The first three or so minutes of “Sakizuke” represents perhaps the most grotesque, stomach-churning imagery I’ve ever seen on network TV.
Picking up where “Kaiseki” left off, poor unfortunate victim Roland Umber awakens—we later learn his survival relates to his past as a drug addict, which created a tolerance to the killer’s lethal opiates—to find himself glued and stitched to other bodies as part of an elaborate mural of human corpses arranged in the form of a big eye. Roland manages to pull away, but not before leaving behind huge chunks of flesh and tissue.
Trust me, Andy Sipowicz’s bare tush on NYPD Blue ain’t got shit on this.
Roland exits the area only to then be chased by the killer. Eventually, he comes to a dead end at a cliff overlooking the river. Rather than face the killer, Roland takes the plunge. Lady fortune, however, is not on his side and a collision against some rocks instantly kills him. If nothing else, Roland’s death and the subsequent discovery of his body help the FBI close in on his murderer.
From here, we return to Will, still formulating a plan on how to clear his name. “I am the unreliable narrator of my own story,” he tells Alana Bloom and Hannibal Lecter during a session. Though he continues to believe that Hannibal framed him for the murders, Will is now attempting to cooperate with his foe as a means of playing mind games and determining what really happened.
Also, in spite of being locked up, he continues to help out the FBI via old colleague Beverly Katz (Hettiene Park), who allows him to observe Roland’s corpse, thus leading to the FBI’s discovery of the mural. Will’s eventual salvation comes in the form of a visit from Dr. Lecter’s own psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, who has long feared that there’s something quite monstrous lying beneath the “human suit” that Lecter has crafted for himself. Her fear is strong enough that she has even dismissed Lecter as a client. Shortly before taking leave, Du Maurier admits these concerns about Lecter to Will and that she “believes” his story. From here, we are left with the image of a breathless Will, as he slowly registers this profound new development.
Hannibal, meanwhile, manages to track down the episode’s sick, existential killer shortly before the FBI does. As a means to help the killer complete his work, he convinces the man to take Roland’s place on the mural. In return, Hannibal chops off his leg and uses its meat to make his nightly meal.
When Hannibal concluded last year with an unexpected reversal of roles—Hannibal was the free man while our protagonist was the one locked up and accused of murder—I worried the series would drop the ball on this shocking development in the second season, whether by immediately reinstating the status quo by having Will cleared and released in the first episode or by keeping him away from the action for too long. “Sakizuke” goes a long way to alleviate those fears, creating a great balance by, on one hand, meticulously setting a pathway for Will’s inevitable release while also allowing him to contribute to cases via his connection with Beverly. In interviews, showrunner Bryan Fuller has hinted that a major shift will happen in episode four or so, and while I look forward to seeing what the Hannibal crew has up their sleeves, I’m far from antsy to get to that moment considering how great these past two episodes have been.
More than anything, “Sakizuke” is, by all accounts, an episode that consists largely of people vomiting out their feelings in chats with psychiatrists. There’s Will’s scenes with Alana and Lecter, Jack Crawford’s with the department psychiatrist and even Lecter’s encounter with Du Maurier. It’s a testament to the show’s writing that, despite witnessing a man brutally extract himself from an interconnected ring of bodies moments earlier, these conversations and exchanges prove equally compelling. As much ink as the show’s unprecedented gore levels and haunting visuals receive, Hannibal also serves as an ideal showcase for its actors. It’s the kind of program where a character like Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford, who, in a lesser show, would be positioned as little more than the archetypal hard-headed, no-nonsense supervising agent, is given a lengthy scene that explores his conflicted feelings about Will’s situation. “The world feels much darker,” he comments. “I look at my friend, and I see a killer.”
Hannibal’s second episode makes for an effective one-two punch of a season opener. Now that Fuller and crew have moved past the initial trepidations of how Hannibal Lecter could work on television, they are free to experiment and bring Thomas Harris’ world and characters to life in new and exciting ways. The show’s intrepid showrunner certainly demonstrates no lack of ambition, as he’s publicly announced his plans for both a future take on the Red Dragon/Francis Dolarhyde storyline as well as incorporating elements of Harris’ polarizing 1999 novel (and its subsequent 2001 film adaptation), Hannibal. Mason Verger, the wealthy pedophile character played by a heavily made-up Gary Oldman in the Hannibal film, will even be making an appearance this season (played by none other than Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt). Knowing both the inherent potential of the source material as well as Fuller’s own skills as a writer, this prospect fills me with both giddiness and a palpable sense of dread. Considering that Fuller’s past projects—Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Mockingbird Lane—failed to secure long-term runs, I can’t help but feel apprehensive that Hannibal’s low ratings and edgy subject matter will get the show canned before these promising storylines can be realized.
For now, all I can do for now is beg. Seriously America, if you can stomach it, watch this damn show.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.