not in our stars, but in ourselves
– “Mild und leise wie er lächelt,” Tristan und Isolde
With “Digestivo” – the quasi-midseason finale of Hannibal‘s possible last season – the old will they/won’t they tension between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham resolves in a decided “they won’t.” Nobody seems very happy about it.
Last we saw our gruesome twosome, they’d been collected by corrupted Italian police and transported to Muskrat Farms, the slaughterhouse and family estate of the Vergers. Mason, who bears a somewhat understandable (if blown far out of proportion) grudge against Hannibal and Will, tells them that they’re “gonna have some good, funny times”: to wit, he intends to eat Hannibal piece by piece, keeping him alive long enough to suffer immensely. As for Will, Mason plans to remove his face (because he’s right: it’s a nice face) and attach it to his own. Since Mason is incapacitated after what Hannibal did to him, he relies on his trusty doctor/chef/personal assistant, Cordell (Glenn Fleshler), who clearly enjoys his work, and could very likely out-Sade the sadist, if left to his own devices. Fortunately for Will and Hannibal, Margot Verger and Alana Bloom have been plotting Mason’s doom since they laid eyes on each other. They free Hannibal from his pigpen, allowing him to rescue Will from the imminent face-swap surgery, and dispatch of Mason by dumping him into the aquarium where he keeps his pet eels. Hannibal, meanwhile, has flown the coop, carrying Will through the snow, all the way to Will’s house in Wolf Trap, Virginia. (Presumably, not all the way on foot, since my research informs me that Northern Maryland, near the Susquehanna River, is a very long way from Wolf Trap – 29 hours if your pace is three miles per hour – but this is Hannibal, so you really never know.)
Once Hannibal has nursed Will back to health and consciousness, he seems to expect that they’ll pick back up where they left off: two snails circling each other for an interminably long time, getting ready to shoot off their love darts; but Will has finally had enough. He tells Hannibal, in no uncertain terms, that they’re through. No more will he search for him. No more will he yearn for him. He doesn’t want to be with him, or know where he is. Will says, “I miss my dogs. I’m not going to miss you.” A heartbroken Hannibal walks out into the bitter cold. That night, Jack Crawford and the FBI arrive – too late, Will tells him, and Jack believes it’s true, but lo and behold: Hannibal steps out from the shadows. “Here I am,” he says as he surrenders. He wants to make sure Will always knows where to find him, if Will ever changes his mind. Thus ends the bad romance, or rad bromance, of the first two and a half seasons.
As pure entertainment, this episode was terrific. We did get some good, funny times at Muskrat Farms! I don’t think there’s anything currently on TV, except Key & Peele, as hilarious as the dinner scene with Mason, Will, and Hannibal (who eats oysters – of course). Mason, raconteur that he is, tells his guests that he’s reminded of the (true) story about the German man who advertised for a friend to eat, and ended up overcooking the penis. What a shame! The humor isn’t lost on Hannibal, whose cat-that-ate-the-canary grin breaks out irrepressibly throughout Mason’s prattling. Hannibal is always looking for amusement, even when he’s in mortal danger, and he’s plainly delighted that Mason’s vulgar revenge plot has provided so much of it. He’s like McMurphy watching the rest of the inmates descend into chaos at one of Nurse Ratched’s group therapy sessions in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When Will bites off a piece of Cordell’s cheek (it’s that kind of party), Hannibal positively beams.
None of this merriment detracts from the emotional sucker punch of the final scene, however. That’s what Hannibal has gotten right from the beginning – finding real emotional power and truth in these potentially pulpy characters and stories – and we receive a nice, devastating payoff here. I had marveled earlier in the season at what an improbable feat Bryan Fuller, et al., pulled off: creating a Hannibal Lecter that the audience would truly hate to see imprisoned. I wondered if Will’s quest to kill him was an act of love: better to die free than live in chains, or something like that, especially when the beast to be chained is one as rare as Hannibal. As ever, the show one-upped my expectations. What could be more bittersweet than Hannibal surrendering himself, surrendering his freedom and his life as he knows it, once he accepts that Will is no longer interested in chasing him? What gesture could be more romantic (or Romantic) than vowing to remain in one place, for the rest of his life, in case Will comes looking for him? In Tristan und Isolde, as in plenty of other grand operas and literature of the nineteenth century, the lovers feel certain that they can be united eternally in death, and death alone. It’s the same principle here, in Hannibal’s view: the only way for him and Will to consummate their love, if they’re ever going to consummate it, is for Hannibal to surrender to something that’s as close to death as possible without an actual flatline.
Of course, the surrender also allows Hannibal to retain his undefeated streak. Jack corrects Hannibal: we didn’t catch you, you gave yourself up. As Alana has noted, as Chiyoh has noted, as Bedelia has noted, Hannibal never lets things happen to him. He makes them happen. It’s hard to imagine Hannibal being captured against his will, not without a terribly Pyrrhic victory for his pursuers; but it’s not hard to imagine him deciding that life without Will wasn’t worth living, so he may as well give up and wait for him in peace and quiet, rather than running in the hopes that Will would follow.
Next week, the Red Dragon arc begins, after a three-year time jump. For anyone who felt that the first half of the season – dreamy and abstract as it often was – drifted too far away from the plot, a good old-fashioned serial killer story line should draw them back in. I’m looking forward to meeting Francis Dolarhyde, Molly Graham, Reba McClane; and I’m looking forward to seeing what three years out of the game has done to Will and to Hannibal. However, I feel that this first half of season three has been a gorgeous, yearning, tragic masterpiece – and I only wish a more suitable network or platform had gotten hold of it in the first place.