It seems appropriate that the halfway point of the series should be the real kickoff into focusing on Hannibal and his career as the unimaginatively titled "Chesapeake Ripper." And it's quite a kickoff, giving us our first taste of the most familiar setting in the mythology: the maximum security psychiatric ward that Hannibal is fated to become an occupant of. This means we also get introduced to Dr. Chilton, the eventual head of the institution and future tormentor of Lecter's. Played by Raúl Esparza, Chilton is just as smug and full of ego as his previous incarnations, but Esparza imbues something original into the character: insight. In other mediums, Chilton has always been the bully who grew up to be the jailer. He's not as bright as he thinks he is, but in the end, that never mattered because he knew he held the keys to the kingdom. Lecter always despised Chilton for his ineptitude and boorishness, but this time around, Chilton may actually have something resembling a brain beneath his thick skull. The little scene with him and Lecter preparing dessert is wickedly fun. I love that this show is taking characters and doing unexpected things with them. Purists of the Lecter canon (are there actually any of those?) may find it blasphemous, but I think it makes the characters more interesting than they have been in years. I'm sure we'll be seeing Chilton sooner than later, and I'm all for that.
Although the search for the identity of the Chesapeake Ripper unknowingly revolves around Hannibal, the real focus of this episode is on Jack Crawford and the agent-in-training he sent out two years ago to do some digging on the case. She never returned and was the Ripper's last known victim. Fishburne does more excellent work, and I'm loving any scene that puts him and Hannibal together. He gets to be vulnerable and honest, and it's great stuff. I also love that Hannibal is actually extremely comforting to Jack, letting him know that even though his wife's cancer has her losing hope about life, she's revealed to Hannibal that she, "didn't marry the wrong guy." That's the kind of humanizing a monster like Hannibal needs. Though he is a villain, he doesn't come off as particularly villainous and that just makes him more entrancing to watch. Have you figured out that I'm gaga for Mads Mikkelsen yet?
However, there are two elements to this episode that didn't completely win me over. The first is the guest appearance by Eddie Izzard. His usage is a little too dead-on when it comes to referencing Lecter's memorable moments from The Silence of the Lambs. His opening scene is a lot like Lecter biting the nurse's face, and his performance even feels directly inspired by Anthony Hopkins. It's not that distracting, but it just feels a bit too derivative. I know the show has to deliver familiar elements to remind people, "Hey! This is like that one really popular movie from over twenty years ago!", but I hope they can spin that material into something unexpected and new like they have with every other aspect of the show.
But, that I could look over. The ending of this episode is what really gave me pause. So, we flashback two years prior to when agent-in-training Miriam Lass is looking around for clues to the identity of the Ripper. They figure he has a background in surgery and decides to visit some of the doctors that treated one of the Ripper's victims. Smart move. Naturally, this leads her to Lecter's office. He invites her in, deflects her questions and offers to give her his journals from his time in the ER. While he's grabbing these journals, Miriam waltzes around Lecter's office and sees two of his etchings on a desk. The one on top is a nude portrait and underneath that is a drawing of his victim. You see, the Ripper likes to impale his victims multiple times with various instruments, and Lecter has not only drawn that, he's left it on top of a table in his office. This just seems ridiculous for someone so methodical and smart. I can understand him making the drawing, but leaving it out in plain sight? The writers could have had Miriam looking at his library of books (which she did!) and find one of peculiar interest, like something on Vlad the Impaler (an appropriate reference for someone who feasts on people). She takes it out, flips through it and the picture falls out. The way it's presented in the show makes Lecter look a lot stupider than he has been portrayed. This has been the only serious misstep the series has had so far, in my opinion, so hopefully it's the only one. Still, I can't get over that. Next week better overcompensate and have Lecter solve cold fusion or something.