Our memories can be our best friend and worst enemy, telling us a version of our life that can shield us from the truth of who and what we are. But a terrible illness has robbed former FBI profiler Will Graham of his memories and of anything but his own belief in his innocence. For Will, accused of the most heinous crimes imaginable and imprisoned in a criminal asylum, finding the truth buried deep within his memories will be the difference between life and death. Gruesome murders, betrayal and killer recipes... Hannibal is back!
An unknown amount of time has passed since Will was arrested for being the copycat serial killer. The man who framed Will for a series of gruesome murders, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is still free to prepare his feasts of human flesh, which he is doing one day when he is visited by Special Agent Jack Crawford, Will's boss at the FBI. The two men lock eyes across Hannibal's kitchen. An understanding passes between them: Jack knows what Hannibal is. They lunge at each other in a brutal and desperate fight. Hannibal plunges a shard of glass into Jack's neck. Jack stumbles into the pantry and barricades the door. Hannibal, covered in blood and gripping two sharp knives, tries to break down the pantry door to get inside and butcher Jack before the agent can spoil the fun by bleeding out on his own.
How did Hannibal's evil plan fall apart? To find out, we go back 12 weeks before the fight in the kitchen. Hannibal and Jack share a meal in Hannibal's home as they mourn Will's arrest and everything that has come after: Will imprisoned in a criminal asylum and awaiting trial, Jack's career threatened by an internal FBI investigation into how he let an accused killer become an important part of his team and FBI psychologist Dr. Alana Bloom at loggerheads with Jack as she helps Will plan his defense. It is Alana who has filed a report that has led to the investigation that could end Jack's career. Under pressure from FBI investigator Katie Prunell, Alana is torn between her loyalty to Jack and her belief that he was irresponsible in exposing Will to evil until the poor profiler cracked. In the end, she refuses to take back her report.
The FBI still has to investigate Hannibal to defend against Will's claim of being set up, but the Bureau is not concerned it will find anything linking Hannibal to the copycat murders. So unconcerned, in fact, that Jack has asked Hannibal to become "the new Will Graham," consulting on serial killer cases (hard to believe the FBI is questioning Jack's judgment about anything.) For his first assignment, Hannibal joins Jack and his team from the Behavioral Science Unit in examining bodies found submerged at the base of a dam. The badly decomposed corpses were coated with resin before being dumped in the water. Hannibal suggests the killer is making human models, and has discarded these bodies in the river because they were somehow imperfect.
Having gotten rid of these bodies, the killer is hunting replacements. Late one night a young man named Roland Umber hears his car alarm screaming outside his apartment. He stumbles outside to turn off the alarm and sees something sticking out of the car's trunk. He opens the lid to find the trunk lined with plastic. As he puzzles over it, a tall man hidden by shadows sneaks up behind him and...
In an FBI lab, Crawford and his team of forensics specialists find puncture wounds on the bodies from the river, as if they were once hung from something. The investigation has turned up lots of other missing people but no connection between any of them. How is the killer choosing his victims?
Stumped, team member Beverly Katz pays a secret visit to Will to ask for his help. Sitting in an interview room, Will spreads the pictures of the dead and missing out in front of him on a table, then moves the photos around, putting them next to each other in an order that seems random. The victims are of all races and ethnicities and... skin color. Will looks at Beverly. "It's a color palette," he says. Nice. Maybe the killer was an art major.
Hypnotized by Alana, Will imagines himself sitting at the head of a long banquet table that held a colorful feast. On the plate in front of him was the severed ear of Abigail Hobbs, the teenager Will had rescued from her serial killer father, and who had later disappeared without a trace. It was this ear that Will had vomited up into his kitchen sink one morning, the clue that had helped convince the FBI that Will had killed the girl. The only problem: Will had been unknowingly suffering from encephalitis and his inflamed brain caused frequent blackouts from which he would wake up with no memory of where he had been or what he had been doing. Will and Alana hoped that the hypnosis would bring his memories back, but all it did was cause this feverish and crazy dream.
After the visit from Beverly, Will eats his sad institutional dinner alone in his cell. He takes a bite of the meatloaf and stares down at the tray, absently chewing his food. Something seems to scratch at the edges of his mind. Then with a sudden shock, one of his memories returns. Will remembers sitting at his kitchen table, head tilted back, gagging on something. Hannibal stands over him, pushing a tracheal tube down his throat. Then Hannibal takes a severed ear from a petri dish and forces it down the tube as Will chokes and gags.
Will spits out his meatloaf. The severed ear lands in his tray. He blinks and the ear disappears. But the memory is back.
Jack is struggling with his actions regarding Will. Did he push Will too far? Does he bear some blame for the murders he believes Will committed? How did he not see a psychopath working next to him day after day? Alana tells him that Will's determination to find the truth about who committed the murders is a sign of his innocence. A psychopath would be too terrified of the truth to look for it.
Still torn, Jack visits Will in jail to tell him that the FBI has thoroughly investigated Hannibal and has found no evidence linking him to the murders. When he sees that this news has no effect on Will's insistence on Hannibal's guilt, the two men argue. Frustrated, Jack eventually walks away.
Roland Umber awakens to find himself naked, his hand sewn to his cheek and his legs sewn together. He looks around and sees nothing but naked corpses, all sewn to each other in a mysterious circular pattern in a large room. Realizing that he is awake and this is not a nightmare, Roland begins to scream.