I think I was less disturbed by Will Graham’s breakdown than other viewers because I was confident that Hannibal’s strongest suit was gaslighting from pretty early on in the series. In this episode, Hannibal persuades his old friend, Dr Sutcliffe, to hide a diagnosis of encephalitis, after he can no longer deter Will’s insistence that his declining condition has a physical rather than a psychological cause. Will is very adamant that what he is experiencing is not his ‘kind of crazy’, and I think this is fundamentally what Hannibal is seeking to achieve through his gaslighting, or what he would call ‘unconventional’ therapy: to increase Will’s understanding of his own self and limits (by testing them to breaking point), and perhaps to also enable Will to see Hannibal as he truly is. Now, in the final few episodes of the series, these aims are coming more clearly to the surface.
I have to say I didn’t find Ellen Muth and the Madchen character exceptionally compelling. There is something hugely creepy about her arrival at Will’s home, stood in the snow in a blood-stained nightdress, but it is the stuff of a pure horror film. Fuller describes the whole series as a horror film in his walkthrough, which I suppose it is in a more technical generic sense — a narrative about primal fears, especially the fear of the unknown — but this episode played with the tropes far more than others have done from the initial murder where Madchen somehow manages to drag her victim under the bed and spray blood all over the floor in horror-monster style. However, Hannibal‘s true power is in the more psychological elements of horror, and when it comes down to the more nuanced character that the episode tries to portray — a young woman let down by the medical profession and taken over by a terrifying illness — there is far more emotional resonance in the scene with Madchen’s mother than there is with any of the scenes with Madchen herself (true also of the next episode she features in, Episode 12).