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Hannibal — TV review (S3E5, Contorno)

I have gotten rather out-of-sync with Hannibal’s midweek screening schedule here in the UK, but I’m more or less back on track now with episode 5. It’s a real shame, as this does seem more and more likely to be the last season now (Netflix and Amazon have passed on it), so I’ll try to keep time a little better over the next few weeks.

Spoilers below!

Here we are. Coming up to the series’ midpoint, all roads are beginning to converge. This episode condenses a lot of Harris’ Hannibal: Signor Pazzi’s new wife and his desire to spend money on her; his encounters with ‘Dr Fell’, first call to Mason, and trip to Geneva to receive his advance from Mason; Pazzi’s ultimate death resembling his ancestor Francesco; and the detective work that took Clarice Starling so close to catching Hannibal, although this time it is put in the hands of Alana Bloom. Or, at least, it is given to Alana to present to Mason, because the FBI — or at least its former employees, Jack and Will — needs no such help.

I wrote about my hesitation over the direction Alana’s character was being taken in my review of episode 4. Her motivation for collaborating with Mason seemed one-dimensional, and rooted in tired tropes about female characters following sexual abuse or assaults. Here, we are told that Alana is doing all of the clever thinking that led Clarice to Hannibal in the novel. She focuses on Hannibal’s taste and forensically tracks down receipts from Bedelia’s purchases at Vera Dal, shown in earlier episodes. Unlike Will and Jack, though, Alana is never actually shown doing the work for these discoveries. There is none of the depth that might come with seeing her examining Hannibal’s possessions, the items with which she might have gotten very familiar during their brief relationship. Without any of this back story allowing for emotional depth, her intellectual leaps feel unsubstantiated, as though perhaps she’s being fed her lines. It’s a real shame, as there’s no reason why she couldn’t have a scene or two more to give her that sort of depth.

We can compare and contrast with Chiyo and Bedelia in this episode. Chiyo’s relationship with Hannibal started as children, where she was a servant to his aunt in the house where he was sent as an orphan. She describes how he used to test her, burning bark and incense and asking her to identify the scents. She seems immunes to Will’s attempts to influence her, or to revel in her distress. She claims not to be troubled by the vision of the man she killed, unlike Will, whose hallucinations of Garret Jacob Hobbs haunted him. She distinguishes herself from Will, who she calls “malleable”, whereas she was “standing still” where Hannibal had left her, but was still somehow inviolate. She demonstrates just how inviolate she can be, immune to Will’s empathetic insights, when she reveals that she knows precisely where Hannibal is, kisses him and then throws him off the moving train. Will’s genuine empathy seems to have fallen away at the belief that everyone thinks like Hannibal (and him), and he forgets the means of influence available other than violence.

Meanwhile, Bedelia is increasingly readying herself for the end of her time in Florence with Hannibal. I’m not 100% sure about whether the show would suggest that snails have no central nervous system, but in any event, she is eating something other than oysters (and fed to her on a skewer by a shirtless Hannibal, no less). The obsession with snails — and Hannibal’s childhood ‘cochlear gardens’ — developed in previous episodes continues, and Hannibal conceived of such gardens as a feast for fireflies, which were his real interest. There is a melancholy to the scene, which is suggestive of the ephemerality of their time together, that contrasts with the more forthright therapist-patient sort of conversations in last week’s episode. At the same time, however, Bedelia hints at her constraints, noting that “almost anything can be trained to resist its instinct”. She is making the most of her time with Hannibal, which as he later notes is coming to have “the quality of a memory”. Perhaps she would not haven chosen it freely, but as the end approaches, she seems committed to retaining their peace, suggesting that Pazzi could join Dr Fell and Professor Sogliato “down in the damp”. The capacity to experience fully even those moments that are unpleasant says a lot about her character. Like Chiyo, she can be made to stand still, but she cannot be emptied out and filled with Hannibal’s character in place of her own. That is left for Will.*

The episode leaves all of the (living) menfolk bruised and battered, either physically or emotionally, or both, in Will’s case. It is notable that although we haven’t seen Chilton’s Baltimore clinic for a long time now, echoes of it remain in Chiyo’s dungeon from last week’s episode and in Hannibal’s exhibit of torture instruments, set into various glass cabinets, mimics the structure of the open hall pierced by cages through which inmates might speak to their visitors. It was fun to see the whole thing being destroyed by Jack beating seven shades of hell out of Hannibal, and Jack’s freedom to claim that he will feel “alive” once Hannibal is gone is belied by his grim enjoyment of the fight. Jack and Will both find that their pursuit of Hannibal makes them feel alive, no matter how often it results in someone bruised and battered after a backflip from a train or three-storey window.

* And possibly Alana, although her call to Pazzi to try to dissuade him from going to his certain death suggests an imminent return to her former character traits…

Image (c) NBC

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