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.