Hannibal should have been cancelled after Season 1, but not because of its quality. It got extremely low ratings in the US (and Season 2 was just as bad), which normally means a swift demise. However thanks to the fact it’s co-production between several countries, and therefore costs NBC comparatively little to make, it’s lived on.
And that’s a damn good thing, as while it’s found it tough to find its audience on American network TV, it’s also one of the most critically lauded shows around. It’s often said that a TV show has a ‘cinematic style’, but normally it’s just hyperbole. In Hannibal’s case it’s really true. It’s visually meticulous – something you can really appreciate on Blu-ray – has a great cast and a storytelling style that doesn’t assume the audience is made up of morons.
The first season surprised many by keeping Hannibal Lecter (Mad Mikkelsen) as a figure lurking in the background for early episodes, although it became clear why as it slowly revealed his true deviousness. While Lecter has been a creepy figure ever since Thomas Harris created him, the TV show made him feel fresh by exploring how it’s not just killing that excites him, but the slow, clockwork manipulation of people to reveal that perhaps anyone can have the darkest of hearts with the right prompting.
His relationship with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) became a fascinating one, with Will the more openly nuts of the two and Hannibal twisting him in ways that looked to the world like he was helping Will but which was actually slowly sending him over the edge – with FBI Agent Jack Crawford also making him crack.
That twisting went so far that the beginning of Season 2 starts with Will in jail, with people thinking that he murdered Abigail (a character it was a real shame they got rid of), and even Will himself can’t be 100% certain what happened due to his increasingly precarious mental state. This results in the early episodes being a rather neat reversal of Red Dragon, with Hannibal on the outside working with the FBI, while Will Graham is locked up in the Asylum where Lecter will eventually be locked away.
Things become even more interesting as the season progresses, with people beginning to realise who Hannibal really is, but they don’t have the evidence to arrest him. In the invisible cat and mouse chase, Will and Lecter become increasingly co-dependent and their manipulation of one another more intense.
It’s still a supremely well-made and extremely dark show, with an intense psychological edge that few other series can match. Season 2 also keeps the beautiful yet terrible imagery that makes Lecter seem worrying like an artist.
It’s not a cheery series and it’s perhaps because it can be morally challenging that’s it’s found it difficult to get an audience in the US, however it’s certainly worthwhile if you’re willing to be slightly unnerved for all 13 episodes .
Overall Verdict: Hannibal returns and the second season is as good as the first, playing out like an intricate chess game with a truly gruesome end for the losers.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac