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Hannibal — TV Review (S2E11, Ko No Mono)

With regret, this post has taken a long time to do. The end of July proved distressingly busy in work, so I didn’t have a chance to watch the last few episodes of series 2 as they were aired in the UK, and the beginning of August has been taken up by concerted efforts to forge ahead with my PhD research before the autumn term starts (of which, more soon!).

I’ve managed to find time to finish the series now, though, so the last few reviews will be quick to come. For those who like them: the A.V. Club’s review and Bryan Fuller’s walkthrough. Spoilers below, in case anyone is like me and catching up slowly!

This episode made me a bit grumpy, despite its neat little nods to the Harris books that always make me smile, like the flaming corpse of Freddie Lounds (clever, actually, in reinforcing the sense of her being dead before revealing her to be alive at the end), and Hannibal talking about his desire to see smashed china resolve into whole teacups (although, incidentally, I preferred the rather more subtle reference in S1E4).

I am assured by those who know that I will appreciate it more when I’ve finished the series, but in short, the problem that I’ve been complaining about for a while — that episodes are feeling too cramped, too rushed, and too disjointed — continues. The feverish pace could be deliberate (in which case, I am irritated by it), or it could be that the show is over-ambitious in its fanboy-esque zeal to condense as much of the story as possible (in which case, I am unhappy about it). I suspect it is a mix of the two.

What to say about this episode, which is descending now towards random exposition? Hannibal mouths some of the sentiments about his sister, Mischa, in a therapy session with Will that doesn’t have the emotional weight to demand them; the scene is directed so that in a hallucinatory way, they each face and talk to their own self. Alana, so underused elsewhere in series 1 and 2, now gets drawn into consulting for the FBI in the same way as Will and Hannibal, but only in order to pronounce ‘truths’ about Will that are supposed to be tense and dramatic because they go over Jack’s head. It would be nice to see a female character getting parity with Hannibal and Will (who have both played that role at previous episodes’ crime scenes), if it weren’t for that fact that she is a mere mouthpiece, a piece on Hannibal and Will’s chessboard.

The A.V. Club gives a cheer for Alana having something to do in this episode, but to be honest, her agency feels minimal, and all she does is pace about looking worried about Will and ‘confronting’ various people about how worried she is about him. She, Margot and Freddie are merely functional plot devices in the game between Hannibal and Will (and their sub-games with Jack and Mason). The “reveal” that Will did not kill Freddie but put her in FBI witness protection (as suspected in my review of S2E10) is hardly a reveal at all because Freddie is given nothing to do but simply a wry quip to Alana about her faked funeral. Where is the actual content for these female characters? The fact that Freddie is alive and well is an important factor in the resolution of Will’s ambiguous behaviour, bringing him down on the side of good rather than evil, and she (and Jack, actually) deserved more space.

Whilst the show’s women issue continues, other key elements relating to the ‘main men’ are also given short shrift. The exploration of the theme of fatherhood is rattled through, echoing many of the points previously discussed between Hannibal and Will regarding Abigail. The pretext for the theme’s return – Margot’s short-lived pregnancy by Will – is hugely clunky. Fuller tried to justify the show’s changes to Margot’s character (completely femme-ing/vamp-ing her) by saying it was to be more sensitive about her sexuality, avoiding the book’s suggestion that her brother’s sexual abuse of her as a child in some way ’caused’ her butch lesbianism. However, the show’s feminising of her enables an equally reductionist storyline: Mason’s abuse of his power over her by having doctors perform a hysterectomy on her against her will, thereby creating the conditions for her infertility and reliance on Mason to obtain a child (as in the novel, where the cause is sustained use of testosterone as a performance-enhancing supplement) whilst conveniently allowing the show to still have a vampy, sexy, ‘lesbian’-but-will-sleep-with-the-main-male-character-anyway character. I appreciate the writers’ desire to repurpose parts of the novels — and foreshadow later action based on them — but frankly, I call bullshit on the show’s whole depiction of Margot, as well as Fuller’s claim in the walkthrough that this is somehow Margot enjoying agency (“waving her uterus around like a loaded weapon”?!) when in fact it is being thought of and depicted as a brushstroke in Hannibal’s ‘design’.

I am rather enjoying Michael Pitt’s Mason Verger in this series. He is so much larger than life with his ridiculous attire (something of a spoof of Hannibal’s three-piece suits) and outlandish behaviour that he is a momentarily refreshing antidote to some of the show’s irritants….

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