In this penultimate episode, the series cleaves quite closely to the Red Dragon novel, except this time it is Chilton going up in flames, rather than Freddie. I was wondering how the series would get around the fact that they have already used some of the best images and sequences from the novels, repurposed for previous storylines, and this is the solution. The episode is in two minds about whether it is Frederick or knowledge of Will’s stunt faking Lounds’ death that prompts the Dragon to set fire to Chilton after biting off his lips; when he awakes, Chilton feels pain in his back and on his skin, and asks whether he is burned. The idea seems to take hold with the Dragon, who repeats the word several times, but Jack reads Chilton being set aflame as a ‘copy-cat’ act. Nevertheless, setting Chilton as bait, rather than using Will himself, is an interesting twist. When they discuss it Jack, Will and Alana pretend that they are still trying to set Will up to tempt the Dragon, and that they are using Chilton only for legitimation, so that the Dragon is less able to see the trap, it is clear that this is only a shared delusion of control over the situation. Hannibal confronts Alana about her “professional discourtesy” towards Chilton, knowingly putting him at risk by inviting him to undertake a task that she herself would not.
This is a quick run-through of what I like to think of as episode 2 of season 4 of Hannibal, following the Red Dragon/Tooth Fairy plot from Red Dragon.
Having become increasingly unimpressed with the A.V. Club reviews for Hannibal, I’ve stumbled across the ‘Eat the Rudecast’ instead. They’re worth listening to, although they’re a little long. As Hannibal is now screening on Saturdays in the US, the podcasts are also way ahead of the UK schedule, so beware spoilers!
It was great to see Freddie back in action, sniping with Will in some of the best dialogue of the episode (#murderhusbands). If the season stays true to the novel then we’ll have more to come from her. Given that they used up some of the plot points in earlier seasons (Ko No Mono), however, such as using Freddie as bait and faking her fiery death, it will be interesting to see what sort of twist they manage to give to the order of events. The show has proven that it can be endlessly imaginative with its intertexts, so I hope they manage to put Freddie to good use.
Richard Armitage continues to shine as Francis Dolarhyde, and in this episode we see his first encounter with Reba, the blind woman who offers him companionship and a model for living with disability that might have helped him had he not been so far gone. We also get to see a flash of his back-story and his own family issues with his grandmother. For a moment, I wondered whether it was Hannibal’s family that we were seeing (the empty plate beside the young boy suggestive of a missing sibling), but it can only be Dolarhyde’s scene, in context.
I am also liking Alana a lot more now that she has finally stepped out of the role of Will’s caretaker. Her interactions with Hannibal, and her motivation for holding the keys to the five doors that contain him, show her in a far more balanced life. As a character, she finally feels like she can hold her own. It’s only taken two and a half seasons…!
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.
This episode is the intended volta of the series, and it certainly feels that way. I shan’t say anything more, except spoilers below!
After last week’s ‘reveal’ of Hannibal and Will at Muskrat Farm, with Mason’s quest to be the “apex predator” reaching its crescendo, I have to admit that the first thought I had when settling down to watch this episode was: I wonder what’s happened to Bedelia? I’m afraid the episode offers no answers, but I’m sure we’ll find out later in the series, which is now turning its attention to the plot of Red Dragon.
In order to do that, we know that Hannibal must end the episode in police custody, and not at large or in Mason Verger’s stomach. And so the question is how we get there.
Chiyoh provides a variety of sideline support in this episode, rescuing Jack after Hannibal and Will are abducted by corrupt Questure officials, and carefully tracking Hannibal and Will in order to help them out in their stickiest moments.
Mason’s dastardly plan is thwarted in much the same way as in the novels, except the plan is far more dastardly than before. Aside from the delusional ‘face-off’ whereby he plans to have Will’s face transplanted onto his, his torture of Margot is rather more profound than in the novel. In the novel, the suggestion is that Margot’s steroid use has rendered her infertile, but here Margot is infertile because Mason willed it, forcing a hysterectomy upon her. Now, it is revealed that he did not destroy her ovaries, but kept the eggs, and has fertilised them himself. As if the additional incestuous twist on the ‘Verger baby’ of the novel is not enough, he has had the eggs implanted into a surrogate: one of his sows. The violent misogyny of Mason’s attacks on Margot is palpable, and Joe Anderson displays it at its finest/worst in the moment when he spits out at Margot that it was her surrogate, a surrogate replacing her, and never his.
I do wonder what the implication is of having Margot and Alana plot and carry out the murder together. There is clearly emotional resonance in having Alana free Hannibal, and snatch his hair to frame him for Mason’s murder later, but the episode reduces Margot to a small part in the older woman’s drama. In an exchange with Will before he is rescued by Hannibal, Alana tells him that “the finer details of what [she] thought would happen have evolved”, and it seems that she follows his advice to evolve with it. For Margot, though, there doesn’t seem to be any evolution. It is as though we could not have two fully fledged women here, and so they have to share the job, just as they share the job of looking mournful and dumbfounded by Mason in various scenes. Despite locating misogyny within the character of sadistic Mason, the show continues to have its own problems with granting women space, even when the source material is very clear about it. I think, perhaps, the show lacked for not having a substitute for Barney, who provided a much more interesting male foil for Margot in Hannibal.
And so, rather than carrying Clarice Starling — his rescuer — away from Muskrat Farm, Hannibal carries out Will, keeping a promise to Alana to save him. At the end of the episode, Hannibal has done his level best to reverse time, as he always aspires to do. He has returned Will to himself, to his home, and to his desire never to see or think about Hannibal again, as though none of it had ever happened. But, wounded and petty in the moment, Hannibal does not leave, but waits outside Will’s home. When Jack arrives with the police, as eventually, inevitably, he must, Hannibal chooses to surrender himself.
Hannibal’s initial capture is not a subject of any of Harris’ books, but this episode, as it meanders its way from being a prequel to being something else, had to tackle the issue. Will has offered Hannibal the opportunity to escape. He so much as says that he will not call the police, whilst refusing also to remain with Hannibal any longer, because he “does not share [Hannibal’s] appetite”, but can only tolerate in wickedness, not delight in it. Their farewell has much in common with Alana’s final encounter with Hannibal, where she asks whether she could have ever understood him — as psychiatrist or lover, it is hard to tell — and he answers in the negative. Once again, there is an unbridgeable gap between Hannibal and those around him, and it seems to be this that he cannot accept.
He knows that Chiyoh is watching the encounter, as she has promised that she will watch over him as long as he is free, because “some beasts shouldn’t be caged”. Hannibal therefore has to choose to sacrifice Chiyoh’s protection, portrayed as the most dependable of things, in order to submit himself to capture so that Will will always know where to find him.
Hannibal here seems to play into Will’s idea that the fight between them is now zero-sum, with no decisive victory possible. By submitting himself to incarceration, when he knows will end in Chilton’s hospital, Hannibal suspends the game. Life and liberty are now off the table; they are pre-determined. Will cannot (easily) kill him within the hospital, and he cannot ever lose sight of him there, either. On the other hand, Hannibal has no such guarantees about Will’s visibility, but he also forfeits the opportunity to eat Will. Perhaps that is the point. Not sure that he can resist killing and eating Will, and unwilling to be abandoned by him, Hannibal restrains them both by using the police’s restraints upon himself.
We are now almost halfway through this series, which will be the show’s last (for a long while, at least), and it is now flying through some of its source materials. This episode, in particular, takes a large leap forward, so beware spoilers below!
This series is, to put it mildly, digressive. Without the weekly crimes of the first two series, which at least gave the impression of momentum, the series has a viscous quality. It is flowing, slowly, unpredictably, oozingly. But it is almost as though in this episode, when the series should be drawing to a close the part of its plot taken from Hannibal in order to take on the plot of Red Dragon, the writers and directors finally wised up and thought, “Ah, crap, just cut to black, and then they’re all at the end game”.
And so. The episode begins in its usual style. Hannibal and Bedelia continue to be the most (and possibly only) interesting thing about the series so far. Their farewell is oddly emotive. Both of them are oddly fatalistic, but also hopeful. They continue to chance their arm, taking risks despite knowing that it is impossible to escape one’s future, which is already written in one’s past.
And for those avid shippers, there is further food for thought, including Bedelia bathing Hannibal and dressing his wounds, and an erotic charge for them both at the prospect that they might yet be reunited, with the strong risk of Hannibal killing and eating her. I fully expect to see Bedelia continue to eat acorns, oysters and sweet wines throughout the rest of the series, and I’ll be disappointed if the show doesn’t take that opportunity for understatedly demonstrating Hannibal’s emotional draw.
The steps by which the episode leads up to the final scene (before the kidnapping by the Questure of Hannibal and Will, removing them to Muskrat Farm) are rather random. An encounter by Jack and Will at the Palazzo Capponi lead them to Bedelia. Bedelia is happy to tell all and sundry where Hannibal is hiding, in her veiled way, feigning drug-addled confusion along the way (wonderfully acted with shades of her turn as Blanche DuBois at the National Theatre). Exasperated by her, Will diverts to the Uffizi in order to find Hannibal in front of ‘La Primavera’. Leaving together, Will draws a knife, and Chiyoh — conveniently placed on the roof above the square — shoots him. Hannibal presumes in order to protect him. Hannibal then successfully abducts the man shot in broad daylight and takes him to the apartment of Professor Sogliato, where he is joined by Jack, who leaves Bedelia in the hands of the corrupt Questure.
Hannibal wishes to return himself, Will and Jack to a version of the dinner that they should have shared together in Baltimore, that in the end became a bloodbath. The end is always rooted in the beginning, indeed, but when Hannibal begins sawing into Will’s skull with the aim of eating his brain a la Paul Krendler, the emotional energy required for our suspension of disbelief grows and grows (the ‘cut to black’ and appearance at Muskrat Farm are a trite play to “surprise” viewers)…
What other digressions are there? An oddly attired Margot, and Alana exemplifying yet another sexual-assault-survisor-trope, the turn to lesbianism. In Harris’ Hannibal, it is suggested that Mason’s sexual abuse has affected Margot’s sexuality in this way. The show shied away from suggesting that explicitly, but it seems to be the driver for both characters now. It’s a shame, as actually I would have loved to see both fully drawn, in the way that Bedelia is, and then interacting with each other.
There are various other echoes of the Harris novels scattered throughout the episode, such as Mason teaching himself to eat human flesh in a way that mimics the training of his pigs in the book. These intermedial references, along with the show’s focus on its visuals, are responsible for the bulk of the pleasure the last few episodes have generated, at least for me (and in this episode, the kaleidoscopic visuals were ugly, particularly the rip-off of Almodovar’s Live Flesh in Margot and Alana’s sex scene).
The purpose of Chiyoh is, I’m afraid, still to be identified, but I wonder whether she will be his Clarice Starling, as the show doesn’t have the rights to that character, and she cannot, therefore, rescue Hannibal from Mason’s clutches. The next episode should tell us all!
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.
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