What The Prestige Reveals About NBC's Hannibal And Will's Design

A musical homage to set the scene. Take a 'Waltz in the 4th Dimension' as you read...

Ten episodes into the second season and Hannibal remains the best drama on network television. Season 2 got off to a ferocious (flash-forward) start with "Kaiseki" and followed it up with a phenomenal stretch of original, horrifyingly stunning installments. After the slightest mid-season misstep with "Su-Zakana," the last two weeks have more than made up for the 'palate cleanser.' The titles for Bryan Fuller's second course all come from traditional Japanese cuisine and, obviously, we should have expected the vegetable dish would be the one a little lacking in flavor. The episode played too much like the first of a two-parter, not paying off until the more substantial "Shiizakana" was served. (My last pun, I'm full. Sorry.) Still, both parts, same as the seven before them, contained crucial steps in Will's reckoning, like an ice-fishing trip between old pals. And last week's "Naka-Choko" (the season's second palette cleanser) wasn't just one of the best of the series but it once again hinted at our hero's hand. How does he plan defeat the devil? Magic. This is Will's design.

After this video, I won't just be discussing Hannibal through the lens of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige but using it to speculate about the rest of the season, so, if those kind of 'spoilers' are not your thing, stop now. Otherwise, please press play...

"Are you watching closely?"

Christopher Nolan's fourth feature opens with a flash-foward narrated by Michael Caine's ingénieur that describes, in detail, the three parts of a magic trick and this probably won't be the first (or last) time that the sequence has been discussed as a metaphor for screenwriting, the illusion's parts standing in for the 'three acts' of a script. At its most rudimentary, the 'pledge, turn and prestige' can be seen as fulfilling the Aristotelian notion of drama, a story must have a 'beginning, middle and end.' I suppose that in this universality, you could then use The Prestige to dissect just about any on-screen storytelling, however, the connection to Hannibal that I'd like to discuss is far more direct. Bryan Fuller is obviously aware of this classical narrative paradigm but I think he's taken it a little more literally and structured Season 2 as an illusion. The showrunner as ingénieur with Will Graham playing the part of the magician. That doesn't mean there hasn't been a few hiccups for our hero along the way.

"There really is a very good explanation for all of this."

Speaking of hiccups, Friday night's episode saw Freddie Lounds find her way 'backstage' and therefore she must also become part of the illusion. She becomes a disappearing act. There are now a couple of characters who have vanished that, I believe, will be brought back but as part of Will's design. But I don't want to skip ahead to the prestige, especially since that involves the most speculation. Instead, let's start by looking at the speech from The Prestige when applied to Hugh Dancy's seemingly transforming hero. What we know for sure is that while incarcerated Will made his pledge in the form of a reckoning. He was back to being of sound mind, back to being ordinary, and we even had an episode or two to inspect him. Then came the turn, when our good boy began breaking bad, doing extraordinary things, things that might even fool Hannibal Lecter. Like killing and eating Freddie. Sorry, a 'long pig.'


"This is the trick."

The 'Goldfish Bowl' scene not only helps explain Will's method but was actually what made me start thinking about a connection between Hannibal and The Prestige in the first place. The wonderful sequence has the two young magicians sent to discover how an old, feeble one performs a particular trick and ends with the discovery that his whole life is an illusion. The scene came to mind while watching "Naka-Choko" because it answered the only lingering question: what would it take to fool Hannibal Lecter? One is not knowing the truth - in the case of Will's 'accomplices,' that means being on a need to know basis or simply disappearing - and the other is living the lie. And this is where all credit must go to the creator. Hannibal has always been told from Will's point of view and Bryan Fuller is using this to his advantage to pull the wool from our eyes. We are witness to the 'transformation.' Freddie almost had it right but it's actually 'in order to beat Hannibal Lecter, join him.' This is Will's design. And it's almost time for the prestige. It's time to bring him back. Of course, this is assuming that Hannibal, like Christian Bale's Borden, didn't spot it immediately. He might have a few tricks of his own.

Hannibal returns with Episode 11, "K? No Mono," next Friday at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC. Created by Bryan Fuller and (loosely) based on the novel 'Red Dragon' by Thomas Harris, the series stars Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas and Laurence Fishburne.