When Hannibal first premiered midseason in early 2013, expectations were understandably low. Despite the pedigree attached to the project, including showrunner/mad genius Bryan Fuller, visionary director David Slade and the inspired casting of Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter, the show’s delayed production as well as perceived audience fatigue with the Hannibal brand (and with remakes/reimaginings in general) didn’t seem to bode well for the program’s chances. When it eventually did make it to airwaves, however, the result was nothing short of jaw dropping. Eschewing the quirkier sensibilities he established with Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls, Fuller—with no shortage of help from the brooding Slade—dove headfirst into the darkness, presenting audiences with a world both horrifying in content and beautiful in execution. Featuring career highlights from Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford and, of course, Mikkelsen as Lecter, Hannibal is a miracle of a show. As in, it’s a miracle that a broadcast network actually airs it.
One of the linchpins of the series has been its predilection towards provocative, baroque visuals. Hannibal doesn’t just shock in the way that lesser-quality shows like The Following and Criminal Minds do; rather, it gets under your skin and worms its way into your nightmares. In honor of the flawlessly-executed second season finale, here’s a collection of some of the show’s most brutal, disturbing and, overall, deliciously gory moments. In other words, all the moments that make you go like this, or this, or this.
Warning: This list contains disturbing images and slight spoilers through season two. You’ve been warned.
15. ‘Stag-Man’ Sex
Episode 2.10: “Naka-Choko”
As someone who frequently loves subverting traditional depictions of sexuality, it’s not at all surprising that Bryan Fuller would write a sex scene that’s almost as disturbing and unsettling as any of show’s murder tableaus. The scene starts by paralleling Hannibal and fellow psychiatrist Alana Bloom’s sex scene with a similar love scene involving Will and Margot Verger. Eventually, things get straight up David Lynch when the two scenes suddenly begin to fuse, as if the couples are transcending time and space itself. The visual foursome suddenly takes a turn for the worst when Hannibal transforms into the pitch-black ‘stag-man’ of Will’s vision. Weirdest. Sex. Ever.
14. Judgment-Hannibal Style
Episode 2.03: “Hassun”
As an audience member, you can act horrified by the show’s killers all you want, but—at a certain point—you’ve got to admit, they’ve got style. Case in point, this particular execution of a court judge, which takes heavy-handed symbolism to the next level.
13. Nurse Shish Kabob
Episode 1.06: “Entrée”
Murder scenes are nothing special in the Hannibal universe, but this tableaux is all the more difficult to watch because the previous scene had shown escaped mental patient Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) brutally beating down the poor nurse who tried to treat him. Hannibal’s pilot episode included a scene where a body was impaled on deer antlers. Here, the creative team was clearly looking to raise the bar. Success.
12. Horse Birth
Episode 2.08: “Su-zakana”
Hannibal often straddles the line between the grotesque and the absurd. Never was that more apparent than with this scene. In this great post-episode video essay by /Film’s David Chen, episode director Vincenzo Natali himself states that a body emerging from a horse could come off too Ace Ventura-like if not done properly. While still unquestionably over-the-top, this sequence nevertheless hits the appropriate horror beats. In his commentary, Natali also points to the inherent strangeness of network Standards & Practices—despite the gruesomeness of the scene, his team had to be careful to cover the actress’ breasts. “This being a network show, the worst thing you could show is a nipple,” he jokes.
11. This Girl is on Fire
Episode 1.12: “Relevés”
As a woman stricken with Cotard’s Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that makes the individual believe that they are actually dead, Georgia Madchen was the ideal candidate for Hannibal’s manipulative tendencies. When it became clear that she might soon unveil his secret identity as a killer, however, the good psychiatrist took action. Knowing that she would be placed in an oxygen-rich isolation chamber, Hannibal tricked Georgia into using a comb, thus allowing a spark of static electricity to ignite her capsule. It’s a devastating, nightmarish scenario, made only slighter better by videos like this.
10. Mushroom Corpse
Episode 1.02: “Amuse-Bouche”
In a plotline that sounds like something straight out of a maniac’s CSI spec script, the central killer of “Amuse-Bouche” buries his victims alive and uses their bodies as fertilizer to grow mushrooms. Think about that the next time you decide to order your pizza with mushroom toppings.
9. Divided They Stand
Episode 2.05: “Muk?zuke”
While certainly not as gory as other scenes, this scene makes the list for an obvious reason—it depicts the mutilated body of a character we’ve grown to know and love. Sadness aside, at least we can say that their final onscreen moments were memorable. The FBI walks in to discover the body meticulously sliced into vertical pieces and stuck inside several glass compartments like some kind of twisted Bodies Exhibition or art installment. Tragic? Of course. But if you gotta leave this world, you can’t deny, it’s a great way to go.
8. Human Cello
Episode 1.08: “Fromage”
Who doesn’t love the beauteous sounds of a cello? The killer of Season One’s “Fromage” certainly does. So obsessed is he with musical perfection, in fact, that he punishes one of the less talented members of the Baltimore Orchestra by impaling a cello neck down his throat and powdering his vocal chords so that the corpse can actually be played. Gotta hand it to him—a dead body has never sounded so lovely.
7. Tongue Tie(d)
Episode 1.11: “Rôti”
Somewhere between gag-inducing and hilarious is this image. Upon escaping from custody, Eddie Izzard’s Dr. Abel Gideon begins targeting the psychiatrists who once treated him. He decides to go with a technique referred to as the “Colombian necktie” wherein the murderer slashes the victim’s tongue and pulls the tongue through the gash. Disgusting? Absolutely. But Bryan Fuller and Co. will have the last laugh come next Fashion Week when the “Colombian Necktie” really becomes the Next Big Thing.
6. Human Totem Poll
Episode 1.09: “Trou Normand”
“Trou Normand” might not be one of the show’s stronger episodes, but it deserves points for the straight-up insanity of its premise. What can you say about a human totem pole? It speaks for itself.
5. Smile Like You Mean It
Episode 1.10: “Buffet Froid”
You know how the Joker would do his whole “let’s put a smile on that face” routine from The Dark Knight and then, because it was a PG-13 movie, the camera abruptly (and awkwardly) cuts away? This is what would have happened if he were allowed to go full “rated-R” on some poor soul.
4. Winged Angels
Episode 1.05: “Coquilles”
If Hannibal’s first few episodes were not for the squeamish, then “Coquilles” was truly the episode that had viewers convinced that some HBO or Showtime program had mistakenly been broadcast on NBC. The episode centers on a man who sees “demons” all around him. He then attempts to make them holy by flaying their back and perching up the skin to look like angel wings.
3. I’ve Got Your Nose
Episode: 2.12 “Tome-wan”
Any fans of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal novels knew Mason Verger was not due for a happy ending. In depicting his dismemberment, the show’s creative team upped the gore levels by having a drug-induced Mason cut off and eat his own nose—all because Hannibal told him to do so. Talk about power of the mind.
2. The Human Mural
Episode: 2.02 “Sakizuke”
At the time of the episode’s airing, I claimed that this scene, where recovered drug addict Roland Umber wakes up to discover that his naked body has been sewn into a gigantic human mural, was the most disgusting, disturbing sequence I’d ever seen on network TV. Despite some stiff competition, I still stand by this. While, in describing it, the sequence does not sound quite as awful as some of the other entries on this list, it’s impact is mostly due to the fantastic gore effects, and actor Ryan Field’s powerful performance. Through his eyes, we witness the true fear and horror of waking up to find yourself in a living nightmare. It’s disgusting, it’s horrifying, it’s beautiful. It’s quintessential Hannibal. So, what could possibly beat that…?
1. The Red Dinner
Episode 2.13: “Mizumono”
This, of course. If the death and subsequent butchering of one beloved character is a lot, try having the show’s villain stab or gut practically the entire cast and then disappear into the night. What this sequence lacks in complexity, however, it makes up for with sheer emotion. There’s no human totem pole, no one gets a Colombian necktie and all noses stay away from the mouth. Yet, after spending 26 episodes getting to know these characters, their damaged lives and their struggles, seeing them lying helpless and bleeding before a man they once considered a friend—that’s unsettling in a way that no human mural can match.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.