more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

Double-edged sword: Hannibal, “And the Woman Clothed in Sun”

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While toying with Francis Dolarhyde, Hannibal quotes a portion of William Blake’s “The Tyger”.  For those of you not up on your early Romantics, here’s the whole thing:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Well-read Hannibal!  His particular quotation from the poem – “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” – illustrates the central theme of this episode: duality, contradiction, man’s better self vs. his monstrous self, etc.  It’s the old question that no religion has answered to any real satisfaction.  Why does God, omnipotent and omniscient, allow suffering?  Why create an animal as innocent and helpless as a lamb, and also an animal as ruthless as a tiger?  Monotheistic religions tend to dismiss all such questions with the non-answer, “God has a plan” – but the Devil has plans, too.  Hannibal certainly does.

“And the Woman Clothed in Sun” sees our shy boy, Francis, going to great pains to make the phone call to Dr. Lecter we saw last week.  He practices his plosives alone in his attic, changes the license plate on his van, drives all the way to Baltimore, scrambles some signals (physically, with actual wires, and via some sort of computer program), poses as Hannibal’s lawyer (hence the plosive practice), and experiences a moment of near-religious ecstasy when he hears his hero’s voice on the other line.  As Alana noted earlier this season, Hannibal doesn’t do anything without a healthy sense of amusement – and he is tickled pink by this Red Dragon.  He asks if he’s John the Baptist to Dolarhyde’s Jesus Christ; Dolarhyde corrects him, saying that Hannibal is 666 and Dolarhyde is the Dragon.  This show has been all about mentorships, partnerships, relationships – but here, the game is changed.  Chilton has tried to frame the Tooth Fairy’s work and notoriety, compared to Lecter’s, as a sort of All About Eve scenario.  However, the stakes are higher than that: Hannibal understands that Dolarhyde is just crazy enough to bring about the end of the world, so to speak – just as the Great Red Dragon heralds the end of the world in “Revelations”.  That doesn’t dissuade Hannibal, of course.  What does he have to lose if everyone on the outside kills each other?

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Shy Francis, when he’s not slaughtering families and breaking into cannibals’ offices, continues his charmingly awkward courtship of the beautiful Reba.  He is, or he could be, a genuinely sweet man in his free time.  For their first date, he takes her to the zoo, where an anesthetized tiger is about to have a tooth removed.  D., as Reba calls him, has arranged for her to pet the slumbering (well, drugged) beast.  Fearless as she is, Reba explores every inch of the tiger, tiger, burning bright.  Francis regards all of this anxiously, especially when she gently feels its mouth and bared fangs – but neither the tiger nor the Dragon strikes, and they head back to his place for drinks.  Reba, still fearless and direct, makes a pass at Francis – and he scoops her up, carries her to his bedroom, and makes wild, dragon love to her.  And in case you doubted, for even a moment, that Hannibal is the best show on television: we see Reba climax not only first, but more than once.  In an industry that regularly mutes women’s sexual pleasure, or treats it as something criminal, or places it second to the man’s pleasure and power – this is a pretty revolutionary move.  If even the Great Red Dragon makes sure that his partner achieves orgasm, what excuse do the rest of you have?  Who on EARTH decided to cancel this?  Honestly.

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There’s more happening than just courtship and fanboying, of course.  Will catches up with Bedelia, who’s made a life for herself as a lecturer on all things Hannibal.  She tells crowds of people that he worked on her and worked on her until she no longer knew who or what she was.  This, of course, is a lie.  Will knows it.  Over the course of this season, we’ve begun to see that Bedelia is truly as twisted as Hannibal, even if she doesn’t (always) partake of his cooking.  Bedelia asks Will what he would feel if he saw a wounded bird in the grass as he walked down the street.  Will would see the vulnerable, scared little thing, and want to help it.  Bedelia would see the vulnerability – and want to crush it.  In a series of flashbacks, we see the events leading up to her murder of her patient, Neal (Zachary Quinto).  Neal is a handful, it must be said, but he was made all the worse by Dr. Lecter’s “care”.  Lecter employed the same strobe light “therapy” on Neal as he did, later, on Will in season one; the effect – giving Neal seizures and forgetting how he’d gotten to where he woke up – was similar as well.  Where we’d been told up to now that Bedelia killed Neal out of self-defense, here we see that Neal was simply having a seizure again…and Bedelia shoved her fist all the way down his throat.  She tells Will, “Extreme acts of violence require a high level of empathy.” In her telling, she did Neal a favor – as she would have done the bird a favor by crushing it.  Putting it out of its misery, that kind of thing.  Empathy as a double-edged sword.

This is nonsense, obviously.  Empathy isn’t simply reading your opponent’s weaknesses to determine the swiftest and most convenient way to advance your own cause.  I hope Will remembers that.  Bedelia is behaving like a jealous ex, calling Will Hannibal’s “old flame” and boasting that she was “behind the veil” with him.  She’s trying to psych Will out, and I hope he’s aware of that.  I hope, too, that last week’s indication that Hannibal no longer affects him as he used to – remember, Will offered nothing of himself, even when Hannibal tried his hardest to bait him – remains the same.  Will’s empathy is its own double-edged sword, in that it allows him to form emotional bonds of such high quality that most mere mortals literally can’t imagine; but it also forces him to see all sides, and to feel the kind of poisoned soul that makes someone do the things that Dolarhyde and Lecter do.

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Unfortunately for Will, Hannibal’s Blake quotation led him to exactly the same place at exactly the same time as Dolarhyde (doing his best Businessman Realness at the Paris is Burning ball): the Brooklyn Museum, where the original of Dolarhyde’s idolized Blake painting is kept.  Dolarhyde eats it (as he does in the novel), and perhaps we’ll see why next week: was it an effort to control and master the Dragon so that he can enjoy his budding relationship with Reba, or was it a more Hannibal-esque need to possess the thing he loves by eating it?  Either way, Will is probably in trouble.  Dolarhyde has seen him, and attacked him (just because he was in the way; he may or may not have remembered and recognized him from the papers), and things aren’t looking great for our little Graham Cracker.

CORRECTION: Initially, I remembered Hannibal’s prey incorrectly, and wrote that he was toying with Will when he quoted Blake.  He was toying with Dolarhyde.  He brings up Blake to Will later.  In any event, the point is that Hannibal is always, always, always playing with his food.  Naughty!

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2015 by and tagged , , , .
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