“The Lion and the Rose” makes it through the treacherous woods of first act exposition - in the first half, no less - and then celebrates by throwing viewers a party that no one is going to forget anytime soon.
The middle hour Hannibal's thirteen episode season, “Yakimono” is tasked with wiping the slate clean for a strong second half story arc. Hannibal Lecter is in complete control and no one, not even characters from the books, are safe from his voracious appetite.
Dan Harmon, like a one man Save Greendale Committee, has returned to a ruined school and turned it back into the place we most want to visit on Thursday nights, showing us the difference between stories and sandwiches.
Between its fantastic bookends, “Two Swords” is everything you would expect from a healthy HBO drama entering its fourth season: statements of intention, an occasional piece of exposition, and a lot of resetting the board for a new game of intrigue, brutality, and maybe even a little glimmer of hope.
When Dr. Lecter is plucking the strings and writing the notes, Hannibal is thrilling, unpredictable and disgustingly beautiful to look at. In “Futamono” we get all of that, some meta humor, and the most disturbingly delicious looking human leg eaten on network TV. Also a fun dinner party.
“G.I. Jeff” constantly delivers nostalgic 80’s animated fan service, but Community has set a strong precedent for making these fun departures into character exploration exercises, so there is an implied mystery afoot as well: Who is imagining this? Why? And does it matter?
HBO’s Silicon Valley is exceptional. The jokes are highbrow and smart without being condescending or pandering, the emotional struggles are hooky without exploiting a central romance, and the episode premises and characters offer fresh takes on comedy staples without seeming overly familiar. But where are all the ladies?
“Mukozuke” succeeds in providing the contemplative space that other serial killer centric shows don’t. It’s a case study in what we will let our icons get away with and what makes them different from us and the fictional people they prey on.
“Takiawase” is as close as we will ever get to a Jimmy, Brian and Beverly episode. Because of that it is hilarious at times, but that doesn’t prevent it from being stomach churningly disturbing, perfectly thrilling, tearfully heartbreaking and as thematically tight as a well tuned pressure cooker.
Delivering about two laughs for every one second of airtime without leaving its primary location, “Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” is about slaying the metaphorical old naked lunatic called “communication problems” who rides an invincible dragon named “family ties.”
“Hassun” is perfectly distilled Hannibal. It takes the conventions of a well established television format - the courtroom procedural - and mutilates it into a nightmarish message about the kind of love that compels you do horrible, violent things.
For a pretty straight forward 22 minutes that takes place in only three or four settings, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” is complex and fun, but might leave some people (namely those who aren't familiar with Breaking Bad) behind as it eagerly eats its own referential tail.
By the end, the thing that made True Detective darkest - the potential that Rust and Marty were truly bad people - became the very aspect that put the bright stars in Pizzolatto and Fukunaga’s night sky.
Where as last season, Hannibal was content with leaving our minds to do the job, this year we don’t get the ability to just shrug off the horror as CSI clowns Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams describe it with practiced wit and perfect deadpan. Now, we see the stitches tear.
“App Development and Condiments” sees Community in comfortable territory as it takes laser focus on modern forms of cliquing, has fun digging at Internet meritocracies like Reddit, and imagines Greendale as a Huxley-ian meme-eugenic dystopia populated with highly upvoted comedian guest stars.
Disguised as a lit trail of gunpowder leading to a jam-packed keg, True Detective is a thread of black yarn that continues to burn throughout the crowded firework factory that Nic Pizzolatto has made for us, expertly missing all the fuses and gas cans that lesser shows would ignite.
The great mandala that is Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal is only just beginning to reveal itself. We know slightly more than the characters about the overall design, and this new territory will be adding a different nightmarish colour to our palate.
Hannibal’s greatest strength, the one that produces the most gut-wrenching moments, is the most viscerally sterile: Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham in a room trying to destroy each other while falling irretrievably deeper into a mad sort of love.