This episode offers a ‘second take’ on episode 9, just as William Blake’s two ‘Great Red Dragon and the Woman…’ images view the same scene from different perspectives. Spoilers below!
This episode certainly builds on the previous one. In the opening scene, it offers us the second half of Hannibal and Dolarhyde’s illicit phone conversation. We learn that Dolarhyde has broken into Hannibal’s old office in order to make his spoof telephone call, and Will is not the only one who hallucinates patient-psychiatrist exchanges in that space. As the scene gradually comes into focus for Dolarhyde as an out-of-body experience (first in his own flesh, then as the Great Red Dragon), we find out that Dolarhyde finds a kindred spirit in Hannibal, both of them wounded by the “bad reviews” of their crimes by the media. Dolarhyde’s wish to meet Hannibal, but also to subsume him as a lesser creature, gives Hannibal’s level voice an edge of self-control with a view to self-preservation. Mikkelsen is able to give a very particular tone to Hannibal’s exploratory utterances that is revealing in its simplicity. As part of this calm but cautious exploration, Hannibal employs his knowledge of anything and everything to tune in to Dolarhyde’s chosen mythology, and he quotes a line from another Blake poem, ‘The Tyger’, in wondering, “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” Hannibal has always been interested in the self-constructed, and his theism is, like Blake’s, idiosyncratic (Bedelia notes explicitly that Hannibal keeps the “Christian holidays”). He empathises with Dolarhyde’s sense of his own ‘becoming’, but of course this does not mean he isn’t willing to try to push Dolarhyde in certain directions. Already, we are in anticipation of how Hannibal might bring Will and Dolarhyde into collision, and to what end.
By way of other characters’ explorations, in this episode, Will seeks out Bedelia in her new (old) life as a lecturer and psychiatrist, just as in the previous episode he sought out Hannibal. It is not clear quite what purpose the meetings with Bedelia serve for Will except, perhaps seeking a second opinion, or satisfying sheer curiosity, now that he has opened the door to Hannibal once again. Throughout their conversation, Bedelia makes it perfectly clear that she knows Hannibal far more clearly than Will does, despite the fact that Will and Hannibal’s relationship was one of “passion”, as she has “been with him behind the veil”. Bedelia also warns Will that his nurturing urges are no more or less natural than her and Hannibal’s destructive ones—while he might want to rescue a vulnerable bird, her instinct would be to crush it; although she might not yield to the instinct, it is there, and she suggests that Will bear his own destructive instincts in mind in future, in order to “save himself a great deal of trouble”. Their discussion of wounded birds, which has come up previously in this series, has echoes of the scene in Harris’ Hannibal where Barney finds a dead bird and tries to encourage its mate to save itself and fly away; in the process, he shares with Clarice a discussion that he and Hannibal once had about ‘deep-rolling pigeons’, and Hannibal’s hope that Clarice has enough of a self-preservation instinct to prevent herself from entering a self-destructive spiral. Throughout the novel, despite his compassion and intellect, Barney is always on the edge of danger, and seems to escape only because he is not a ‘deep-roller’. The question the episode poses, then, brings us back to the very first episodes of series 1: whether Will’s empathic responses, in particular to the suffering of others, will eventually destroy him. Bedelia opens a door for Will to understand himself in shades of grey, not as a killer or a mentally ill killer-sympathiser, but as a good man capable of destructive violence when it is right; the ends justify the means.
Although it is not clear how much of an important plot point it will be in the final few episodes, there is also a question here about whether, in killing her patient, played by Zachary Quinto (you don’t see much of him anymore), Bedelia was giving full reign to the impulse to crush the weak for its own sake, and in doing so fell victim to Hannibal’s machinations, as has always been the show’s suggestion), or whether it formed a calculated part of her “covert therapy” of Hannibal. Or whether the latter is simply a delusion that Bedelia has about being self-constructed. Her relationship with Hannibal only becomes more entangled the more we learn about it. As Will says, she “dared to care”, and her veneer of professional compassion towards Hannibal masks some deeper sense of connection. In her efforts to help her choking patient — why he chokes remains a mystery, at least for now — we can see a shift between Bedelia’s doctorly instincts to try to free his airways and her instinct, when she is fingers-deep in his mouth, to hasten his choking instead, and perhaps this is the point at which her relationship with Hannibal deepens, turning from a shared intellectual psychopathy to a shared physical one. Her distaste for blood and gore never leaves her,as we saw in episode 3, when she removed the screwdriver from Professor Sogliato’s temple, but perhaps this is the moment at which Bedelia steps behind the veil. The steps she takes to protect others from herself, withdrawing from seeing patients, demonstrate that she is telling the truth when she tells Will that she would not crush the wounded bird, despite thinking of it.
Notwithstanding Gillian Anderson’s stellar performance, the ‘woman’ of the episode’s title must remain Reba, Dolarhyde’s colleague and love interest, just as it was last week. Taken by the idea of being able to act freely in the light, because she cannot see him, Dolarhyde’s attachment to her seems to be growing. The pain and anguish on his face when he retreats into the shadows at the mere mention of other people’s accounts of his appearance demonstrates the importance of light and dark to these two. He moves into the dark in order to move unseen and unfelt around the room. She relocates him by use of her other senses, and he is in the light again when she does so.
When Dolarhyde takes Reba to the zoo in order for her to encounter a tiger tactilely (while he is under anaesthetic), her worshipful response to the animal, touching its teeth and curling herself around its body, is a watershed moment for Dolarhyde, who clamps his hands around his own month and can only watch in wonder. That she treats Dolarhyde’s body in the same way in the next scene, bending at the waist to lay herself over his lap, continues the alignment between the Red Dragon and the tiger that Hannibal has set up for us, and the audience gets the ‘jump’ of the beast roaring to life not with the tiger, but with Dolarhyde, who scoops her up and takes her to bed, able to reveal his tattoos to her without fear because of her blindness, but also because of her fearless embrace. When they sleep together, Dolarhyde begins to weave Reba into his personal mythography, visualising her literally as clothed in sun. The scene is wonderfully shot, picking out beautiful highlights on Rutina Wesley’s face (see image above). Her emergence as a key figure for Dolarhyde provokes him, the show suggests, to advance his relationship with Blake’s watercolour of the Red Dragon; or perhaps it is his conversation with Hannibal, where he suggests he wishes to subsume this notorious monster as he develops. Either way, the show finally tackles what was always going to be a difficult scene to film: Dolarhyde eating the watercolour. As a matter of sheer convenience, Will is also attending the museum as a researcher to see the painting, and the two encounter one another briefly but violently. That addition to the otherwise powerful scene of consumption, in my opinion, added little except a reminder of Dolarhyde’s strength that was hardly needed after seeing Armitage’s performance of barely-restrained strength and emotion during the prior scenes with Reba.
He acquires Will’s home address by duping Chilton’s secretary, and the tables are now ready to turn from series 2, when Will plotted Hannibal’s murder from inside a cell at Baltimore. This would be ‘turn-about as fair play’, as the series 2 plot was an inversion of Harris’ Red Dragon, but of course Hannibal has already had his revenge on Will, and Will has already suffered the near-gutting that he receives from Dolarhyde in the book. Like with Freddie Lounds’ death, the show has used up a fair few of the plot points from Red Dragon, so it will be interesting to see where this leads.
(C) Image copyright NBC