Hannibal is the best show on television, and thankfully not only has it been renewed for a third season, but it has also been given a solid transfer to Blu-ray. The special features (running over ten hours all together) are spread out over four disks, which include four moderately long and detailed featurettes — making of, costume and design, season retrospective, broad interviews — at least one commentary track for every episode (the season finale “Mizumono” has two), a decent handful of deleted scenes and Scott Thompson’s video blog in which he interviews fellow cast and crew members.

There is one more special feature: a producer’s cut of “Tome-wan,” which adds a very graphic fantasy Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) has about murdering Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) into the episode. Herein lies what’s great and what’s awful about this transfer. While this sequence is rendered in full effect, since the crew knew this was only going to air as a special feature, much of the series’ graphic moments are hidden in shadow. Showrunner Bryan Fuller knew this show was going to be a nightmare for Standards and Practices, and while they are given more leniency than any show in network history, the studio enacted a policy that nudity needed to be covered in blood (for dead bodies) and things of a particularly gruesome nature had to be opaque in shadow. Now, some of the shadowing is done on set with natural lighting, though most of it is done in post (and only a few scenes throughout the show have been censored). Considering this — as well as the unrated nature of DVD and Blu-Ray releases, it stands to reason that we’d be afforded the option of seeing the rated and unrated cuts. Unfortunately, like in last season’s DVD release, only one episode was afforded the luxury. It was in “Tome-wan” that we received the reinserted dream sequence, yet the infamous “shaving scene” is still very vague. The only way to fully see it is through a series of pictures Bryan Fuller released on Twitter. That fact that we can have one but not the other is both strange and frustrating. But then, you know, this is NBC.

The season itself is nearly perfect. Hannibal is a character centric nightmare that uses magnificently terrifying visuals to establish the surreality that these people live in. The design of the series, including its artistic flares, were thought up by director David Slade and showrunner Bryan Fuller; they themselves have also acknowledged David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick as influences. While the images are memorable and beautifully terrible, it is what the characters do and say that ring the scariest. This might be a hallucinatory series about a haughty cannibal and his mentally ill FBI investigator friend, but the personal explorations — themes of friendship, family, loss, religion and death — are explored and defined so humanly and so unflinchingly, that you’ll find yourself more involved in and more terrified by what these characters are saying rather than the crime scenes. And those scenes are great.

The murder-art that defined the show in the first season returns again and manages to be even more thematic to the characters in season 2 (particularly that brutal social worker story in “Su-zakana”). Both Dancy and Mikkelsen came into their own, mastering their portrayals and arguably becoming the best to wear their characters’ skins (for lack of a better term). Hannibal took a major step forward in serialization, and focused the story clearly on the friendship and destruction of the friendship between Lecter, Graham, Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) that carefully leads to a Shakespearean tragedy of a finale. The season 2 finale builds on one tiny reference from the source material and grows it into a brutal climax that is emotionally taxing and deeply, terribly violent.

Season 2 of Hannibal and this release both have a single issue. For the season, it’s that Alana Bloom gets marginalized; of the release, it’s the lack of detail in the shaving scene of “Tome-wan.” Both of these are rather excusable — Bloom certainly gets her moment to shine and even though the shaving scene is vague, we have a dozen more nightmare images from this season that are perfectly visible and can haunt us for years to come.

While the story is focused on these four characters, season 2 also brought in some familiar faces as well. Gillian Anderson returned as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Lecter’s psychiatrist. Anderson plays her with an understated but clear strategic mind; Du Maurier is arguably the smartest of the characters on the show (and is a character original to the show), and has a kind of chilly resignation to her fate as if she already knows it. Du Maurier is only in a few episodes this season, as she was in season 1, but has been upped to series regular for the upcoming third season.

Also returning was Gina Torres, who played Bella, Jack Crawford’s cancer-stricken wife. Torres plays Bella with strength even in failing health, and with a sad peace. Her chemistry with Mikkelsen is second only to the chemistry she shares with Fishburne — they are a real life couple — and as Jack watches Bella fade ever away from him, their emotions seep out of the fictional and into an uncomfortable form of reality.

Season 2 also decides to alter the landscape of the established mythology of Thomas Harris’ novels. Bryan Fuller has always nested little Easter eggs for readers of the books into the series, and is now wholesale shifting iconic totems and images or otherwise reimagining them. It should be considered blasphemy but it is done so well and with such love for the franchise, that when Fuller says he wants to bring the definitive Hannibal Lecter saga to television you totally believe him.

Take Mason (Michael Pitt) and Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle) for example. These were awful characters in an awful novel. After the popularity of Hannibal Lecter grew so much, Harris wrote the novel of Hannibal with Lecter as an anti-hero to Mason’s bad guy. Harris took shortcuts to make Mason awful. Not only was he disfigured, but he was also a pedophile, dog-abusing, incestuous, rapist drug addict. In turn, Margot took on the role — not of a character — but of a plot device: she was the walking example of all of Mason’s great evil, a constant reminder that “Hey! The other guy eats people for fun, but at least he’s not Mason!”

The novel also gave Lecter a typically tragic and ridiculous backstory that was elaborated fully in the even more ridiculous Hannibal Rising. Fuller announced that season 3 would focus partially on Lecter’s backstory and that it is 100% different than the one in the books.

In season 2, Fuller decided to bring in the Vergers early and establish them in greater detail. Mason was still all of these awful things, but it was more carefully executed and Fuller and his team carefully implanted references to make him more three-dimensional – certainly not likable, but definitely more human. In Mason’s sessions with Lecter and meetings with Graham, we the audience finally found someone that could steal scenes from Mikkelsen and Dancy (and see actor Michael Pitt as the most obvious choice to play The Joker.)

Margot also gets the character development treatment. She’s near the end of her victimhood, carefully reasserting herself as a human being again; by the end of the season not only is she markedly stronger, but her facility for manipulation and Verger-family masochism is certainly more honed. It’s a great transformation that gets summed up in a very relaxed reply: “I just want to take care of you.” Then a shiver roils down your spine.

To blaspheme further, when you look at the novels — Hannibal Rising, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal — it’s only those two middle novels that tell a truly good story. Those outer two are beautifully written, and, only for that, manage to be even remotely well considered. Fuller, as keeper of the franchise, is keeping things that work, excising what doesn’t, and adding a depth to the Graham and Lecter relationship that simply wasn’t there in the literature. It may be too early to tell if Fuller manages to overtake Harris’ books or the films spawned from them, but if these two seasons are any indication, then he’s got a good shot.

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