Back on schedule now (well, on schedule with the Saturday re-runs, at least), and E8, which aired this evening in the UK. We’re two-thirds of the way through the series now, give or take, so are almost on the home straight.
The A.V. Club’s review gives this one an A-, and although I’d agree, I have some serious issues with parts of the episode. Bryan Fuller’s walkthrough has some interesting reflections on how ideas from the writer’s room make it into the show, sooner or later, and some rather disappointing self-justifications.
Spoilers below, any-how.
So, the A.V. Club and Bryan Fuller talk about this episode as a pivot, but really this is what comes after the pivot. In my review for E7, I noted how the relationships between Alana, Will and Chilton had shifted, remaining the same but different in a lot of ways, and this episode continues that theme with Hannibal, Jack and Will. There is a case-of-the-week (and a damn twisted one at that!); everyone is back ‘on side’ again, at least on the surface. We know that Will still hasn’t given up his efforts to lure and trap Hannibal, to bring him to justice because killing him doesn’t seem to be a possibility, but I think it is also true when Will says that he now finds Hannibal — the monster that Hannibal is — interesting, and fundamentally this is what Hannibal was seeking to achieve: a friend interesting enough to see him and to find him interesting in turn. The final scene (giving rise to the wonderful image that heads the A.V. Club’s review) is a masterclass: Hannibal’s joy and Will oscillating between bewilderment and certainty.
However. The A.V. Club’s review for E7, and the questions they put to Fuller this time, target again the show’s “women problem”. This episode introduces Margot Verger, a key character from the Hannibal novel, sister to Mason, and ultimately a bit of a co-conspirator with Hannibal, having been his patient. This is the series’ representation of that patient/psychiatrist relationship, but I have to say, I don’t really like it.
It is better than the 2001 film cutting the character entirely, but it feels like too much of a stretch. In the book, Margot processes her abuse by her brother physically; she’s a body-builder, and a damn serious one, makes it so that she is capable of protecting herself physically from his sexual abuse. She comes to her willingness to murder her brother really rather late, despite Hannibal having suggested it to her during her therapy, and it is her desire to protect her partner, Judy, from Mason that finally pushes her all the way. By contrast, Margot in therapy is something of a reflection of the new Will in therapy; openly dark, biding her time, vengeful and willing to act. It seems as though the show has gotten too wrapped up in its sense of its own cleverness, wanting to layer more and more echoes onto Hannibal and Will’s relationship without stopping to think. Fuller explains it as an attempt to avoid an insensitive portrayal of a transgender or lesbian character, but I think that is very much an excuse for the show to take an easy approach to writing and portraying a femme, femme-fatale character. I think the show really has taken a wrong turn on this one, shying away from presenting a valid and interesting response to male violence (emulating masculinity as a protective shield), presumably because portraying Margot as a detailed, complex character like this would have been too much hard work. This was an opportunity missed, and the show will not be able to survive a long run (i.e. the hoped-for seven series) if it continues to pass up such opportunities.
The same criticism can also be levied at the case-of-the-week, I think — although I am less irritated by it! — wherein abusive and manipulative social worker Clark Ingram torments and gaslights his brain-damaged client. As the A.V. Club says, it is a “poor man’s reflection”. It would have been nice to have had a case-of-the-week with significance for another character or element of the show, perhaps Bella and Jack again, or for Alana (I know! Imagine!), so that the destructively eddying whirlpool that is Hannibal and Will’s relationship could lurk, submerged, threateningly.