Hannibal returns for season 2 with Will behind bars for killings that he didn’t do, while Hannibal sort of takes his place with the FBI. That creates an interesting dynamic, since Will is aware of what happened to him.
I caught up with Executive Producer Bryan Fuller at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to talk about how season 1 ended, where season 2 picks up, the relationship between Will and Alana, and to discuss the show’s unique look and tone. Read on for edited excerpts from our conversation.
How does Hannibal season 2 shift in tone now that Will’s locked up? How does the season begin?
It is an interesting shift in tone because I think we did so much work in getting Will Graham to a place where he was finally opening his eyes to the reality of who Hannibal Lecter is. Now we just kinda carry that torch because it is a new Will whose eyes are open.
Everybody else is under the assumption that Will Graham did this with being compromised with encephalitis, but Will knows the truth. It’s really Will going inside him to find any sort of clues that he can that will detail how Hannibal was able to get away with this. And then trying to convince everybody else who thinks he’s guilty.
Will Hannibal still be cooking?
Oh, yeah. I think he’s going to be cooking as long as he’s free he’s going to be cooking.
Last season, Will wasn’t in Minnesota when Abigail died, right? Wouldn’t forensics be able to prove that?
Well, she left him in Minnesota. They were in Minnesota and they went to the Minnesota Shrike’s cabin and then she ran away. The assumption would be that he killed her and ate her in Minnesota, came back to Virginia and woke up with a tummy ache.
He’s all clean when he’s on the plane and then he wakes up all dirtied. You would think there would be forensic proof that he didn’t do it.
Well, since he was in Minnesota with her, then that’s the — two people fly out, one person flies back, and then he throws up her ear. [Laughs]
There was a lot a discussion online after the finale about whether he actually threw up the ear or if it was just in the sink.
Oh, we show — watch the first two episodes. We do a lot — we revisit Will’s trauma throughout the season and he’s trying to put it together and find memories and discover. So we go back to certain events where he is remembering things that were done to him. So we track that through and answer a lot of questions and how it was done to him. So it’s not just magic. We answer those things.
How do you balance the relationship between Will and Alana? They definitely have an attraction to each other, but their both cautious about it. And now she doesn’t really trust that he didn’t do it. How does that build going forward?
There’s a lot of interesting developments between Will and Alana. Her approach to Will now is that she does believe that he did do these things, but he was not in control of his actions. So she has that approach to him, but she’s also wanting to make sure that he has somebody that’s defending him and looking out for him, because his life was destroyed by her interpretation being exposed to all those horrible things that people do.
It destroyed his psyche. She wants to make sure that he gets some sort of justice and is not held responsible for these murders that were basically, in her point of view, a reaction to the circumstances that he was put in. So, she continues to care for him and their relationship does evolve and there are a lot of complications and turns and twists and that. So it’s kinda fun to see those turns happen.
It’s interesting to see the pull between the two of them. Both together and apart. I’m glad to hear that he has someone in his corner even if she thinks he did it.
He’s got a couple people in his corner. It’s interesting the allies that Will earns over the course of the first part of the season and the ones that he can depend on, the ones that he can’t depend on, the ones that Hannibal takes away from him.
Now that Will knows that Hannibal did these things, do you worry about the story going forward? You want to keep Hannibal in the story, of course. How do you balance keeping it plausible that he sticks around even though he’s done all these horrible things?
Well, we want to make sure that characters in the world are smart and that was one of the great things about working with Laurence Fishburne. He’s very protective of Jack Crawford and very protective of the Jack Crawford-Hannibal Lecter friendship and he wants to make sure that Hannibal and Jack have an honesty to their interactions.
And, so, there will be things where I’ll get a call and he’ll say, “I don’t really want to say this line because it tips it too far this way and I don’t know how to rationalize how Jack would be able to go down that path and still be able to do this thing over here.” So, it’s good to have those allies with the cast. They protect the storytelling.
I want to talk a little about the visuals of the show. When you see the visuals, it’s instantly recognizable as your show. How did you come up with them? Are there any trademarks or aspects to keep the look and feel the same from episode to episode. And, what are those?
Oh yeah. Beautiful horrible. That’s the aesthetic of the show. If we are going to show horrible things, they have to be beautiful. I think that horror is so easy to make ugly because that is what it is intrinsically. And to challenge the audience from Will’s point of view as a guy who will look at things and will want to look away but can’t because they draw him to them.
We had to make the imagery beautiful, but at the same time as it was so disturbing to really kinda put the audience in Will Graham’s point of view and understand why he can’t resist looking at those things.
Also, I love cinema and I love design and I love the art that goes into a production. A beautiful frame. So when we talk about these death tableaux, they should be something that you could put a frame around and you know celebrate on a certain level because they are disturbing but also there’s an element of fantasy to them. If they are so real it would be no fun.
I don’t want to do rape stories on the show, because I don’t find them entertaining. I think that they’re exploitive. There are some rape elements intrinsic in the novels that I’m like how do we shift that story so it’s not about rape. I just feel very strongly as a feminist and somebody who likes women. I just can’t derive any sort of entertainment pleasure from it. So that’s why we steer away from those things.
Even though we do gruesome, terrible things to the human body, it’s kind of also presenting it in a way that there is horrible beauty in these events and that makes them — not to romanticize them, but to kind of heighten them to the point where it’s almost like looking at Kill Bill.
Like when Uma Thurman is chopping all those people up, it’s just so over the top, you’re not bothered by the violence because it’s presented in such a way — in such an extreme — that you’re able to divorce it from reality. And, that’s kind of what we try to do on the show.
We try to divorce the horrible imagery from an accurate sense of reality so it can be for me more enjoyable to watch. You can kind of break it down and go like, “That’s beautiful,” as opposed to like, “Oh, my God, that poor human being.”
Hannibal is very elegant. It’s more of a thinking horror show than it’s gruesome for gruesome’ s sake. It messes with your head.
It’s psychological. And I think psychological horror is so visceral. You have these beautiful scenes where they’re cooking and eating this amazing looking food and then you realize that food is people and you have to re-evaluate everything you’re exposed to.
There’s something about re-evaluating our view of horror and our interaction of horror with the show. If I was doing a horror show and I’m naturally drawn to the Pushing Daisy tone. It’s fun and it’s light. There’s dogs. There’s pie. It’s all these things that are happy-making.
And, then what excited me about Hannibal is there’s an opportunity to present a show that is as elegant as the character’s purported to be. We never got to see how elegant he was. We saw him chained and caged and so it was a different — we were just told that he was this elegant man. I was excited about the aesthetic. The three-piece plaid suits and those types of things that will make it complicated to watch.
Anything you want to tease about season 2?
Oh, gosh. There’s so much. We have three characters who meet horrible, horrible fates. And, that’s gonna be the fun to see how that happens.
And we open the show with the end of the season essentially. And part of that was just that I couldn’t wait to see it and the other part I thought we need to tell the audience we are going somewhere and it’s not just going to continue with Hannibal working with the FBI and subverting them. We have to tell the audience that everybody’s going to figure it out and when they do it will probably be very bad for them.
Hannibal season 2 premieres on Friday, February 28 at 10 pm ET on NBC.
(Image courtesy of NBC)