Give showrunner Bryan Fuller and company credit for getting this much mileage out of NBC’s “Hannibal” prequel, which — given its relationship with the movies — seemed like a high-wire act from the get-go. Yet watching the second-season finale the prevailing sense was that their contortions to prolong the series have simply made all the principal players look inept, setting up more cat-and-mouse games that have already fairly well exhausted their welcome.
NBC renewed the series for a third season, largely due to the favorable license fee thanks to all of the international deals secured by Gaumont Intl. Still, if ever a concept cried out for the “limited series” label that in theory has become so popular these days, this was surely it.
Instead (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), the finale settled for a close that left most of the characters sitting around choking on their own blood. Even the usually reliable Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) must be off his game, since if those novels still have any validity, at least two of his would-be victims don’t wind up dead.
Frankly, the season’s framing device — opening with a brutal fight between the FBI’s Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and connoisseur/psychopath Hannibal — almost overwhelmed the show. Sure, there were arresting images, food pornography and creative mutilations throughout, but given what had been telegraphed as coming and the tension-filled build-up, it at times felt like the writers were simply killing time (and a whole lot else, admittedly) while waiting to get to the main course.
Based on the finale, presumably, the next season shifts to a search for Hannibal. But that’s a less interesting concept than where the series began — with evil incarnate essentially hiding in plain sight — and strictly in practical terms, there’s the little matter of Fishburne having already taken a role in the ABC sitcom “Black-ish.”
Mikkelsen has certainly put his own imprint on the Lecter character, but Hugh Dancy’s manhunter Will Graham has gone through extended paces that became increasingly strained. And while there were opportunities to further flesh out the mythology — including Michael Pitt’s hair-raising (literally) turn as the young Mason Verger, leading to the point where Hannibal drugged him and talked him into peeling away most of his own face — as “Bates Motel” has discovered, spinning those plates for too long is a delicate proposition.
All told, “Hannibal” remains a marketable title largely because of the rightful admiration harbored for the Oscar-winning “Silence of the Lambs.” Unfortunately, the franchise has been greedily muddled by continuing to mine the material, including the bad theatrical sequel of the same name as the series, based on Thomas Harris’ even worse book.
So while NBC and Gaumont obviously had pragmatic financial reasons to keep “Hannibal” alive, creatively speaking, pick your metaphor: A) The writers have bitten off more than they could chew; or B) stick a fork in it, it’s done.