colleagues, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), uneasy. They both want to believe Will isn’t capable of these horrific murders, but his shattered psyche makes him impossible to trust.

Meanwhile, Hannibal fills in for Will as the FBI consultant when a bunch of bodies show up, meaning a new killer is out there. Hannibal may not have the abilities Will does in “profiling” murderers, but he is skillful. And like the murders from Season 1, “Hannibal” presents these crimes with a visual aplomb that manages to be haunting and beautiful. There really is nothing like it on network television.

Since anyone who’s seen the previous films about Will Graham/Hannibal knows how a “Hannibal” series will ultimately play out, the biggest episodic strengths of the series are the gruesome, haunting murders. But “Hannibal’s” biggest strength as a serialized narrative is creating unexpected twists — like the climax of Season 1 and the opening of Season 2 — for its plot.

Since the ratings for “Hannibal” haven’t been great, possibly due to the proliferation and thus fatigue of serial killers on TV currently, a third season isn’t a guarantee. But given what transpires in the first two episodes, there’s enough story for another one. And hopefully there is, because “Hannibal” really is one of the best series on network television.

Photo courtesy NBC