The episodes in the series Hannibal are named after courses in fine dining. The first season is based on French recipes – the first episode was the Apéritif – like any good pilot episode, it got us in the mood, intrigued us, gave us an appetite and got us just a bit drunk, so that we could enjoy the courses to come. Episode 2 is the amuse-bouche – literally “amusing the mouth”. It is a small hors d’œuvre which both prepares the guest for the meal and offers a pointer into what the chef has planned for the repast.
This episode is full of tasty teasers for the series to come. Unlike Will Graham and Jack Crawford, most of us viewers know that Hannibal is a cannibal – with a potential rhyme like that, how could he resist? To them, he is a distinguished and brilliant psychiatrist who, they hope, can keep Will sane enough to solve their murder mysteries, but Hannibal has his own plans for Will, and we even get just a small hint of Hannibal’s mysterious past, what drives him. We, the Hannibal aficionados from the books and/or films, are aware of the fate of his sister Mischa when they were both little – she was eaten by Nazi deserters. Hannibal may have unknowingly participated in some of the broth. But this is a later Hannibal, a Gen X Hannibal, who has not lived through a war, but has still lost and maybe eaten a sister, apparently. So, although he is not the kind of personality who lives in the past or wallows in regrets, he tells Will
“I feel a staggering amount of obligation. I feel responsibility. I’ve fantasised about scenarios where my actions may have led to a different fate for Abigail Hobbs.”
He’s referring to what happened to her in episode 1, but also to what he has planned for her later in the season. Hannibal, like a good chess player, works out his moves far in advance of the play.
We also get a lot of amusement, amuse-bouche, in that the jokes are about cannibalism. These early episodes are more episodic than later in the series – they are almost self-contained. There is a central crazy, and Hannibal and Will work together and apart to their own ends: Will to catch the perp, Hannibal to “blood” Will, give him a taste for killing. This particular perp is burying his victims as feed for his mushrooms – he loves the way mushrooms network and know who is coming. They seem in fact rather more aware of what’s going on than most of the characters, except Hannibal and perhaps Freddie Lounds.
Freddie Lounds, tabloid journalist, is looking for a scoop and hopes to trick Hannibal, who is the ultimate trickster, and unlikely to fall for such shallow pranks. We fall for it, though, when Hannibal finds her recording device, tells her off, and speculates on her punishment.
Next scene we see Hannibal entertaining Jack, serving loin with a cumberland sauce of red fruits. Jack asks about the cut of meat (and so do we). “Pork”, says Hannibal, offering us the double entendre (or amuse-bouche) of the night:
Is the pork long pig? Well, maybe, but it turns out it isn’t Freddie – she’ll be back.
Will is now more willingly accepting Hannibal’s psychological analyses. They discuss, doctor to patient, the key concepts of the series: killing, appetite, and power. Will admits to enjoying killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs (which happened in episode 1).
They have broken the taboo. Shooting bad guys is something we watch on TV from a very young age, act out on the playground, but no one is supposed to admit to enjoying it. Enjoying it is unmentionable, but Hannibal won’t leave it alone there. Why do we enjoy killing? And this is the crux of Hannibal’s philosophy and his power: God loves to kill, and we are made in his image. Maybe.
Hannibal may or may not believe in some sort of God – I tend to think he agrees with Nietzsche that God is dead – but he certainly believes in power. Power to satisfy his hunger, without bothering about conventional morality.
That is the journey on which he will take Will for the next 37 episodes (and, dare we hope, Season 4 to come?)