[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the season finale of NBC's Hannibal. Read at your own risk.]
"Hello, Dr. Lecter."
Those words, so familiar to fans of Thomas Harris' novels and the films they've inspired, closed the first season of NBC's Hannibal, which ended with an inspired bit of role reversal. Instead of seeing special FBI investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) greeting Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) in his famous cell at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, viewers saw Hannibal visiting Will, who had been locked up for a series of murders he didn't commit.
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There's only one place to start: Will vomits up an ear! Where did that idea come from?
Bryan Fuller: [Laughs] It was something that I knew was going to happen, even before I started writing the pilot. The last run of episodes was going to [have] Will Graham throwing up an ear, fearing that he had eaten somebody. Initially it was a finger, [but] I just thought, 'There's not as much chew time for a finger as there is an ear.' [Laughs] It was a really great destination to drive to and one of those kind of sparks of inspiration: Will Graham has to feel like he's become Garret Jacob Hobbs in a complete way. And how horrific to think that somehow someone else got inside you in a way that could only mean that you ate them?
It was easy to assume Hannibal had framed Will, but did you think viewers might actually wonder if Will had committed the murders?
Fuller: I wanted both of those things. We very carefully only showed pertinent information to the audience. I wanted it to be unclear whether Will could have done these things and also be unclear to Will Graham. Even though he may have the convictions of his investigation, he still has huge blank spots in his memory. But we essentially tell the audience that when Will left Abigail Hobbs, she had an ear. And the last person we saw her with both ears with was Hannibal.
Speaking of what we don't see, how did Hannibal get the ear in Will's stomach?
Fuller: Hannibal is a wily guy. [Laughs] As a storyteller, I have to have an answer in reality. On one hand, I could see a version of Hannibal sneaking into Will's house with an ear on a stick and pushing it down his throat. On the other hand, as a lover of horror and sci-fi and quasi-supernatural storytelling, I love the explanation that Hannibal is a devil. But that was not Thomas Harris' intention. So, he has to have been physically able to accomplish that in some manner. If we did something where it was sort of magical, then I think we would lose our grip on reality. That's something I think is very important to maintain, out of respect for the audience and also the character and his origins. But in my mind, I love the greater mythology of Hannibal being a very punitive devil.
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So, is he punishing Will?
Fuller: I think that everything that Hannibal has done to Will has been a radical, unorthodox form of therapy. I would argue that all of the deeds still come from a place of genuine care. He is trying to help Will see himself better and get to a truer version of who Hannibal thinks Will is. Even setting him up to take the fall for these murders has been an act of therapy, in Hannibal's mind.
Are we to believe this was always Hannibal's master plan? Or does he just adapt very well?
Fuller: I think he has a very loose plan, but he's also quite adaptive. He couldn't have predicted when he met Will that he was going to be suffering from encephalitis. But once he smelled that on him, he knew that, "Oh, this is going to be an interesting playing field for Will and his perception of reality, so I'm going to take advantage of it."
Is it troubling how quickly Jack accepts that Will could be guilty of these crimes?
Fuller: Hannibal is playing off of Jack's intrinsic guilt over what's happening to Will. From the get-go, [Jack] knew that he was taking a man out of a classroom and putting him into a dangerous psychological situation. He had no idea how dangerous it was, but the water was getting hot. Jack was aware of the increase in temperature — he just didn't know that it was going to be Will's brain that was boiling over. So, to deal with his own guilt on that matter, it would be very easy for him to go to the place of, "Will did it." All of the evidence is pointing that direction, and clearly he has no reason to suspect Hannibal at this stage. We'll see more in Season 2 of Hannibal's further manipulations of Jack Crawford on that front.
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Jack conveniently comes in after Will accuses Hannibal of all the murders. Would Jack have been swayed if he had heard Will's thoughts?
Fuller: In Season 2, Jack will be investigating those accusations. I think after Will woke up from getting shot by Jack and before he was put into the institution, he shared his theories about Hannibal. Now it's up to those characters and Hannibal Lecter to either support or deny those accusations in a properly investigated way.
Do you intend to keep Will locked up for a while?
Fuller: He will be incarcerated, and we will be dealing with all of the threads of that. We need to see all of the things happen that would happen in that scenario. Will Graham needs to go on trial for the murders that he may or may not have committed. Jack has to be brought before a review board for his participation in what happened to Will, and Hannibal, as Will's psychiatrist, is going to continue to try to help Will see the truth that Hannibal wants him to see. The ball is up in the air in so many ways for Jack and Hannibal and Will. The fun of Season 2 will be spiking those balls.
Will Dr. Chilton get his organs put back inside himself and be trying to analyze Will's mind?
Fuller: Yes. I would love to have a lot more of Raul Esparza and Dr. Frederick Chilton in Season 2. He will be a nemesis of sorts for Will in the institution.
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I loved the role reversal at the end.
Fuller: When I was breaking the pilot and thinking about where this goes, it occurred to that Hannibal needs to win this round. Hannibal needs to have everyone in the world think that Will Graham is a killer. And therefore, it will be less work to get Will to believe that he is a killer. I had always pitched in every conversation that ... the last shot of the season is that iconic shot from Silence of the Lambs where you're coming down the corridor toward the last cell on the left and instead of finding Hannibal Lecter there, you find Will Graham. It felt very poetic and it felt powerful and it felt full of promise. It promised so much story, and now we get to deliver on it.
From the beginning, you made it clear you were telling your own story, but do you fear that this choice will alienate some of the diehard Red Dragon fans?
Fuller: If you look at the scant two pages that talk about Will Graham's back story, they tell us that Will was so psychologically compromised from investigating the Minnesota Shrike that he had to become institutionalized. So, I feel like I've got a car jack and I've wedged it in between those lines. I've just opened them up for room to tell more between the lines than what you may have anticipated. But we're also sticking to the canon. We will deliver what we've come to expect in Red Dragon of Will Graham, but he'll just have a longer, harder journey to get there. I gave myself room to wiggle, so we're going to see some wiggling in the next two seasons.
Does Will have any allies at this point? Perhaps Alana (Caroline Dhavernas)?
Fuller: I think we'll see shifts in relationships. Will has always felt alone and we've seen him victimized by his isolation in the first season. Now, Will has to step up and defend himself and also be much more proactive as a character because it is his life on the line. The tragedy for Will is that he allowed himself to open up and get close to Hannibal, and now he fears that that is the exact wrong person that he should have been so intimate with. Hannibal has so clearly convinced all of those around Will that Will could be capable of all of this. And Will has convinced everyone around him that he could capable of this by his own behavior.
Can Will distance himself from Hannibal, or will he have access to him as his attending psychiatrist?
Fuller: Hannibal will always want to be close to Will. He sees a great potential in Will as this pure human being, and he's seduced by Will's purity. He's attracted to it, and he's also very eager to conquer it in some way.
Is Hannibal's obsession with Will also an attempt to more fully understand himself?
Fuller: Hannibal's absolutely on a journey of self-exploration, and he's fascinated by his fascination with Will. He is curious about this change that's come over him. It's sort of like somebody who is falling in love for the first time and had never felt that was actually a possibility for them. That's a fresh, unexplored territory for Hannibal that is exciting to him and interesting to him. Maybe his ultimate downfall is his attraction and affection for Will Graham.
But for now, Hannibal is on top.
Fuller: Hannibal Lecter has won this round, certainly. But one of the exciting things moving forward with Season 2 is that Will has hit rock bottom. One of the great gifts that the universe can give somebody in a tumultuous state of mind is for them to hit rock bottom and be free. Now, Will has nothing to lose, and he will be a very dangerous dance partner for Hannibal Lecter.
What did you think of the Hannibal finale?