The Thursday Playlist: A Nightmarish Hannibal Finale, Wilfred Returns

Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, Hannibal | Photo Credits: Brooke Palmer/NBC

A chill wind blows onto your TV screen as summer beckons, with one last ghoulish chapter in the artful and macabre saga of NBC's Hannibal, Bryan Fuller's deliciously suspenseful and deeply unsettling twist on the Thomas Harris franchise. If we weren't in a boom time for quality drama featuring such an array of complex, morally ambiguous and compellingly portrayed male leads, the performances of Hugh Dancy as the psychologically broken profiler-for-the-FBI Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as his mentor/secret tormentor Hannibal Lecter would be slam-dunk Emmy bait.

For now, it's enough to celebrate the happy miracle of NBC's renewal of Hannibal for a second year. The finale (Thursday, 10:01/9:01c), like so much of this season, powerfully sustains a tone of surreal nightmare, as Will is plunged into a Kafka-esque abyss of Lecter's diabolical making, with many of Will's allies facing their deepest fears that they may have been abetting a serial killer in their midst. (In fact, we know they are, but they're looking at the wrong guy.)

In the wake of Abigail Hobbs' disappearance last week (and nearly certain death at Lecter's hands), Will becomes a prime suspect in this and other murders, with a staggering amount of incriminating forensic evidence. "I wanted to be certain about who are you, but you can't even be certain with yourself," says crime-scene analyst Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), as she sorrowfully processes her colleague. A disoriented Will can only respond, "I thought I would get better." In a blistering confrontation with his boss Jack Crawford (an appropriately somber Laurence Fishburne), Will's only defender is agitated psychiatrist Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas): "Abigail's blood is on all of us. So is Will's."

Everyone is at the top of their game as the season reaches its pivotal and haunting climax, especially the leads: Mikkelsen shedding crocodile tears of remorse — could it be real, or just another psycho gambit? — over Abigail's and Will's messy fates in sessions with the cool Dr. Du Maurier (a stunning Gillian Anderson), while continuing to baldly lie and set his traps; and Dancy making painfully tangible Will's despair, confusion and slowly dawning awareness that he may be the greatest victim yet in this entire scenario.

By the final scene, echoing iconic images from the cinematic Lecter catalogue, you know this can't be the end of the story. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be.

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DOG DAYS: Will Graham isn't the only basket case plagued with disturbing visions from the animal world. But at least the mightily antlered stags of Hannibal keep their mouths shut. As FX's Wilfred begins a third season of shaggy-dog antics with back-to-back episodes (10/9c), there's no shutting up the incorrigible title mutt (Jason Gann) who hounds nebbishy Ryan (Elijah Wood) into a perpetual goggle-eyed panic. As the new season begins, Ryan tries to convince himself, if not Wilfred, that "the part of you that no one else can see ... is only in my head." Wilfred counters that he's a "magical being," and the existential debate leads them to track down the actual dog's former owner — which leads to the introduction of a second Wilfred (just what this show doesn't need), a bizarro version who's spoiled and posh and wealthy, with The Office's game Angela Kinsey as his caretaker.

The second episode features Zachary Knighton (the least funny member of the for-now-defunct Happy Endings ensemble) as an irreverent mailman befriended by Ryan despite Wilfred's insistence that the postal worker is a "Satanist," spurring the pooch's rapid conversion to godliness. It's more frantic than funny, and the one-joke premise wore thin for me a long time ago, although I was amused when Wilfred comes to a profound understanding about death and realizes, "Marley & Me is a really sad movie. God, why was I laughing the whole time?"

THE THURSDAY GUIDE: The big draw: the NBA Finals on ABC (9/8c), as the Miami Heat forces a seventh and decisive game against the San Antonio Spurs. ... The top repeat: CBS' The Big Bang Theory (8/7c), in an episode from February that gave us the first signs that the tentative romance between Raj and the even more socially backward Lucy (a very funny Kate Micucci) was not going to go smoothly. At least not as long as there's a way for Lucy to make a quick exit. ... The action shifts to the Dominican Republic on USA Network's Burn Notice (9/8c) as Sam and Jesse help Michael on a mission involving a bomber, while back in Miami, Fiona takes on a bookie who's trying to shake down Maddie. Pity the bookie. ... TNT's 72 Hours (9/8c) drops three teams on the beautiful but treacherous Hawaiian island of Lani'i. While I'm sure their three-day ordeal is grueling, I've just watched the first episode of Discovery's Naked & Afraid survival challenge, premiering this weekend, and by comparison, this is a piece of cake. ... Beefcake alert: Man of Steel Henry Cavill guests on BBC America's The Graham Norton Show (10/9c). The campy possibilities are endless.

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