Fate and circumstance have returned us to this moment.
With those words, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played with icy Euro cool by Mads Mikkelsen, unleashes hell. “Mizumono,” the Season 2 finale episode of Hannibal, the lyrical, mesmerizing, and criminally overlooked NBC series, flashed back to the season premiere and saw the cannibal doc stab Det. Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) in the neck, before unleashing—surprise!—the thought-to-be-dead Abigail Hobbs on Dr. Alana Bloom, shoving her out of a window to her (apparent) death.
If that wasn’t crazy enough, Hannibal then embraces his homicidal pupil, FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), and opens up his chest with a banana knife. As Will bleeds out, Hannibal proceeds to slit Abigail’s throat, covering the two surrogate fathers in her blood.
“It is batshit, isn’t it?” said Dancy in an interview with The Daily Beast.
Indeed. If you aren’t watching Hannibal, the psychological thriller based on the events of the novel Red Dragon—and the subsequent Hollywood film adaptations—you damn well should be. It’s one of the best shows on television, and New York Magazine called it “bolder and more elegant than anything on pay cable right now, including HBO’s own serial-killer drama, True Detective.”
The Daily Beast spoke to Dancy, whose character is left in a very precarious state at the end of Season 2, to discuss the jaw-dropping episode and all things Hannibal.
Hannibal’s finale is completely batshit—in a good way. Let’s talk about where we leave Will Graham. He’s still very much under the control of Lecter.
In the same way that in the first season I had an image of Will vomiting up an ear to guide me through to the end, this season, it was always the notion of that embrace between Will and Hannibal where Hannibal cuts me open that seemed like the emotional endpoint. The reason for that is there’s no version of the incredibly complicated situation Will was weaving that was going to be a perfect outcome. The version in which Hannibal is apprehended and brought to justice wouldn’t be satisfying to one side of Will, and taking off on the horizon with Hannibal in a buddy-comedy wouldn’t be satisfying to another. So the ending—when Hannibal opens me up with a knife—seemed, in some strange sense, like the perfect consummation and something that was almost, in that moment, desired, in addition to being shocking and potentially deadly.
So you think Will wanted to be stabbed by Lecter? I think Will had built up such a teetering tower of cards, that in the end, the only possible version in his conflicted state that might have worked is that embrace where Will was cut open. It felt like a moment that the clock of destiny was ticking towards from a long, long time back. And the final image that you have in the kitchen of Will lying in the kitchen bleeding out with his breathing slowing and seeing the stag also dying out in front of him seemed like a release. In being gutted by a linoleum knife, that dark image that Hannibal had instilled in him had been freed.
Right. The stag goes back to Will’s very first crime scene.
Right—the first episode of the first season with the lady impaled on the antlers. Something about that crime scene that Hannibal had created reached right into Will’s psyche, and from that point on, he started seeing the feathered stag leading all the way through the first and second season. So now, that particular thing has been released from Will.
And right after his stabbing spree, Hannibal goes outside in the rain—a baptism.
I watched Mads film that scene and it was also freezing water, so more power to Mads for looking non-shivery. There are two conflicting understandings of where Hannibal is left. There’s the spring in his heels version where he’s off on holiday—which calls back to what we’ve seen in the movies—and also that Hannibal has suffered a terrible betrayal where he’s been hurt. It was an attempt to reconcile those two things.
We also see the return of Abigail, who’s fallen under the control of Hannibal just like the hold her father had over her.
And also for Will. One of the cruelest things that Hannibal’s done to Will is this removal of a person who’s become a surrogate daughter to him—and, in turn, removed a surrogate father to Abigail. It’s not answered overtly in the episode since there wasn’t room for it, but the idea was that he’s done something different to Abigail that he’s done to Miriam Lass. He hasn’t kept her locked in a basement and reprogrammed her, he’s just convinced her that he’ll do what’s best for her somehow. To put it bluntly, she’s fully conscious and terrified of what’s happening at the end of that episode.
We leave Will Graham and Jack Crawford both bleeding out in Hannibal’s kitchen. So… are you and Laurence Fishburne back for Season 3?
[Laughs] It’s a fair question! We will see who returns for Season 3. In the show, at this point we have an established tradition of people not dying when you think they’ve died, but there are only so many times you can get away with that. But the short answer is, yes, I am definitely back. And Laurence is back—per availability. He has a couple of other pots on the stove as far as other projects go, but there’s nobody on the show that doesn’t want him to come back. The show has to take on a pretty different shape at this point, I think.
Can you tease the “shape” of Season 3 a little bit?
I’d be getting ahead of myself because I don’t think the writers room has even convened yet, but Brian’s said it’s a version of Hannibal on the run. What needs to be defined is how Will is pursuing him, and why. At this point, we’ve run the gamut of motivations from desire for revenge through to warped love, but I think we’ll get outside of the confines of the limited environment we’ve been in so far—namely the FBI, Hannibal’s office, and Will’s house—and hopefully get on the road a bit.
When we last see Hannibal, he’s on a plane with Du Maurier, which is very similar to the ending of The Silence of the Lambs.
Right. And Hannibal gutting Will comes from the backstory to Red Dragon, but that’s the moment immediately before Hannibal is apprehended. As always, Brian is picking from different sources.
I also loved Michael Pitt’s Mason Verger. When we last left him, Hannibal convinced the pig farmer to eat his own face. Are we going to see more of him in all his mangled glory?
I think so. It will obviously be a reduced version of him now that he’s paralyzed and has no face, but he’s at least got a bucket-load of money. So the end of Season 2 is like the ending of The Silence of the Lambs, which then goes into the novel Hannibal, where Mason Verger features heavily since he and the FBI are the two groups pursuing him. So maybe! I don’t know.
Is there anything you’ve shot on Hannibal that was deemed too racy by censors?
[Laughs] When you look at what did make it in—we’ve chopped people, sliced people up—I don’t know where we haven’t gone at this point. That’s more about sex and nudity than it is about violence—it’s just true of this culture. Nudity is far more frightening to people than seeing people hurt. For example, in the few sex scenes you see this season, Brian had to be more inventive with the directors in managing those scenes with language.
It is pretty nuts that you can show a guy getting sliced open but can’t show a hint of nudity.
My feeling at this point, and I think this is actually true, is that there are body parts—particularly female ones—that you can never show on TV, but if you show a corpse where those particular parts had been cut off, then that would be all right. Now that is mind-boggling to me.
It’s crazy to me that a show this good is always on the chopping block.
People have noted that it’s surprising that it’s on NBC—that it’s something that was new for them, and they’re trying to figure that out. It has great numbers for a show that might have been on cable, but for a big, broad network show, not so much. That’s all it comes down to. Nobody making it or producing it is somehow in doubt of the quality of the show.
No argument here. What’s your favorite crazy Hannibal moment?
As a viewer, the beginning of Episode 2 when he rips himself out of being stitched into that human mural was, I think, the most revolting thing we’ve done—in a visceral, bloody way. But the end of the Season 2 finale I found, on an emotional and physical level, to be pretty insane. From the point of view of filming it, it was hours and hours of watching this hideous scene go down, and then splashing around in gallons and gallons of blood—which I enjoy, and wallow in that aspect of the show. But this scene took on a slightly different tone for me. It would have been a rich, emotional scene without Hannibal having cut Abigail’s throat and me with my guts spilling out—that was on top of everything else. Normally, the violence on Hannibal is so stylized to put it at a remove, but all of that went out the window in that last scene. Sometimes you go into scenes like that and look at them on the page and say, “Oh, I’ve only got four little lines here… this should be all right!” and seven hours later, you’re laying on the floor quivering in blood and watching someone’s throat get cut… and you have to reconsider.
What do you use for the gallons and gallons of blood?
There are so many different versions of blood. Different departments vie to promote their own blood, so there’s costume blood, makeup blood, prosthetics blood, and more specifically, there’s eye blood, mouth blood, dry blood, arterial blood, you name it. A group of people convene about what’s most appropriate and by the end of that conversation they shrug, everyone throws their blood into a big bucket, and they make a blood cocktail that gets poured all over me.
I was a big fan of your wife’s [Claire Danes] show, My So Called Life, growing up. Did you ever watch it?
No, I didn’t. I don’t know if it was aired in the U.K. or not!
With Homeland, which is also fantastic, it’s strange that your wife’s crying has become an Internet obsession. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
I don’t really know! I’m so not exposed to that that I’m not that aware of it. But look at the character she’s playing. That’s what happens when she cries!