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Hannibal – TV Review (S1E5, Coquilles)


This is the fifth in my set of reviews of series 1 of Hannibal. The full set are listed under the ‘Hannibal’ label. As always, there may be spoilers here for the whole series, so please proceed with caution!

Bryan Fuller’s walkthrough for the AV Club is here, and the AV Club’s own review here

In brief: the most gruesome of the episodes so far, but symphonic in weaving together the parallel paths of the criminal-of-the-week and the central characters.

This is the first episode of the series that I found visually disturbing (it is a “very specific upsetting”, as Will says). The partially flayed victims of the Angelmaker are displayed in a grotesque detail that is part of what makes the show, but this episode sees a certain intensification of this aesthetic, and Will’s hallucination of Angelmaker kneeling before him with his self-made “wings” flopped behind him is particularly gruesome.

This contrasts quite distinctly with the main focus of the episode, which is creeping illnesses: those of Angelmaker (brain tumour); Jack’s wife, Bella (lung cancer); and Will (at this stage not specified, and possibly a brain tumour, but later revealed to be encephalitis). Will’s ailment is, at this stage, nascent. In large part thanks to the make-up department, Dancy does a superb job of looking on the edge as his behaviour begins to get more erratic. His sleepwalking almost immediately becomes dangerous — he ends up on the roof at one point — and he begins to lose time. Whether this is a mental or physical illness is, in itself, not entirely clear, but the Angelmaker case plants the seed of there being an organic illness to blame for Will’s behaviour. The case itself poses a significant challenge for Will. He feels that his ability to empathise is inhibited when the empathisee is organically ‘disordered’, their behaviour not the result of any personality disorder, but of a physical one. Whether this self-criticism is fair is, I think, unclear. The Angelmaker is caught, but as Will says, he catches himself by committing suicide. Nonetheless, Will’s sense of inhibition also raises a question about his self-awareness.

Meanwhile, Hannibal is afforded the rather canine ability of being able to smell cancer. He detects it in Bella’s scent, and makes sure to let her know that he has by telling the story of having detected a professor’s cancer when he was a young man. Gina Torres does a wonderful job of being inscrutably discomfited at Hannibal’s dinner table, but by the end of the episode the pieces have all fallen into place for us. Far from having an affair (the red herring the writers lay out for us), she has stage-four lung cancer. Her reaction, and Jack’s when he discovers — through comparing his own circumstances with those of the Angelmaker’s wife — are wonderfully played, but sadly don’t get enough space in this series (here’s hoping for series 2!).

Hannibal makes a point, later on, of sniffing Will. The hint to us is that Will may be physically ill, although Hannibal gives nothing away. At the same time, we know that Hannibal takes every opportunity to suggest to Will that he may be more deeply troubled psychologically than he thinks he is. For example, when Will comes to him after his first sleepwalking episode, Hannibal asserts that sleepwalking is often a response to unresolved aggressive thoughts and feelings.

The episode as a whole explores Jack’s position in relation to two of the most important people in his life — Bella and Will — setting up the next episode’s exploration of Jack’s loss of his trainee, Miriam Lass. In prodding Will to consider his relationship with Jack, Hannibal challenges Will to consider whether Jack has acted in his best interests. Although Will is defensive, asking whether Hannibal is trying to alienate him from Jack, the question sticks. Towards the end of the episode, having found Angelmaker dead at his own hands, Will warns Jack that his usefulness may soon run out, suggesting that Jack’s interest is only in Will’s utility. Jack refuses to offer Will the implicitly asked-for reassurance. Instead, he denies any paternal role and tells Will that he is free to quit at any time, but will regret the consequences. Despite this callousness, Will’s inclinations towards Jack are still warm; at the end of the episode, they sit in silence, Will having promised to stay until Jack feels like talking about his wife’s illness. The asymmetry in the relationship is not quite resolved, however, and rears its head in the next episode, which provides hints of an explanation for Jack’s refusal to take a paternal interest in his protege.


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