NBC’s Hannibal ended its second season last night with “Mizumono.” It’s hard to find a direct translation for the word in English, but various sources I checked on Google call it a matter of chance, a final sweet dish of a meal, a liquid, and a fruit. All of these seem apt to the episode, which presents a final showdown between all of the main players, the last hour in which the familiar, fragile chemistry of the show’s leads is maintained as it has been thus far, signaling major changes for next season. It’s a simultaneously delicious and frustrating ending, with much left up in the air, literally and figuratively.
Viewers have known since the season two premiere that Jack (Laurence Fishburne) had been heading for a bloody run-in with Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen), though we don’t yet know how this war will end, even with the end of season two.
In the scenes leading up to the final confrontation, Jack and Hannibal each expect Will’s (Hugh Dancy) loyalty, but wonder whether he will fulfill those expectations, as the Will becomes the wild card in the outcome between the two mostly evenly matched opponents. There may even be a doubt in the minds the viewers, observing Will talking to both Jack and Hannibal, knowing he’s lied to both in the past, and wondering where Will’s inner intentions lie. Will is emotionally unstable, and although Jack and Hannibal both hold sway over him, he also has a will of his own that can’t exactly be controlled. Has Hannibal awakened in Will something dark that may win out over his nobility and morals?
The key to figuring out where Will’s heart lies is Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki). Keep in mind that Hannibal thinks Will has killed Freddie, leading Hannibal to see Will as more vicious and bloodthirsty than he is. Jack is in on this secret. And, with this important clue, the audience should have confidence in predicting Will’s true path. And when Hannibal catches a whiff of Freddie’s scent on Will, it signals to him that Freddie is still alive, giving him just the warning he needs.
Hannibal is not omnipotent, an undefeatable villain, but he is very, very intelligent, and the slightest mistake on the part of our heroes can cost them their lives. One former main character, Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), figures that out earlier in the season, and she dies for it. Which means it’s not surprising when Hannibal surprises those who might take him down, removing the bullets from Alana’s (Caroline Dhavernas) gun, knowing she could come to Will and Jack’s aid, and having Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), whom everyone believes dead, waiting in the house as Hannibal’s backup. Hannibal has them all set up perfectly, taking their predictable actions into account, and by doing so, he is able to not only (possible mortally on all counts) wound Alana, Will, and Jack, he is also able to hop a plane with the one woman who understands him, Dr. Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), and escape.
Why does Hannibal leave the trio alive? Abigail seems destined to die, but if the authorities get there soon, Will, Jack, and Alana could live. They could also perish, and things are not looking good for any of them, but there’s a chance (a very good one since they really are the stars of the show and need to hunt Hannibal down) that they will live. Does Hannibal possess so much confidence in himself that he doesn’t worry about them coming after him? Or does he still harbor soft spots for all three, people he really does seem to like and has cared about over these past two years? Could these feelings be his undoing? Because Hannibal is so smart, I’m inclined to chalk his mercy up to emotion.
Jack and company will have a hard time beginning their search, even assuming they all survive. Jack is suspended as Kade (Cynthia Nixon) investigates misconduct in “entrapping” Hannibal. The fact that Jack, Will, and Alana are injured following through on the plan Kade ordered Jack not to pursue will not help Jack’s case, even if it sort of proves him right. This could also be the reason law enforcement is slow slow to respond, even after both Alana and Will call for backup and ambulances. Will higher powers help our protagonists get back in the good graces of the feds, or will they be rebels, only working for themselves? The source material (Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, etc.), not always followed faithfully by the show’s creators, points to the former.
What if “Mizumono” had been the series finale, a possibility when it was filmed, since, at the time, Hannibal teetered on the edge of cancellation? It certainly would have been a highly disappointing end to the series. Yes, there is some sort of beauty in Hannibal defeating his enemies and getting away with it, and it’s cool that it would fly in the face of a fundamental television trope by allowing evil conquering good. But it would also suck that we wouldn’t even know if the main players lived. I guess we’d assume they’d died, losers in the dangerous game they play. The blue sky credits with the tag are cool, but ultimately not be satisfying as the end of the story, even if I grudgingly admit how unique and complete the episode would have seemed.
Hannibal is incredibly well crafted. I absolutely loathe that the Jack / Hannibal fight is revealed in the season premiere, the one glaring misstep the series has made in two seasons, but the way this hour unfolds is truly excellent. It maintains its artistic cred with slow shots of rain falling and a split Will, while still delivering action in the battles to the death. There are moving moments, such as Jack interacting with Bella (Gina Torres) and Bella talking about Jack, and there are shocking twists, such as learning Abigail is still alive, only to see her killed quickly after.
There isn’t a single wasted or boring moment, the dark motif bringing the characters more sharply into focus and letting the show rest on the talent of the actors and the rich dialogue. It’s definitely the best series on network television, and not just because it also pushes into both more bloody and more sophisticated territory than any predecessor, though that helps.
Hannibal, thank goodness, has been picked up, and will return in 2015 to NBC.