Despite cancellation, 'Hannibal' just pulled another 180 to become an even better, scarier show

It’s hard to find a show on the air right now that successfully manages to top itself every week like “Hannibal”. The NBC drama — which was canceled by NBC at the end of June  — has been resigned to burning through the second half of its now-final season in the doldrums of Saturday nights, where it is guaranteed to remain relatively unseen until its last episode airs. 

That’s a shame, because this Saturday marks the beginning of what might as well be a brand-new season, and possibly the series’ most accessible jumping-on point ever. 

For its final six episodes, “Hannibal” will be adapting the events of Thomas Harris’ novel “Red Dragon”, the work in which the evil, manipulative Doctor Hannibal Lecter first appeared. It is essentially a miniseries about the hunt for Francis Dolarhyde, a serial killer obsessed with a William Blake painting of the titular Red Dragon, and protagonist Will Graham’s struggle to hold onto his sanity after he’s dragged back in to a world of killers and madmen he left behind. 

It also looks like something the show hasn’t really been all season long: Very, very scary. 

Check out this trailer that debuted at Comic-Con, previewing the second half of the season:

We’ve seen the first terrifying episode of this new arc (episode eight of the third season as a whole), and without spoiling anything, it holds true to everything that makes “Hannibal” great: Gorgeous, unsettling visuals, psychological horror, and riveting performances from the entire cast.

And while you don’t need to see the previous episodes to enjoy it, what sets this adaptation of “Red Dragon” apart from the novel and two prior film versions (1986’s “Manhunter” directed by Michael Mann, and 2002’s “Red Dragon“, directed by Brett Ratner) is the slow-burning history between all the characters that the show has spent two-and-a-half seasons setting up. 

Hannibal Francis DolarhydeNBCThis week you will meet the Red Dragon, played by Richard Armitage (‘The Hobbit’ series).

Of course, a big part of what makes this new arc so immediately compelling is the addition of actor Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde. Armitage is a force of nature, terribly frightening in the role without ever saying a word (and completely unrecognizable from his most famous role, Thorin Oakenshield from “The Hobbit” films). “Hannibal” has shown us a lot of depraved killers in its first two seasons, so setting up one in a way that justifies a six-episode hunt for him is a huge feat.  

It’s remarkable how “Hannibal” has been able to pull all this off in a way that’s radically different from the first half of this season. We mentioned this in our review of the third season, but for the first half of this season, “Hannibal” was a more grandiose, operatic show than it had ever been, content to do arty character studies in Italy before bringing things to an explosive (and straight-up disturbing) finale. 

The series took a risk, and it paid off in a way that was both deeply upsetting to watch but emotionally cathartic, giving viewers the release they were looking for but in its own cruel, provocative way.

Now, the series is reinventing itself yet again in the middle of what’s quite likely its final season with a new status quo that jumps three years into the future and asks if its characters really can escape a life full of violence they chose to let in, or if they are doomed in each other’s orbits, orbits twisted and orchestrated by one Doctor Hannibal Lecter. 

Hannibal in custodyNBCJust because Hannibal will be behind bars doesn’t mean he’s any less of a threat.

You can catch the start of the “Red Dragon” arc on “Hannibal” Saturday at 10 P.M. on NBC.

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