We are coming now near to the end of our journey with NBC’s reimagining of Hannibal, and this episode is all about positioning the characters for the final showdown. Spoilers ahead!
This episode is a combination of under- and over-estimating Hannibal, who has — through the approach of the Red Dragon — become “relevant” again to the FBI, several episodes after he become relevant again to Will.
Will, apparently learning from past mistakes, such as Randall Tier (S2E9, Shiizakana), hypothesises that Hannibal knows and previously treated Dolarhyde. Here, he both underestimates and overestimates Hannibal’s malevolent omniscience, something which Hannibal gently chastises him for when Will accuses him of knowing everything: “A sophisticated intelligence can forecast many things. I suppose mine is sophisticated enough.” Hannibal’s knowledge is not demonic, but a matter of careful calculation. Hannibal does not know precisely who the Red Dragon is, and he did not formerly treat him; but he is treating him now, through their illicit calls, and he knows what Dolarhyde is becoming. The show intimates momentarily that Hannibal did have a prior therapeutic relationship with Dolarhyde by taking us immediately into Dolarhyde’s hallucinated therapy session with Hannibal, but his reference to Reba situates us temporally, and accordingly frees Hannibal to act magically — appearing in several places at once — in Dolarhyde’s hallucination. Overestimating and underestimating Hannibal simultaneously is a trait that many characters share. Dolarhyde evinces respect for Hannibal, but also wishes to consume him once he has completed his Becoming. He takes Hannibal’s suggestions in good faith, and perhaps if he had been successful, his attack on Molly and Walter would have been enough.
The attack at Will’s home follows the plot of the novels to an extent, but in Harris’ original, Will has hidden away Molly and Walter and is at home alone when the Dragon comes. Instead, the episode puts Molly and Walter directly in peril. There is, to me, something unlikely about their survival. Perhaps the Red Dragon is degenerating, and is therefore less careful than he had been previously. Perhaps Molly is simply a very light sleeper, or particularly anxious with Will away and the dogs poisoned. But this is a killer who has successfully annihilated two families and barely left a trace. The whole scene felt to me like an inelegant answer to having the Dragon’s attack without gratuitous tragedy for Will (although that’s hardly stopped the show from cutting into his flesh multiple times) or a repetition of the gutting attack by Hannibal at the end of the last season. It is nothing less than the show tip-toeing all over the floor it has just painted, after it figures out it’s stuck in the corner. For a show that has been so clever with its source material in the past, such as faking Freddie’s death, watching the scene made me feel like their energy was elsewhere, and so they had imported some horror story tropes to give the episode some jumps. Wouldn’t a foiling of the Dragon’s attack, e.g. by Will hiding Molly and Walter away after learning of the dog’s poisoning, and the Dragon feeling fury and disappointment because he can no longer find them to film, track and murder them, have been just as powerful? The show wouldn’t have lost Molly and Will’s “clammy sick feeling” knowing that Hannibal has incited someone to annihilate their family, and the claustrophobia of a middle-of-nowhere motel room would have been better than the swish, clinical hospital. But done is done, and the show has given some very personal justification to Will’s determination to defeat Dolarhyde, so perhaps for that reason the ends justify the means.
After his failure to kill Molly and Walter, Dolarhyde’s fate is sealed. He knows that the Dragon will demand Reba as a sacrifice, after taking a beating from his alter ego, and so he breaks off their relationship. I think Reba is actually one of my favourite characters, and it is a shame that the creative licence that the show takes didn’t allow them to make more of her. Reba asks for and offers no pity when Dolarhyde makes clear that he wishes to break their relationship off because he’s afraid that he will hurt her; she is wounded, but too dignified to beg or argue back. She simply tells him to get his hat and go; the decision made, it should be followed through with dignity. I suspect that, in the final show down, Reba will still end up imperilled in the way that she was in the novel, as it is clear that Dolarhyde feels the Dragon still wishes to kill her and that he fears that she will come to the house. The stage is set.
The intercepted telephone call between Hannibal and Dolarhyde sees Hannibal make a difficult decision to subject himself to Alana’s threatened indignity, including the removal of his toilet, in order to protect his patient. Hannibal is never anything but scrupulous. He will distort the truth and other’s perceptions in order to get his own way, but as he tells Alana, “in his own way” he is always honest and true. He “can’t refuse him a sympathetic ear”, and so he keeps him on the line not only for them but for the sake of their therapeutic relationship. Hannibal’s “they’re listening” functions similarly to Will’s “they know” to Hannibal at the end of season 2. There is a sense of compassion, of a debt owed, even to the murderous and the criminal. “Don’t let fear leach your strength” is a wonderful piece of advice from Hannibal, and one that no doubt forms part of his own strategy as he is subjected to the indignities that Alana has promised him for failing to cooperate with the FBI.
Hannibal is fighting to keep Will a part of his family, and his alone, by destroying the family that Will has constructed for himself. Before Dolarhyde’s attack, he indicates to Will that the next victims (Molly and Walter) are not his family, so he has no obligation to save them. He suggests to Will that he is letting them die; a clue that Will fails to pick up because he is too confident in his own reading of the situation and is no longer listening. The attack itself has changed Will’s perception of his family; as he intimates to Hannibal, he nows sees the dragon’s victims when he looks at his wife. “Two souls are dwelling in my breath, / And one is striving to forsake its brother”, Hannibal warns. The lines from Goethe’s Faust suggests that Hannibal continues to see Will and himself as ‘soulmates’, bound together like a family not of blood but of choices. “Don’t you crave change, Will?” Hannibal asks, ending the episode. Change is coming, as it comes to all things; good things are slippery and difficult to keep hold of, as Molly has said, and what they had is already gone.
Perhaps one sign of this is one thing that really surprised me in this episode: Will seems to have a failure of empathy in interacting with Walter. He asks whether finding out about Will’s past bothers Walter “because I married your mom”. Given that Walter calls Will dad, it seems to me that his issue is less that his mother has married Will than that he has learnt something painful and difficult about a man he loves and admires. “I had to justify myself to an eleven-year-old,” Will tells Jack angrily. Well, Will, you were always going to have to be honest with him eventually, and as his father figure, it is surely his responsibility to contextualise what he has done to give the boy — who rightly feels murderous after the attack on him and his mother — some moral guidance. Perhaps Will’s new family is not really as closely bound as his old family was…
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