We look back on season 2 of Hannibal and look ahead to season 3.
In the case of Hannibal Lecter, he has to create another monster, one which understands him and which he can understand. Hannibal Season 2 focuses intensely on Hannibal’s attempts to make a killer out of Will Graham in hopes of finally being less alone in the world.
Hannibal’s plans to change Will result in changes to everyone in the show’s cast, however, even more than what we’re shown in the bloody finale. Throughout Season 2, we’re shown characters combatting and embracing their natures, struggling with who they are to themselves and to each other. It’s time to look back at how all the threads developed over Season 2 to come together in the finale.
Warning: Spoilers herein. We’re spoiling everything, including the Season 2 finale, so stop reading if you’re not up to speed.
In the interest of time, we’ll try to stick to the broad storylines rather than going episode by episode.
The season starts with a fight between Jack Crawford and Hannibal that ends badly for Jack, leaving him bleeding and imperiled, before leaping 12 weeks into the past. This colors the entire season from here on – over the next 12 weeks of in-show time, Hannibal will be revealed to Crawford.
But with Will Graham in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and accused of three murders, it’s not at all clear what it will cost to get Crawford to those final moments of the season, or who will be damaged along the way.
Will’s turn in the asylum subtly pushes him toward serious psychological changes, and the effect on him is even more profound than Hannibal’s influence on him in Season 1 ever was. Being treated like a madman and losing the trust of everyone close to him — Crawford, Alana Bloom, Beverly Katz — is just as powerful as Hannibal’s betrayal at the end of the first season. He tries to recall what Hannibal did to him with Alana’s hypnotic help, but Will’s unable to come up with anything he can prove, even as flashbacks start to give him a sense of what Hannibal did to him. Though the murders Will’s accused of were all staged by Hannibal, Will can’t prove it; he can barely remember what happened to him.
The only life preserver Will gets is in the form of Hannibal’s psychiatrist, Bedelia Du Maurier, who cuts off ties from Hannibal and tells Will she believes his story. She disappears before Hannibal has a chance to kill her, but the fact that someone so close to Hannibal sees who he really is helps keep Will’s head above water.
But serious damage is done to Will at the asylum. The show puts Will in Hannibal’s place in the story, even going so far as to give Will bits of Lecter’s dialogue lifted straight from Thomas Harris’ novels, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Will is physically transposed into Hannibal’s place, and we all know what happens to Will when he puts himself in someone else’s shoes.
Meanwhile, Hannibal has the same experience in reverse as he becomes “the new Will Graham,” as Beverly puts it, and consults on serial killing cases. Hannibal offers insights into the first new killer in the season, the mural killer, but he holds back information and seeks out the killer himself. When Beverly goes to Will for help in the asylum – creating more of those moments in which Will plays the part of Hannibal, the insane adviser to the authorities – it starts her on the track to believing him. Hannibal, meanwhile, kills the mural killer and adds him to his own design, giving some insight into what God and religion mean to Hannibal, and his sense of transcendence through seeking one’s true nature.
Abandoned and Alone
All the while, the Justice Department wants Will Graham and his interactions with the FBI to go away. Crawford is feeling culpable for “breaking” Will, and Alana blames him as well. Kade Purnell, an Inspector General’s Office investigator, tries to get Alana to drop her implication of Crawford pushing Will too far from the official record, but she refuses; then she tries to get Will to plead guilty, and he refuses. The institution of justice wants to cast Will Graham overboard, and his friends look for much of the season like they might get pulled down with him.
When Will’s trial starts, he begins to get some help. A copycat killer throws doubt on Will’s guilt, first killing the bailiff in the case. As the trial is advancing, Crawford is becoming less and less convinced that Will is the killer he was chasing, and Beverly gets closer and closer to answers with the mural killer. With Will’s help, she finds that the killer was made part of his own mural, and that the body hides trademarks of the Chesapeake Ripper.
When Beverly investigates Hannibal’s house to help Will, she discovers incriminating evidence of the Chesapeake Ripper killings, but she’s found and killed by Hannibal. Lost, with no one to help him again, Will works to convince Crawford that Beverly was killed by the Ripper.
The copycat killer goes on to murder the judge in Will’s case, but doesn’t quite convince the investigators that he is the same killer as the one in the murders of which Will is accused. The deaths result in a mistrial, however, and Will goes back into custody, where he discovers that an orderly at the hospital is the copycat. With no other options, Will asks the copycat to kill Hannibal. It’s the final blow to Will’s identity dealt by his incarceration; without any moorings, no one to help him, and Hannibal continuing to kill, Will has no choice but to become a killer, too.
Hannibal survives the attack, thanks to the help of Alana and Crawford. Despite coming close to death, Hannibal actually sees Will’s attempt to kill him as a breakthrough: Hannibal wants to make an equal out of Will, and he’s getting closer and closer to achieving that goal.
As Will is freed and Crawford becomes more and more convinced that Hannibal might be the Ripper, Hannibal executes a plan to throw the trail off himself. He targets Frederick Chilton, the director of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There are doubts – Chilton supposedly doesn’t have the surgical skill the Ripper does – but Hannibal plays another ace in Miriam Lass, the FBI trainee who discovered him in Season 1. She’s found alive, and thanks to light therapy and psychic steering by Hannibal, she identifies Chilton as the Ripper, and then shoots him.
Free and changing, Will looks for a new way to catch Hannibal and restarts therapy with him. The unique nature of Will and Hannibal’s minds creates a strange relationship: They really are the only two people who can understand one another, and yet, Will wants to kill Hannibal and feels himself changing into a killer under Hannibal’s influence. Hannibal continues experiencing life through the eyes of Will, starting a relationship with Alana and learning more about him through their therapy sessions.
Hannibal sets about trying to help Will become a murderer. First, he sends former patient Randall Tier to kill Will, expecting Will to prevail. He survives the encounter and kills Tier, but goes beyond self-defense to kill Tier with his bare hands.
Will dismembers Tier and uses his body in a tableau – an act meant to help convince Hannibal of Will’s changing, but which has more of an effect on Will than simply trying to deceive Hannibal. Bedelia will later tell Will about how Hannibal manipulated her to murder in the same way.
When journalist Freddie Lounds discovers pieces of Tier in Will’s refrigerator, he convinces Hannibal that he has killed her. It’s a rouse: Freddie is alive and Will is working with Crawford to trap Hannibal.
Meet the Vergers
At about the same time, Hannibal and Will encounter Margot Verger, a patient of Hannibal’s who wants to kill her sadistic, abusive brother, Mason. She can’t, though: Without a male heir to the Verger fortune, she’ll lose everything, and Mason knows it. She seduces Will in an attempt to get pregnant, but Mason, tipped by Hannibal, ambushes her and uses his considerable means to have doctors perform a hysterectomy on Margot.
Hannibal’s plan is to goad Will into killing Mason, but Will is hoping to catch Hannibal in the act of killing Mason instead. And both are torn about their feelings about one another, though, and when Mason’s men capture Hannibal, Will can’t take the opportunity to kill him. With Will’s help, Hannibal escapes Mason’s plan to kill him and instead convinces Mason, under the influence of drugs, to cut his own face off, then breaks his neck.
Even with everything that happened with Mason, Crawford and Will decide to go forward with their plan to catch Hannibal. Despite the need to catch him, Will remains torn. And even though Hannibal is aware that Will is holding back – Hannibal detects the smell of cordite on Alana from her firing a gun, and later detects the smell of Freddie Lounds on Will – he remains hopeful Will will decide to join him, rather than betray him.
For all that hope, though, in the final episode, none of the characters can stop themselves from acting out their essential natures. Will can’t help but stop Hannibal; Crawford can’t help but play the part of the lawman, even though he loses his FBI support and he knows there’s a good chance he won’t survive the encounter; Alana can’t help but try to stop their collision before it kills them all.
As Alana warned, however, the plan does not go as Jack and Will hope. FBI agents waylay Will, causing him to arrive late, after Jack has already revealed what he knows of Hannibal. The fight from the beginning of the season marks the beginning of the end, with Jack hiding in the pantry. Alana shows up to stop Hannibal and discovers his ace in the hole: Abigail Hobbs, kept alive like Miriam Lass. She throws Alana out a window, where Will finds her as he arrives.
Inside, he’s confronted by Hannibal.
It’s a culmination of Will and Hannibal’s relationship: even though they have a connection and a genuine feeling for each other, neither can change who he is. With Abigail present, Hannibal stabs Will, then cuts Abigail’s throat. He escapes while everyone else bleeds out.
Season 2 created major changes among all the characters of Hannibal, not the least of which was the fact that just about everyone ended the season dying. Will Graham’s killer instincts have been heightened by his connection with Hannibal, and he’s already well gone from the man he was. Jack Crawford has been shown the weaknesses of his faith in the FBI, and his own ability to trust has been shattered even further. Alana Bloom, always attempting to protect and help others as a psychiatrist, has been shown the limits of her abilities.
Hannibal is on the run with Bedelia, and it’s unclear who will survive Hannibal’s attack. Show developer Bryan Fuller has said his plan is to tackle the events of the novel Red Dragon in season four of Hannibal, which leaves the third season to focus on the aftermath of the attack and the hunt to bring Hannibal Lecter to justice.
If what we’ve seen of Hannibal so far is any indication, expect the show to draw heavily on the existing novel material even as it diverts into a new story arc. We’ve seen big portions of the novel Hannibal and its concern with the Vergers in this season of the show, and that book also covers Lecter’s escape to Florence, Italy. There’s material there that could be used in Season 3, but it’s not clear if that’s what Fuller has planned.
Should Will Graham survive, Season 3 will likely be harder on him than any before it. Expect to see him struggling with what Hannibal has left in his mind and with what he’s lost, even as he hunts his former doctor and friend.
For those less than familiar with the novels (and willing to speculate), it’s probable that Crawford and Graham will survive their wounds. Will’s presence is necessary for the events of Red Dragon, as are Crawfords; Alana’s novel alter-ego, Alan Bloom, is also present for those events. Abigail Hobbs, however, has been a wild card all along.
We’ve seen a willingness to kill characters (or not) in Hannibal, however – so just because someone makes it through the novels doesn’t mean they’ll survive the show.