Hannibal: Kaiseki

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Hannibal returned for its second season last night on NBC, and with it returned the most beautiful, haunting, perfect score on television. The signature orchestral arrangements that the show so wonderfully uses were just as well done as they were in the first season, but with Will Graham behind bars due to Hannibal’s maneuverings and the FBI looking more wrong by the minute the score held more weight than ever in multiple scenes. Last season had corpses and gore, sure, but it also had a certain sense of positivity in certain spots. Even with his mental instability Will was good at his job as an FBI consultant, had what he thought was a friend in Hannibal, and until the back end of the year everything seemed to be more or less humming along for the entire team. None of that positivity made it past last year’s finale unfortunately, and the weight and doubt on everyone’s shoulders is palpable. The way that darkness pervaded almost every corner of the episode was only further underscored by cellos and their ilk chiming in at the exact points necessary.

The score was highlighted the most during the myriad of meetings that took place this episode. Hannibal hosting Jack Crawford and Dr. Chilton for a friendly dinner (even though we can see his ulterior motives, these men clearly can’t at this point) on separate but similar occasions was paired with music a little less foreboding than the rest of the episode, whereas Alana’s multiple visits to Will in his high security jail cell was accompanied by an arrangement that can only be described as wistfulness and intense depression having a baby. Which, I guess, is a perfect description for those two characters themselves. Alana’s use of a metronome in order to lure Will’s memories from the depths of his mind was the first time that tool has been used in the service of good rather than Hannibal’s darker purposes, and even here the rhythm throws Will into a horrifying space of his mind. The final shot of the episode, a slow reveal of countless bodies organized in the shape of an eye, was probably the best example of how well Hannibal can match a single moment with the proper feeling using only screams and an instrumental.

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What is most impressive is the fact that Hannibal doesn’t even need music to be as good as it is; the acting, camerawork and set/costume design accomplish that just fine all by themselves. It would be a great show with only its stellar sound design elements (case in point, the flashback to Hannibal shoving a plastic tube and an ear down Will’s throat), but Bryan Fuller and music supervisor Brian Reitzell know exactly how to enhance the show while staying within the aesthetic they chose. Very few shows with scores as excellent as this one can claim that they don’t actually need that aspect to be high quality. It’s an interesting spot to be in, obviously, but not a bad thing. So many perfect pieces of production seamlessly coming together to form a show is actually harder than a situation where a strength in one area compensates for a weakness elsewhere. Here, everything is a strength with very few weaknesses.

Even the in media res opening, which I am usually not a fan of across the board, was so well choreographed as to be impossible to dislike. The music used to start out, sparse and chilling and sounding like they pulled it directly out of a 40’s noir film, paired with the shots of Jack and Hannibal sizing one another up about as well as the latter’s tie and shirt combinations throughout the episode. But as soon as the actual fighting starts the music segues in to something a little more edge-of-your-seat appropriate while still weaving in that suspense geared music. Overall, the excellence of this premiere was entirely excepted but no less welcome because of that assumption. Fuller and Co. rose to the occasion once again, setting up a season filled to the brim with betrayals and craziness (hot damn that sizzle reel) without sacrificing any of the pacing, score, or little moments that got it here in the first place.

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Grace notes:

  • I mentioned that darkness pervaded “almost every corner” of this episode. The few moments that managed to be even remotely uplifting were Alana playing with Will’s dogs (an underrated directing moment) and Will’s attempts to get outside the four walls of his cell with some imagined fly fishing trips.
  • This season the episodes are named after Japanese courses or meal related terminology. “Kaiseki” is not only a traditional multi-course meal in Japan, but can also refer to the set of skills required to prepare such a meal. I’ll let you draw your own parallels to the eponymous character’s extracurricular activities here.
  • Another season of Hannibal, another season of me having Alana Bloom boot envy.
  • I probably won’t be writing about Hannibal regularly over the course of the season unless they do something out-of-the-box with the score or there is a specific moment that stands out specifically because of the music choice; there’s just not enough that I can say that won’t be “how great is this score?” over and over again.
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