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Hannibal — TV review (S3E8, The Great Red Dragon)

This is where Hannibal becomes even more interesting for a literature geek, as a TV series fascinated with a set of books, with a character fascinated with William Blake’s set of images of The Great Red Dragon.

Spoilers below (as though I needed to warn you).

After a rather self-indulgent first half, albeit pacier in episode seven, Hannibal takes a new turn. Fans of the books will find themselves on rather more solid ground now that the season has dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s and brought us all the way back to the beginning.

We begin with flesh, a close-up of Francis Dolarhyde’s hand as he peruses a Time magazine cover about Blake and The Great Red Dragon, followed by his routine of strengthening, isometric yoga, articulating his body into various animalistic poses. Although Hannibal is understood to have impressive strength, we never see him in such a position of effort; Hannibal’s becoming is final and apparently without need of maintenance, but Dolarhyde’s is only just beginning. Armitage is impressive in not only his physical display, but in his excited and terrified depiction of Dolarhyde’s preparations for his first crime, and its gory aftermath.

We are caught up with Hannibal’s story in vague flashes whilst he is otherwise engaged in his memory palace, listening to a choirboy sing in the chapel in Palermo. Although we gloss over his incarceration in his plastic cell for three years, his settled position is made clear by the two interviews he holds with Alana and Chilton. Alana continues to provide a vehicle for the inclusion of some of the most interesting lines in Hannibal’s interactions with Clarice Starling, such as on issues of taste, and although she is now head of the hospital in which Hannibal is incarcerated, he makes clear that nothing has changed between them: he intends to keep his promise to eat her when he can.

Three years may have passed, but Hannibal is playing the long game, and there is only so long that he can entertain himself writing pieces for the American Journal of Psychiatry rebutting Chilton’s lies, which along with Alana’s were used to have him declared criminally insane. As Chilton fears, the “young Turk”, Dolarhyde, seems to “inspire the old Lithuanian to keep himself interesting”.

Will has made his life with dogs, a wife (Molly) and a step-son (Walter), precisely as Thomas Harris has it, and Jack appears to have returned to the FBI. Despite a warning letter from Hannibal and feeling uncertain about his abilities, Will allows himself to be drawn back into working for Jack, and Molly reproduces Alana’s uncertainties from series 1 with similar (nil) effect.

I often think that the show has the soundtrack of a video game, with glisterings making the player aware of something significant, and ominous music preparing us for horror to come. Will’s exploration of Dolarhyde’s crime scene draws this to the fore, as he is testing out his old abilities, at each stage alert to every cue and uncertain about his capacity to deal with the next one. His ability to say variations of the phrase, “This is my design,” in cringeworthy ways remains intact, however, and in a way this is Hannibal back to the ‘case of the week’ set up of old. To top it off, our favourite lab techs — Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams — are back with their black humour, too. This is definitely the highlight of the episode!

The stage is now set for Hannibal and Will to have a fresh meeting of minds. I’m looking forward to the next episode a lot more than I have in recent weeks.

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