not in our stars, but in ourselves
We fell to wrestling again. We rolled all over the floor, in each other’s arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us.
– Lolita, Part II, Chapter 35
I realize that I tend to see Vladimir Nabokov’s imprint on everything, to my peril as a critic and viewer, but the Italian comic opera ending fight of “Contorno” reminded me of Humbert Humbert’s final scuffle with Clare Quilty. Is Bryan Fuller a Nabokovian? Maybe, maybe not. But the herculean struggle between Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter, during the last five minutes of the episode, felt much more like H.H. vs. C.Q. – with all its twisted and mirrored identities, comic flourishes, macabre details, and dirty jokes – than the brutal showdown at the beginning and end of season two.
More about that in a bit, though. “Contorno” transposes one of the major plotlines from Hannibal the movie and novel to our pre-Red Dragon storyline – with great payoff, I’d say. To wit: Mason Verger, as indicated in “Aperitivo” last week, is making good on his promise to reward the person who brings him a live Lecter. Rinaldo Pazzi has found Hannibal, posing as Dr. Fell, and he assures Mason that he wants to collect the reward – even though he understands that Mason intends to torture and kill Hannibal. As you can imagine, things don’t go very well for Pazzi. He, like his fifteenth-century ancestor Francesco (who dared stand against the Medici clan), is disemboweled and hanged outside a museum window.
Hannibal the show has much more fun (in a grisly, giallo kind of way) with this Pazzi-the-patsy storyline than the movie, of course. When Pazzi arrives at the museum where “Dr. Fell” works, Hannibal puts on a Rossini record and toys with the hapless detective. He discusses the virtues of using Pazzi’s liver and kidney’s for his meal that night, and laments that he’d need to let the meat hang for a while before the rest of it would be any good. Cool conditions would help: “I didn’t see the forecast. Did you?” he asks his bound and terrified captive. Then, he wonders – in a scholarly vein, since there’s some question about whether Francesco Pazzi was eviscerated or left intact when he was hanged – if he should leave Pazzi’s “bowels in, or out?” Out, he thinks. Slice, push, neck snap, intestines plummet, ciao Pazzi.
Hannibal the show also employs the pre-Red Dragon storyline to find higher stakes for the rest of the cast, in this search for the FBI’s most wanted. Alana Bloom has joined forces with Mason, and she seems to regret it. During a Skype call with Pazzi (one of a very few times on the show that we see any sort of current-day technology; other than this and Jack’s mobile phone call to Bella after he’d had his neck sliced in “Mizumono,” we seldom see any proof that this show takes place any later than 1978), she asks if he understands clearly what it is that Mason wants with Lecter. The first seeds of doubt, or remorse, seem to have taken root. Later, she calls Pazzi’s mobile – but he’s rather tied up, and Hannibal answers. After all her detective work to find out where he was, all her psychiatric insight, she realizes that he still has the upper hand over her. Her moment of remorse will probably cost her dearly: Hannibal knows she was going to warn Pazzi, thereby saving Hannibal’s life, and Hannibal isn’t one to let someone else’s vulnerability remain unexploited.
Speaking of vulnerable, Will Graham and Chiyoh are on their way south from Lithuania, on a fancy, Agatha Christie-style wagon-lit. They have a few chiaroscuro discussions of snails (who sometimes survive being eaten by birds, fly across the world in the bird’s belly, and find themselves…well…deposited elsewhere) and baby big cats. Will has one of his visions: Chiyoh impaled on stag horns, not unlike Hannibal’s parody of the Minnesota Shrike in season one. He finds Chiyoh on the train’s caboose, looking out at the night. She reveals that she knows where Hannibal is, kisses Will, and throws him off the train. Due either to his usual hallucinations or to the knock on the head he just received, Will sees the nightmare stag walking along the tracks into the woods. Chiyoh had rightly surmised that Will feels the need to kill Hannibal, lest he turn into him; and here Will sees the emblem of his dark connection to Hannibal, leading the way back into a pitch-black forest. Get off those tracks, Will.
We’ll see where the two ladies end up. Chiyoh will probably fare better than Alana, but who knows. Briefly, we see Bedelia during this episode, too. She and Hannibal are, evidently, sexually active together – but she still seems to be very much on guard, however sassy her jokes are getting. When he feeds her a snail and massages her neck, it’s impossible not to see how tense and scared she looks. She’s brave enough to do what she thinks she needs to do to survive (most likely, anyway), but that doesn’t mean she’s unaware of the immense danger she faces every day. Gillian Anderson is, as always, brilliant.
Let’s return to that fight between Jack and Hannibal, though. It is brutal. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. It is also, however, really funny. Beyond the overture to The Thieving Magpie as musical accompaniment, we also have these two throwing down in Dr. Fell’s Torture Museum. Mads Mikklesen does a great job (as usual) of subtly conveying some of Hannibal’s smaller concerns and emotions during the fight; namely, that Jack is ruining all kinds of priceless artifacts, artifacts in which Hannibal does have genuine interest (scholarly and otherwise), by beating him up and throwing him through the glass display cases. The camera never lingers on these infinitesimal reactions, but they’re all there: “How rude of Jack to make me ruin this pear of anguish! I ought to make him into beef wellington.”
As I mentioned above, this all reminded me of Humbert and Quilty’s fight at the end of Lolita. In case you’re unfamiliar, Humbert and Lo had been taking their second trip across the United States, at Lo’s urging, when she disappeared at the age of fourteen. Humbert spent three years searching for her and for her abductor, and finally tracked down Clare Quilty: playwright, intellectual, pedophile, and moral psychopath. This was after Quilty left Humbert a series of insulting jokes, or jocular insults, in motel registers across the country. He would write pseudonyms that appealed to Humbert’s education and taste, often falling back on Poe, Shakespeare, Mérimée, detective stories, and Italian comedy: names and hometowns like “Dr. Gratiano Forbeson” of “Mirandola” or “Arsène Lupin” of Paris. They were all precisely attuned to Humbert’s mind, the better to enrage and frustrate him. Hannibal isn’t a bad analogue to Quilty, and in this scenario, Jack isn’t a bad analogue to Humbert. Humbert sought to avenge Lo’s abduction and corruption, never mind the fact that most of her “corruption” was his fault; Jack seeks to prevent Will from aligning forces – whether morally (as a fellow murderer) or spiritually (as an ally) – with Hannibal. It’s not a perfect comparison, and I doubt Fuller intended it, but I don’t think it’s completely off-base.
Regardless of any thematic similarities, there are some similarities between the fights themselves. “Mizumono” was a danse macabre, with Hannibal parkouring over his countertop, Jack arching back to avoid the butcher knife, Hannibal performing a series of sissonés to try to break down the door to the pantry where Jack was hiding. “Contorno” emphasizes the heaviness, the fatigue, the clumsiness of these two middle-aged men. They’re still both badass, don’t get me wrong. It’s clear, though, that they’re both a bit out of practice; and in Hannibal’s case, he’s at a distinct disadvantage (“because you took advantage of my disadvantage”), having been surprised with a few huge blows before he could formulate any kind of counterattack strategy.
In closing this late submission to the spate of “Contorno” reviews, I would like to mention some other reviewers’ objections to this episode. If they feel that the episode itself is clumsy and hamfisted (and I disagree with that assessment), perhaps it’s because the main event of this episode – Pazzi’s attempt to catch Hannibal, and Hannibal’s grisly dispatching of his would-be captor – comes from Hannibal the novel/movie. I have yet to read the novel, but the movie is notably less sophisticated than The Silence of the Lambs (movie or book) or Red Dragon (book only; I hear Manhunter is pretty good, so I’ll have to check that one out). The Italian storylines are all a bit overripe and ridiculous, not unlike Italian opera, but I trust Fuller to get us back onto solid ground soon. Have more faith, other TV critics.