As US viewers gear up for the finale, UK viewers are only just getting properly started with this second series. Episode 3 offers
The A.V. Club’s review of S2E3 gives the episode a B+, the same as E1 and a shade lower than E2. I’d disagree. I think this episode is better than the second (my review here, to avoid any further potentially spoiling commentary). Bryan Fuller’s walkthrough is also up on the A.V. Club website, in case you missed it, although it does refer quite a lot to later episodes, so if you’re an absolute purist, you may want to avoid it, and the below…
I thought it was rather quick in the series to be getting into Will’s trial, to be honest. I would have liked to see Will stew and scheme a little more, although Fuller seems to be suggesting that this episode can’t be properly appreciated — at least in terms of its place in the series arc — until later on, when we reach E5. I have seen the later episodes Fuller’s referring to in his walkthrough, and it is of course lovely when things intertwine, but on a rewatching, attempting to suspend later knowledge, this episode stands on it own, despite Fuller’s nervousness.
What is great fun here is that the trial gives almost every major character a chance to speak about Will, reflecting the fact that not only is Will able to understand every mind, but he is — unwillingly — able to be “all things to all people”: a friend, a charity case, an interesting toy, a psychopath. There is a sense of shapes slowly forming in dark, swirling waters. The episode feels deep in the way that it is clearly laying the ground for future episodes, and brings us closer to Will, who feels the same way too. There is a crescendo coming for us and for him.
Jack speaks out on the stand, speaking for himself and for Will, rather than the FBI (as Cynthia Nixon, his boss, told him to). He is in a fleeting self-destructive mode, “content to the let the chips fall”, he claims, spurred by Bella’s terminal cancer, but that is a self-deception. Hannibal gives good counsel: the FBI could be a life buoy after his wife’s death. Jack himself seems to know that this is what he will need, seems unconvinced by the suggestion that he retire and take her to Italy to die. Rehabilitating Will — in his own mind and then, perhaps, in the FBI — would offer Jack a reason to go on in his role there.
Freddie Lounds is spectacular, as always. Her sensationalist view of Will is embellished on the stand; his lawyer reveals her bad character eloquently. She is allowed to say virtually nothing and is almost decorative in this episode, rather regrettably.
Chilton’s spite at professional frustration is glorious, Raul Esparza stroking the top of his walking cane in a pinching gesture that seems to imitate his pouting smirk. Another fleeting guest appearance.
Alana never makes it to the stand, but she nonetheless gets the same grilling treatment in a mock cross-examination by Will’s lawyer. She has driven his defence, and yet in order to present it, she and Will have to detach from one another emotionally. Her declaration that she has only a “professional curiosity” in Will is cutting, and she does manage to seem genuine, at least that she doesn’t have romantic feelings for him. As she’s played here, Alana has a sort of brittle quality to her, and I don’t think she would ever feel able to let herself become romantically entangled with Will after all that has happened. When questioned by Will, she admits she wants to save him, but any plausible passion is long dead.
In amongst these cross-examinations, written for character development rather than plot, is a recycled ‘copycat’ plot that successfully derails Will’s trial; a bailiff is murdered, mounted on a stag’s head, his ear severed. There is a suggestion that Hannibal might be responsible as part of his own ‘trial’ for Will to endure, but it has the air of a red herring, even though it mirrors nicely Hannibal’s “unorthodox” approach for ‘helping’ Will.
Explicitly, Hannibal says he is grateful for the “helpful gesture” of the copycat killer striking whilst the trial is under way. It is deliberately vague, but I think Hannibal being responsible would be too much of a stretch of Hannibal’s supposed Luciferan powers and Machiavellian scheming to improve Will’s life. Besides which, repeating the hallmarks of old murders simply doesn’t seem like Hannibal’s style. Hannibal does want Will to believe in the best of him, irrespective perhaps of whether Will still believes him to be a murderer, and in the scene where he presents Will with the photos of the burned, mounted court bailiff, it seems that Hannibal has enough genuine respect for Will’s abilities to not expect a blunted repetition of old murders to fool him. Will’s defence having been altered, Hannibal takes the stand in Alana’s place, a little smug to have the opportunity to lie in order to help his friend. This is his gesture for Will, not the murder of the bailiff. However, when this is not enough to give Will a fresh defence in the eyes of the court — but does remove his old one from him — then the trial judge himself is murdered, forcing a mistrial, and it is posed as conceivably an act of Hannibal’s frustration. Will, however, doesn’t seem to think that Hannibal has committed either murder; he thinks of this as a new killer, one who “wants to know [him]”.
The episode also offers the briefest glimmer of how the show could be had it descended into a Law-and-Order-style procedural; Will’s lawyer, witty, cynical, calm in the face of tipping a severed ear out of an envelope, would have fitted in well with the FBI team, particularly in the lab! A shame this is rather unlikely to happen in later episodes.