Tonight, NBC’s critically acclaimed Hannibal returns to the airwaves, equipped with its usual blend of beautiful cinematography, nightmare-inducing murder sequences and barrage of cannibalistic food porn. Certainly, Bryan Fuller and Co. will have to go into overdrive to match the insanity of the show’s fantastic second season, which had FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) finally locking horns with Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). However, in the event you’ve decided to repress the traumatic events of Season Two from your mind, here’s a brief primer.
Note: Spoilers. Obviously.
After being hypnotized by Hannibal and framed for the “murder” of Abigail Hobbs in the previous season (we’ll come back to that), Will Graham is accused of being the notorious “Chesapeake Ripper,” much to the dismay of his former friends and colleagues. In a move designed to subvert the traditional iconography of the Hannibal mythos, it is Will who is placed in jail and must figure out how to manipulate the situation behind bars. During this time, the only believer in his innocence is Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), Hannibal’s therapist.
In time, Will was finally able to prove his innocence to former boss, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). Unfortunately, it was not soon enough to save an old friend…
In one of the show’s most harrowing twists, Will’s former FBI partner Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park) decides, after listening to his theories, to go snooping around Hannibal’s abode. No sooner had she stumbled upon some damning evidence, however, than the slick cannibal gets the jump on her. Her body is promptly dissected vertically and arranged in an observatory like some kind of perverse museum display. Will’s thirst for vengeance soars.
Finally deciding to investigate Will’s claims about Hannibal, Jack stumbles upon an abandoned farmhouse containing Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky), the missing FBI recruit he assumed was lost to the Chesapeake Ripper years prior. Unfortunately, Hannibal’s potent hypnosis has thoroughly erased any pertinent details from her mind.
Later, when Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza) is framed as the Ripper and brought in for questioning, we witness the true extent of Hannibal’s Machiavellian abilities. Apparently, he implanted memories in Miriam’s head, leading her to believe Chilton was her tormentor. In a moment of blind rage, she steals Jack’s gun and shoots the sanitarium director in the head.
Hannibal has had no shortage of gruesome, if unmistakably creative murder moments, but when an episode opens with a dead body discovered inside a horse’s uterus, you can’t help but wonder what’s being passed around the writers’ room. A subsequent investigation reveals that the culprit behind this act is a social worker, played by Chris Diamantopoulos (currently portraying an equally douchey sociopath in Silicon Valley). Eventually, Clark gets a taste of his own medicine, leading to the wonderful GIF above. In any case, the experience brings an estranged Will and Hannibal closer together. Their true bonding moment, however, comes with—
In the season’s last real “case-of-the-week” set-up, Will discovers that a former patient of Hannibal’s suffers from a major identity disorder, which has led him to create a mechanical animal that he uses to assault his victims. Yep, Al Gore was right. ManBearPig does exist.
Hannibal later sends his patient to kill Will as a kind of payback for the time Will, during his prison tenure, sent a psychotic orderly to assassinate him. Instead, Will gets the upper hand and takes the corpse back to Hannibal’s house. The two decide they are even, with Hannibal even inviting Will to help him use the man’s body to set up his next murder tableau. Will accepts, but this is later revealed to be merely a way of gaining the doctor’s trust. Or is it?
During Will’s incarceration, Hannibal grows closer to his frenemy’s former love interest, psychiatrist Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas). Proving she has the absolute worst taste in men, Alana ends up succumbing to his seduction, establishing a bizarre love triangle that culminates in an even more bizarre dream sequence where the participants engage in a fevered threesome. The weirdness only escalates when The Dark Stag, the Wendigo-like dream figure meant to represent Will’s psychological perspective of Hannibal, joins in on the fun and the ménage à trois becomes a de facto foursome.
If that weren’t enough, Will also begins an ill-conceived affair with Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle), a wealthy new patient of Hannibal’s whose brother is…well…basically the worst. Which leads us to—
A sadist, sexual deviant and all-around sicko, Mason Verger (Michael Pitt) takes great umbrage with his sister’s new relationship. This is partly due to a possessive jealously and partly due to the fact that she’s using Will as a means to get pregnant, a move that would effectively negate Mason’s status as the lone family heir. In a horrifying display of his monstrosity, Mason has Margot abducted and rendered infertile via an operation.
After first attempting to set Mason on Hannibal, Will ultimately decides to side with his old friend. The good doctor promptly punishes Mason by feeding him psychedelic drugs and coaxing him into mutilating his own face. This culminates with Mason sawing off his own nose and eating it. Nasty, yes, but such a disfigurement will no doubt help this year when Joe Anderson will replace Pitt as Mason Verger.
After roughly half a season of mind games, Will and Jack at last decide to spring their trap on Hannibal. As a final attempt to earn the doctor’s trust, Will phones ahead and warns him of Jack’s impending arrival. Hannibal promptly turns the tables on his opponents and ends up massacring and/or mortally wounding everyone. And I mean EVERYONE—
While Jack is stabbed in the throat, Alana is tossed out a window by none other than Abigail Hobbs, alive but severely traumatized. As a final FU, Hannibal not only guts Will but makes him watch as he slits Abigail’s throat. As the main cast bleeds to death in his mansion, Hannibal makes his escape.
In the finale image of the season, we find Hannibal on a plane to Europe, accompanied by his (now former) therapist Bedelia Du Maurier. With the fate of our central cast unknown and Hannibal now Tom Ripley-ing across Europe, there’s no telling what Season Three will bring.
Again, did I mention this is on broadcast television?
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.