not in our stars, but in ourselves
Who would ever have thought that Hannibal Lecter, of all people, would agree with the mostly right-leaning moral guardians of America? Will Graham comes to visit him in prison, and Hannibal tells him, “Family values have declined over the last half-century, but we still help our families when we can. You are family, Will.” Cue Sister Sledge. Of course, Hannibal is – as usual – trying to play Will like a violin. The reason Will is investigating the so-called Tooth Fairy murders is family: the Tooth Fairy targets families, Will has a family, etc., etc. Hannibal infers that Will must have a child of some sort, or else why would he wear such atrocious aftershave? It smells like it comes from something with a ship on the bottle, he sneers. Only a child would choose an aftershave with a ship on the bottle. Will, do you have a child? Must be adopted. You’d never have a biological child, because you’re terrified of passing any of yourself on.
The heat-seeking missile that is Hannibal Lecter’s wit hasn’t fallen into disrepair in prison.
Of course, he’s considerably bitchier after three years behind bars (or glass, as the case may be). The lines that Anthony Hopkins hissed to Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore sound all the more bitter coming from Mads Mikkelsen – caged tiger that he is. When Will walks over to the small metal drawer in Hannibal’s cell – the one that conveys the doctor’s meal trays, books, mail, phone calls – Hannibal follows him like a pacing panther, like a shadow. It doesn’t help matters that Will refuses to bite. He refers to him as “Dr. Lecter,” keeping the prisoner at a distance. He refuses even to acknowledge any of Hannibal’s questions about his family. He asks only for Hannibal’s insight into the massacres at Chicago and Buffalo. If Hannibal can’t or won’t provide that, Will isn’t coming back. (So he hopes.) Will has Molly and Walter, and a pack of dogs. He’s investigating this case because he has to. Earlier in the series, Will investigated crimes because he wanted to learn more about Hannibal, about his mind, about the rare gift that Hannibal had to give him. That’s no longer true for Will. It’s the murderer, Francis Dolarhyde, infiltrating Will’s mind now. Not Hannibal.
This isn’t lost on Hannibal, who – in a parallel to Will’s visions earlier this season – remembers his time with Abigail. Will’s Abigail was a sort of imaginary friend; Hannibal, on the other hand, forged a real relationship with her, one that we explore in flashbacks. Abigail, Hannibal tells Will, was the child that he wanted to give Will – if Will would come with him. When Will refused, Hannibal killed Abigail, gutting Will emotionally just after gutting him literally. We knew how Will felt about Abigail, how paternal and protective he wanted to be. Here, we see how Hannibal succeeded in imprinting himself on her as a surrogate father – through mind control, manipulation, the usual tricks. He involves Abigail in framing Will for her murder. We get the sense that Hannibal truly did love her, but love means something rather different to Dr. Lecter than it does to most of us, or even to Will. Hannibal’s concept of a family is about as functional as the Bluths’ – and as deeply as Will felt, or perhaps feels, about Hannibal, that’s just not good enough for him.
I would offer a rare criticism of the show, relating to all of this: while it’s interesting and illuminating to see how Hannibal adopted Abigail, it interrupts the flow of the main event of this latter half of the season. I don’t think that anything significant is added by the inclusion of these scenes, except to show that Hannibal is visiting some very sad rooms in his memory palace in the face of Will’s rejection. We could get that in other, more succinct ways. We revisited what we needed to revisit at the beginning of season three. The Abigail scenes weren’t done badly at all; indeed, they were compelling in their own way. But they weren’t necessary. Hannibal has been a remarkably lean series, and these flashbacks felt like big chunks of fat. Perhaps they’ll pay off later, but at this point in the show, we’re here for the Red Dragon.
He is, of course, magnificent. He is also, as Hannibal continually refers to him, “a shy boy”: seeing himself as little unwanted Francis Dolarhyde, sitting at a macabre dining room table with his tyrannical grandmother and a dozen or so dotty old people. We see him at work, interacting with a lovely coworker, Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley). She’s blind – an appealing enough feature for a man who smashes every mirror he encounters – and she seems genuinely interested in him. He’s self-conscious about his speech, due to his cleft palate, and she addresses it directly, telling him his speech is wonderfully clear, and she wants to hear more of it. It’s almost possible to forget that this shy boy, experiencing the first crush of his life, is the vicious serial killer that Will has (unwisely) sought Hannibal’s help to capture.
Unfortunately for Will, his visit to Hannibal didn’t go unnoticed. Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki), tabloid reporter extraordinaire, has followed the Hannibal-Will Graham love affair from its inception – and she got plenty of pictures of Will leaving the hospital for the criminally insane. Dolarhyde has been a fannibal for years, it seems, and he’s delighted to realize that Will’s visit to Hannibal means that Hannibal must have taken an interest in Dolarhyde’s Becoming. This is not going to be good news for Will Graham. Hannibal continues to follow Red Dragon the novel quite closely; so while it’s possible that Bryan Fuller will deviate from Thomas Harris’s ending, it’s not likely that it will be a tacked-on happily-ever-after.
All in all, this episode did a good job of moving the plot forward while still incorporating the rich characterization built up over the past two and a half seasons. I wish it hadn’t spent so long in literal memories within Hannibal’s memory palace – but it wasn’t a misstep, just a bit of a stall. Armitage continues to bring the Red Dragon to heartbreaking, terrifying life. Wesley is ideal as Reba, a woman who won’t accept pity. And we even get some nice, dirty jokes: when Alana Bloom says she’s loves a good finger-wagging, Hannibal snaps right back, “Yes, you do. How’s Margot?” I told you he was getting bitchy in prison. It’s a shame he can’t join Team Sassy Science. He’d fit right in.