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As a change is as good as a rest, I thought I would take some time away from thesis redrafting to write something here about vampires from a media theory perspective. Yes. Vampires. Media theory. Settle in!
One of Friedrich Kittler‘s few extended literary analyses applies toBram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), wherein Kittler invites us to see Dracula’s fight as primarily against new mediums, particularly the typewriter and the gramophone. Here, I want to put Kittler’s reading of Dracula against one of the most influential vampire stories of our own turn of the century, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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.