Hannibal: Naka-Choko, or, When Good Shows Do Bad Things

Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Hannibal, particularly Episode 10, Naka-Choko.

We all love True Detective, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and probably even a third time.

Hannibal is the best show on television.

Kiss guard.

Kiss guard.

How it got on network television is beyond me. The rip-roaring psychological romp is the closest thing NBC will ever get to art house. But lo and behold Hannibal just wrapped its second season with a finale that would give Job a lesson in punishment, and has officially been renewed for a third.

#sixseasonsandamovie

Where season three of Hannibal will go is beyond me, but I felt the same way going into season two and the show absolutely delivered.

With a small exception.

Hannibal is the best show on television. I have no reservations about stating as much. No other show keeps me as emotionally, intellectually and physically invested from week to week. There isn’t a fan Hannibal has that the show hasn’t absolutely earned. But this post isn’t a review of Hannibal’s second season, it’s a question.

What happens when the best show on television lays a bad egg?

Up until the tenth episode of its second season Hannibal had been nothing but home runs and even Naka-Choko, the aforementioned tenth episode, offered some terrific, creepy moments. But it also saw the show’s trademark subtlety and nuance give way to some ham-fisted storytelling and characterization. No pun intended.

Get it? Cause pigs!

Get it? Cause pigs!

Don’t get me wrong, I love a five-way sex scene as much as the next guy, but director Vincenzo Natali’s borderline softcore fascination with the flesh feels woefully out of place in what is usually a surrealist examination of the mind. That show runner Bryan Fuller explained to AV Club after the episode aired that Natali was the only director who didn’t express uncertainty with the sequence was disconcerting. That he explained in the same interview that the writing staff had unsuccessfully pushed to make a lesbian character straight for the sake of being able to have more sex on the show is downright disillusioning. Is this the same group of people that are able to bring me to the edge of my seat with mere conversation?

Couple this lengthy sequence with the bombastic introduction of major antagonist Mason Verger, whose grand designs are laid bare within a few minutes of his first appearing on screen, and Naka-Choko quickly feels like a brisk lapse in quality from an absolutely first-rate television show.

But what does a bad episode of the best show on television mean? Well, two things.

1. It isn’t really that bad.

Sure, Naka-Choko left me disappointed, but it still took a stab at visually expressing psychosexuality. On NBC. And it still delivered fascinating dialogue from fully-realized characters. Even when Hannibal shies away from subtlety it offers a lush spectrum of it when compared to the constantly on the nose writing holding up a majority of television dramas.

Sure, there’s a scene in a later episode of Hannibal between Mason Verger and a young boy that I maintain would have served as a more effective introduction to the character. But the Verger story arc still inarguably paid off.

Four more years!

Four more years!

2. It is unbelievably, disproportionately frustrating.

What makes Naka-Choko the worst episode of Hannibal? A few missteps. Those bumps in the road that plague most any show. But this isn’t just any show. It’s Hannibal. And Hannibal is the best show on television. Which makes even these small missteps infuriating.

The creative powers behind Hannibal (apparent lust for sex scenes aside) have proven an ability to tactfully service characters and story in fresh and creative ways. Before and after Naka-Choko it was all they did. As a fan, when they fell short of their own potential it was disappointing, and yet, I’m not writing a blog post about their near perpetual triumphs. I’m writing about that one time I was less than thrilled.

Because that’s what happens when the best show on television lays a bad egg.

The last time I watched The Walking Dead was an episode into midseason four. I hadn’t been a huge fan of the show for some time, but this episode in particular I couldn’t even get through. I turned it off a minute or two after the opening credits and I haven’t watched it since.

No harm no foul. I wasn’t that into it and I wasn’t expecting much, so the episode was less a disappointment then it was a final justification about my concerns with the show.

I certainly didn’t go writing a blog post about it.

Maybe it’s like a parent, yelling at their smart kid when they get a C+ as they simultaneously ignore their dumb kids D-. Maybe we raise more of a fuss when our favorite show makes a misstep because we’re afraid it could mean the end of something we love. Maybe five-way sex scenes are just a bit much.

I don’t know. File this one under food for thought.

Naka-Choko was disappointing in the context of Hannibal, but in the context of television it still sits atop a lofty throne occupied by maybe one percent of the light and sound flashed at our faces every day.

Of the baker’s dozen swings Hannibal Season 2 hit a dozen home runs. And when I watch it on Blu-ray I’m not going to skip Naka-Choko.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Should a show be judged against itself, or against the landscape of television as a whole? Is one more or less fair than the other? Is life fair?

2. If NBC hadn’t renewed Hannibal, what would be your design?

3. Which one of Mads Mikkelsen’s lips is your favorite?

 

For more on Hannibal you can check out a bunch of stuff:

Hannibal Season 2 Premiere

Hannibal – Ceuf

Hannibal Season 1

Hannibal and Censorship

Television in 2013

 

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3 thoughts on “Hannibal: Naka-Choko, or, When Good Shows Do Bad Things

  1. Naka-choko was almost comically bad, and that’s what made it OK for me in some weird way. It felt like I was watching a parody, like that Hannibal at the Zoo Twitter account. I mean, c’mon, the lesbian character having sex with a dude just, I don’t know, because? Please, Hannibal fan-fiction writers, the real Hannibal writers would NEVER do that.

    For me it’s the man-cavebear-robot episode that’s still the worst. “Let’s just throw out all sense of believably and make a werewolf story.” Just felt completely unnecessary and Bryan Fuller has said as much about the arc of that character in interviews.

    Also, did Margot explicitly say in Naka-choko that she wanted a baby? Maybe I zoned out but I remember her saying it (no video, just her voice) during the recap in the next episode and I had NO recollection of them ever establishing that, which would obviously legitimize her actions a bit.

    • CAVE BEAR!!!

      As for Margot, if memory serves she mention, I think to Hannibal, something about her father’s will calling for a male heir. Nothing more than that though.

      I completely agree on the concept of Naka-Choko being borderline parody. It’s telling that while I was watching it I realized what an SNL Hannibal Sketch would look like: obscure close ups of well dressed people saying absurdly vague nonsense.

      I was distinctly worried about where the show was headed after Naka-Choko. Luckily I ended up not having to be.

  2. Brilliant discussion Josh. I seem to agree with you. A D+ episode of Hannibal is still an A- episode of The Walking Dead. In my mind, they went 25 for 26 in two seasons. Best show on TV.

    Tom, the Margot baby plotline was pretty clear. She would have been left with nothing if she had killed Mason without a male heir. Mason put a stop to that.

    Also, completely disagree with your feelings on Shiizakana (mechanical man beast). I think it went well with the monster of the week formula that defined early episodes of Hannibal (even into this season). With that reasoning you would have to say every serial killer subplot of the series is unnecessary. This one at least played into the “love” between Hannibal and Will.

    Also, the slow motion in the final scene of that episode? COME ON.

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