I always love a good legal thriller, so naturally this week’s Hannibal was a great fit for my sensibilities. And while “Hassun” mostly serves as an obligatory “connect point A to point B” episode, no one will ever accuse it of feeling like filler.
Per usual, this week’s installment opens with stunning, symbolism-filled dream imagery. We open on the smoking carcass of a prisoner who has just been put through the electric chair. Time then reverses, and we see the man in question is Will Graham. The reversal soon reveals that another Will (dressed in a suit and tie) is the one pulling the chair’s switch. Will awakens from this nightmare in his cell and proceeds to get ready for his upcoming trial appearance. As outlined by the FBI’s Kade Prurnell (Cynthia Nixon) last episode, the trial will determine whether or not Will was consciously aware of his murderous actions. A negative ruling will earn him a federal death penalty—hence, the dream.
Will’s trial begins right off the bat with a curveball. Ignoring the stern warnings of Prurnell to keep his suspicions and guilt in check for his cross-examination, Jack Crawford testifies in court that he believes Will’s actions were a direct result of being exposed to too many cases. Later, Jack says he’s aware such statements could cost him his job, but—in confiding to Hannibal—he claims to not really care too much. “There’s something appealing about walking away from all the noise,” he muses.
But, this being Hannibal nothing can be as dry as courtroom procedural. Thus, in the midst of this emerges a pair of suitably over-the-top murders. It all starts when Will and his lawyer receive a package containing Abigail Hobbs’ ear (the one that was planted in Will’s throat by Hannibal). Jack Crawford and his FBI team soon track the missing evidence to court bailiff Andrew Sykes. Upon investigating Sykes home, however, the FBI find the house has been rigged to explode. Analyzing the burnt interior, Jack finds Sykes’ remains impaled on deer antlers. The killer (*cough*Hannibal*cough*) has perfectly replicated the presentation style of all the previous murders that Will is being accused of committing. Jack finally has some hope that Will might not be the killer.
Meanwhile, the trial goes on, leading to testimony from our regular cast of characters, including Alana Bloom, Freddie Lounds (wearing an amazing impractical perch hat that looks straight out of a ’40s film noir ) and Frederick Chilton, the sleazy head of the Baltimore State Hospital where Will is being held. It all culminates with Hannibal being called to the stand. Here, Hannibal claims that the recent murder of the bailiff calls Will’s alleged participation in the murders into question. The killer could still be out there. He also acknowledges the claims Will made against him and that he harbors no ill will. “Will Graham is and will always be my friend,” he says, taking cues from Mr. Spock in Wrath of Khan. This ultimately leads the prosecutor to accuse Hannibal using a supposedly “unrelated” case to help his friend. The judge agrees, and Hannibal’s potentially helpful testimony is stricken from the record.
Every episode of Hannibal has at least one requisite “holy shit” moment and the judge’s fateful decision promptly leads to this week’s instance. It begins when an unfortunate janitor walks into the courtroom the next day and finds the judge’s mutilated body strung up in the middle of room, his heart and brain cut out of his body and displayed on a courtroom scale that has been placed in his hand. Clearly, Hannibal was upset about having his testimony revoked. Furthermore, the death of the judge will cause a mistrial, thus buying Will more time.
“Hassun” provides an effective continuation of the plotlines set up in “Kaiseki” and “Sakizuke.” There’s most definitely no slacking in the visual department. It’s certainly interesting, having watched enough Hannibal to now be able to pick up the show’s recurring visuals motifs, including the way the show’s directors use wider angle lenses and slow camera pull-backs to make conflicted characters look isolated in the frame. The episode also clearly shows that Bryan Fuller and his writers are still hellbent on referencing their favorite horror and suspense films whenever the chance arises, as evidenced by a shot wherein the camera pulls out from the inner portion of an ear. For those versed in the language of film, this serves as a direct inverse of a famous shot from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
Ultimately, “Hassun” lacks the sort of exuberant, take-no-prisoners dynamics that punctuated the previous two episodes. Considering how powerful the season’s first two hours were, however, it’s almost not fair to pass too much judgment since even a really strong episode would have felt like a step down. Still, it’s an intriguing enough stepping stone to Will’s eventual release and inches the narrative slowly towards the game-changing Jack-Hannibal confrontation we saw in the season opener.
Leave it to Hannibal to leave even its stepping-stones coated in blood and disembodied organs.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.