This review is late coming, as I had rather a busy week in the office and not a lot of time to write midweek, but I will endeavour to do S2E3 more promptly!
The AV Club’s review gave the episode an A-, higher than the series opener’s B+. I think, overall, I’d agree that this episode is a smidge better than last week’s. Bryan Fuller’s walkthrough is also interesting and worth a read, particularly if you missed his livetweeting.
As always, spoiler alert below.
This episode ‘solves’ the crime from the season opener, the almost absent killer who is ‘painting’ a mural with human bodies (a la Jeepers Creepers) by stitching them together. We barely see the killer in this episode, except when Hannibal takes the paintbrush from him and stitches him into his own mural, having taken his own toll, of course (half a leg).
In this episode, Hannibal’s confidence and apparent powers are almost at an excess. Fuller has aimed to produce a Hannibal Lecter who is the devil, and with that must come superpowers, although Harris’ Hannibal is led astray more by his whimsy than by overconfidence. In this episode, the balance is carefully struck, but there are clear gaps. For example, we have no sense of how Hannibal persuades the killer to part with his leg, be injected and stitched into the mural, particularly given that they seem at odds with one another: the killer still feels that his mural is unfinished even after he has been stitched into it; he is tormented by the absence of God, Hannibal seems persuaded that by being stitched into his mural he will access the divine (their exchange — “There is no God”, “Certainly not with that attitude!” — is oddly one of the episode’s lightest moments).
Hannibal is a master manipulator, but his methods are opaque here, whilst elsewhere they border on clumsiness. His stumbling around in the FBI lab and wide-eyed admiration of their finding the killer’s mural almost grate, and they are at odds with the apparently unnoticed sniffs he makes of the ‘craquelure’ in the skin of the killer’s latest victim, which led him to the mural before them. Despite the dissonance, the moment is an important reminder of how Hannibal’s mind works.
Early on in the episode, Bedelia attempts to sever her ties with Hannibal, warning him that she has begun to “glimpse through the stitching” of his person-suit and has concluded that he is dangerous. Yet, he retains a hold over her — the mysterious “attack” from which he saved her, murdering her patient in the process — that she reiterates will prevent her betraying him to the FBI. Hannibal’s smirk when she grants that telling the FBI the truth would make her look as guilty as he is one such glimpse through his careful stitching, offered not only to us but to Bedelia. She is not so naive as to miss it, and perhaps that is what Hannibal intends; the end of the episode sees her having “withdrawn”, her house mothballed with nothing more than a bottle of her perfume left for Hannibal when he comes — PVC-suited — to silence her. He does not seem too hurt by having lost her. The A.V. Club comments on his apparent sadness at having lost her as a friend, but as long as he has the perfume, he has not; the scent, enough to trigger the most vivid memories and images for him, is enough, and I think he is pleased that she understood him well enough to do him that one favour, as a friend. It is an act of her whimsy in the face of his threat.
When she comes to his cell, Will quips, “You’re Hannibal Lecter’s therapist. What’s that like?”, but she rejects the question. For Bedelia, I think, despite previous denials, Hannibal is a sort of friend, evidenced in the cognitive dissonance not only of the whimsical perfume, but also in her conversation with Will about him. She visits in order to reassure Will, whispering “I believe you” through the bars, and is confident that Hannibal has done what Will claims, but she prefaces her confession by telling Will that she believes that Hannibal has “honestly” done what he thought best for his patient. By extension — in his walkthrough, Fuller talks about the meeting as a union between two damaged people — in the scene we can also read Bedelia’s belief that Hannibal has acted in her best interests, despite the damage her attack and the murder of her patient seems to have done to her. She seems rather unhinged, as she whispers, “I believe you”, through the bars of Will’s cell and the guards drag her away. And yet, she is also astonishingly poised. Perhaps, contrary to Hannibal’s assertion in the previous episode, she does understand exactly what he is capable of, as well as being confident in her ability to survive.
The other element of particular interest in terms of character development is Jack’s destructive pattern of management. Not having learnt from the loss of Miriam Lass, Jack encourages Beverly to consult Will on the case, to do what he is unable to, through fear or the responsibilities of his position. It is another conversation ‘not had’, despite Jack’s admission to his FBI psychiatrist that he failed to protect Will, pushing him when he should not have done. The apparent absolution he is granted from the psychiatrist — “We all fail, Jack” — seems to the scene for Jack’s destructive behaviour simply to continue. We know he will, at the very least, treat Clarice Starling the same way. What’s interesting is whether Jack lumps Hannibal into the same category of ‘tools’ as he does Will, Beverly and Clarice. If so, then Jack’s destructive leadership might form part of Hannibal’s downfall in this series. But we’ll have to wait and see!