This is the fourth in my set of reviews of series 1 of Hannibal. The full set are listed under the ‘Hannibal’ label.
Bryan Fuller’s walkthrough for the AV Club is here, and the AV Club’s own review here. This episode was unaired in the US in the wake of the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the Sandy Hook massacre, but was made available online (and was screened in the UK and elsewhere).
In brief: the central crime is a slightly ham-fisted way to turn our attention to the characters’ family ties, but the episode does a wonderful job of weaving in details from the books, and starting to ratchet up the sense of impending menace.
This episode’s plot, young boys persuaded to abandon and then later annihilate their families, is rather obviously designed to turn our attention not to the crime itself (or the unfortunate young boys whose families are lost), but to our central characters’ family bonds. In the context of a series with both serialised and procedural elements, I think we have to forgive this, although it does provoke a quick eye-roll.
For Hannibal and for Abigail, orphans with traumatic family histories, this can be expected to be sensitive territory. For Crawford and for Will, there are obviously similar knots to be drawn out, although they remain mostly opaque within the episode, “on a high branch”, as Hannibal puts it. This episode is the first in which we see Jack’s wife, for instance, who is an important figure for the middle episodes of the series and for Hannibal’s relationship with Crawford.
Early in the series, before Crawford takes Hannibal into his confidence and asks him to treat his wife, I find it a little bit of a surprise to see the personal relationship that Crawford and Hannibal have, as there is little in the episodes by way of constructing it. In Oeuf, again, they dine together, and again (very blatantly, this time), Hannibal serves human meat to an oblivious FBI agent. Jack’s enjoyment of the indulgent food and setting that Hannibal offers him suggests a blind spot that Hannibal might be able to exploit later, intimating the possible root of their relationship. Still, I find the little effort made to construct the relationship incrementally to be a little off-putting (although I acknowledge the narrative purpose of their tete-a-tetes).
Hannibal’s relationship with Alana is also explored a little further in this episode, though. Her appearance at his door reveals the nature of their prior relationship, and their professional disagreements appear a pleasure. For the most part, however, Will and Abigail seem to stand between them, and Alana and Hannibal approach them from opposing perspectives.
In his interactions with Abigail, we see again Hannibal’s powerfully perceptive skills as a therapist. The dinner — or breakfast — that he engineers for her is a case in point, exploiting Alana too in order to present Abigail a family scene that can emotionally override the last scene of her own family. The meal itself has echoes of Hannibal’s revenge on behalf of Clarice in the Hannibal novel, kidnapping and serving up Paul Krendler, who Clarice interacts with in the same hazy way that Abigail interacts with Alana.
The preparation of the meal also has a crucial echo of Hannibal’s “therapy” with Clarice — the ‘meeting’ he engineers for her with her dead father via hallucinogenic mushrooms. Hannibal’s drive in the book is to make a room for Mischa, his dead sister, in the world, and we can imagine that Abigail offers him such an opportunity. I was particularly struck by the scene where Abigail drops the teacup that Hannibal has given her. In the novel, a broken teacup is pivotal in Hannibal’s musings on the possibility of turning back time, reversing entropy and seeing Mischa live again. When Abigail drops the cup, it seems a purposeful act at the moment when she is remembering killing Boyle.
Hannibal says outright to Abigail that she is a “survivor”, not a sociopath, for her ability to live with herself having killed, and we can imagine he has the same thoughts about himself. It is this ‘self- made’ or ‘remade’ element of her personality that interests him, particularly as at this point it appears so malleable. We also see an echo of this perspective in Will’s theory of capture bonding — bond with them and you survive, or else “you’re breakfast”. For Abigail, conscious of something dark in Hannibal that he has almost deliberately revealed to her, and for Will also, such capture bonding is slowly building, and we can start to feel the tension, wondering who Hannibal might eventually have for breakfast (literally or figuratively).
As a final comment, there are also some subtle points that prove vital later on, such as Hannibal’s exploration of Will’s home offers him an opportunity to learn more about his plaything, and as we learn later, to plant evidence there. I like this implantation through the series of gestures that later become important, although later on I find it a little bit of a source of frustration when this isn’t done, or isn’t followed through. I’ll gripe more about those when we get there, though!