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Hannibal – TV review (S1E9, Trou Normand)

This is the ninth in my set of reviews of series 1 of Hannibal. The full set are listed under the ‘Hannibal’ label. We are getting towards the end, now! 

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

In brief: a flimsy ‘crime of the week’ without much emotional resonance, but nevertheless some powerful exchanges between Abigail and Hannibal and Lounds, who are pulling her in very different directions.

The ‘crime of the week’ plot here is of a serial killer unveiling his ‘life’s work’, a grotesque totem pole of murders over the course of several decades. I think this was my least favourite episode because, while other crimes of the week have been treated lightly, this one just didn’t have any emotional resonance in it: it wasn’t really clear why the initial circumstances of discovering the totem pole prompt Will’s break/loss of time (unlike in the next episode, where the traumatic encounter with Georgia Mansion, tearing off some of her skin, is pretty indicative); and the final confrontation with the killer, revealing that the final man he killed was in fact his son, didn’t really seem to have any weight to it for any of the actors. There was more here that we didn’t get to see, which is a real shame.

The ‘crime of the week’ is intended to mirror Abigail’s struggle for control over her own narrative of victimhood, writing a book with the help of Freddie Lounds, and her disinterring of Nicholas Boyle’s body in order to remove one of the things she fears most. Abigail is attempting to rewrite her story: she was complicit in her father’s crimes, as Jack suspected, and her survivor status is rather more complicated than it appears (she was surviving through the crimes, as well as now being asked to survive them). She manages to persuade Jack, in this episode, that she was not responsible for Nicholas Boyle’s death, but although she doesn’t know it, she achieves this rewriting only by her affiliation with Hannibal and his much more expertly crafted “person suit”. The doubts that Alana confesses about Abigail are negated by her faith in Hannibal, and this seems enough to convince the ever-suspicious Jack, too.

The reviewer at the AV Club argues that earlier episodes didn’t give the audience enough cause for reasonable doubt to be behind Jack on this issue, but I disagree. There has always been something telling in the way that Rohl plays Abigail, with precocious glimmers of something hidden beneath her innocent appearance, such as when she challenges Hannibal to help re-enact her father’s crime by playing the “man on the phone” (himself) or her very practical approach to her financial situation. Abigail is too skilled a survivor in a desperate situation not to have had some experience of it. At the same time, though, there was never enough malice in her portrayal to suggest that she was an enthusiastic participant in her father’s crimes, so I always felt that Jack was both on to something and misjudging at the same time.

I think my willingness to agree with Jack about Abigail is, like Alana’s faith in her, based in part on Hannibal’s response to her. Knowing what we do about his “unconventional” (his word) approach to therapy, and his apparent investment in her, I have never been persuaded that he is solely driven by a paternal element for an innocent. If Hannibal didn’t see something interesting in Abigail, some inner knots and tangles, some inner darkness that he could explore and attempt to mould (she’s “severely compromised”, as Fuller puts it), I don’t think he would have risked himself so much as to help her conceal Nicholas Boyle’s body. I don’t know if this was intended (from the Fuller walkthrough, it seems that it is not), but the fact that I respond to other characters by seeing them through Hannibal’s lens is a great testament to how the character has been written and portrayed.

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