It all started with a regurgitated ear.
As Hannibal proved again and again in its first season, it's more capable than almost any other TV show of taking horrifying, gruesome images and turning them into something beautiful and interesting. In the case of the ear, that stomach-turning moment became much more powerful when Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) was revealed to be using it (and a serious case of encephalitis) to frame FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) for the series of murders Hannibal committed over the course of the first season.
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Unfortunately for Will, he put together the pieces too slowly and, in a great reversal from the Thomas Harris books and the films they inspired, took Hannibal's place on the other side of the prison bars at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. As Season 2 begins (Friday at 10/9c, NBC) the role reversal continues as Hannibal replaces Will as a consultant for Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit while Will unsuccessfully pleads his innocence to anyone who will listen.
Once Will realizes he has few allies who believe him, he decides to put his (now un-afflicted) mind to work on a different plan. "He's playing with a full deck of cards," Dancy tells TVGuide.com of his character in Season 2. "He's behind bars, but he's got a new strength. With that strength comes a kind of ruthlessness, determination, and a willingness to use the sides of him that are manipulative or more powerful. That's the game we see starting in Season 2."
In fact, Will engages in a bit of a long con that involves him convincing Hannibal and Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) that he has accepted the possibility that he committed these murders and wants Hannibal's therapeutic help. But will Hannibal be smart enough to not take the bait? "We understand that Will Graham has to be Hannibal Lecter's downfall," creator and executive producer Bryan Fuller says, noting that Hannibal is aware he's playing with fire. "He's a guy who's very comfortable being reactionary; whatever comes his way, he's going to react to his best abilities. He's so fascinated with Will and the opportunity for a true friendship for the first time in his life that he is definitely adopting some very risky behavior."
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And Will, in turn, will use Hannibal's desire for friendship against him. "The two of them are circling each other, if you like," Dancy says. "[Will's] partially looking for weakness. ... Hannibal is looking for signs of friendship from Will, and in turn that's something that Will thinks maybe he can exploit. ... That gives Will a tiny little bit of leverage, something he can lean on to play Hannibal. But Hannibal is always the smartest guy in the room, so he has to be very cautious."
Indeed, there's always the chance that Hannibal knows he's being played and is just going along for the ride. And, as Dancy notes, Will could very easily get sucked back into Hannibal's web of manipulation. "Hannibal is like a virus," Dancy says. "When [Will] returns to Hannibal's circle, he is at least 50 percent at risk of being drawn back in, because it's a place as comfortable to him — that darkness — as the other life he forged himself.
"Just like Hannibal, [Will] is drawn to that connection that they have," Dancy continues. "Hannibal is the only person who speaks to him on the same level. It's like going back to a really bad relationship again and again. It wouldn't be interesting if there weren't risks for Will, and there's definitely a risk. Not just a risk of being chopped up and eaten, but a psychological risk for Will to re-engage with Hannibal."
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Especially considering that Will, even before he began suffering encephalitis, often feared how fully he could give his mind over to thinking like the psychopaths he was chasing. "He had a fear of actual mental illness and he had a fear of the potential within himself for darkness," Dancy says. "What we see in Season 2 is he's willing to get more close to that dark side of himself if that will bring him closer to Hannibal. He's prepared to risk himself to further that game."
And is it a game that Will ultimately wins? The season kicks off with an incredibly provocative scene that suggests Will finally convinces others of Hannibal's true nature. And while we wouldn't dream of spoiling it here (NBC has made it readily available online if you just can't wait), Fuller is convinced that kicking off the season with a peek at where the story is headed is simply an appetizer to the full meal Hannibal intends to serve in its second season.
"There were a couple of reasons to start this season [with that scene]," Fuller says. "One was that I simply couldn't wait to see it. I knew that's where we were going for the end of the second season, but I was greedy and impatient and needed to see it much sooner than that. I'm confident that we have a lot of spoilers and reveals yet to be told that go above and beyond that opening. So, I didn't feel like we were giving away the story as much as we were saying, 'Oh my God, there's so much more to this story, you should come inside!'"
Hannibal premieres Friday at 10/9c on NBC.