You probably figured that there would be spoilers for Hannibal here. Guess what, you’re right!
Hannibal’s second season opened with the promise of a confrontation between the title character and Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford. Showing a future scene is a familiar TV trope, but this one was extra intriguing (beyond being one of the best looking fights I’ve ever seen on TV). It offers the possibility of Hannibal Lecter finally being caught and placed in his familiar spot behind bars.
A series like Hannibal brings certain expectations. Most people are familiar with Dr. Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, where the character is locked up in prison and advising the FBI on serial killers. Viewers expect to see him in prison, and showrunner Bryan Fuller is having a lot of fun playing against that expectation.
Season one ended with tortured protagonist Will Graham behind bars, falsely accused of Hannibal’s crimes. Throughout season two, Graham took on that familiar Lecter role. He wore Lecter’s iconic mask and advised the FBI on crimes. While this was a fun tease, the expectation of Hannibal being incarcerated remained.
Once Will was cleared of all charges, he worked with Crawford on capturing Hannibal once and for all. Along the way, Fuller has continued to toy with what we know about Thomas Harris’ universe. Dr. Frederick Chilton was a key player in Silence of the Lambs. He was not only framed as the Chesapeake Ripper, but also (seemingly) killed. Freddie Lounds is best known for his (her on the show) role in Red Dragon, sensationalizing the crimes and ultimately perishing as a victim of Francis Dolarhyde. The show faked the death of Lounds, right down to the indelible image of her flaming body going downhill in a wheelchair.
There are so many opportunities in the season finale for Lecter to be caught, and that makes it even more of a gut punch when he walks free. Jack’s spectacular brawl ends with him bleeding out in Hannibal’s pantry. Alana Bloom finds her bullets, just to end up flattened on the cannibal’s doorstep. And oh so poor Will Graham gets the worst of it. Hannibal stabs him in the gut with a curved blade and slits their symbolic daughter’s throat right before his eyes.
Even with Graham left a bloody, heavily breathing mess, viewers still expect to see Hannibal apprehended. Red Dragon begins with Lecter nearly disemboweling Graham in the process of his arrest. That’s what just happened now, right? The police are going to show up at any minute and take that bastard down! But Hannibal just walks away from it all and departs for greener pastures.
Playing with these expectations is just another way that Bryan Fuller has crafted such a great show. He could probably make a good show that’s a straight up adaptation of the source material and do quite well for himself. Fuller didn’t settle for that. He’s made Hannibal his own monster. It’s brave, beautiful, and willing to go anywhere and do anything.