not in our stars, but in ourselves
“The Number of the Beast is 666,” as its solemnly biblical title indicates, explores the theological and thematic questions of Hannibal in far greater breadth and depth than any previous episode. Todd Van Der Weff has a great rundown of the fairy-tale, mythic components of this episode on Vox – but suffice it to say that revelations abound in this Revelations-heavy hour of television.
After three seasons of the most tortured, unfulfilled romance in the history of television, Will Graham finally asks plainly: “Is Hannibal in love with me?” He’s in therapy with Bedelia Du Maurier – one wonders how he’ll convince his insurance company to cover these particular visits – and she leans back with a cat-that-ate-the-canary look on her face. “Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you, and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?” Bedelia’s summary of love as hunger makes sense, in terms of how someone like Hannibal Lecter would experience the emotion; it also makes sense that love as hunger is unsustainable – just as Hannibal’s love for Will. Hunger, an ache, a pain, is resolved only by consumption. Similarly, Hannibal seemed to plan to consummate his love for Will by literally eating his brain. Will has finally connected the dots. Good for Will.
There’s quite a lot of talk of God, the Devil, the Dragon, and the Lamb in this penultimate episode of the season, and the “therapy” session between Bedelia and Will calls up an interesting comparison. Bryan Fuller refers to the two of them as “the Brides of Hannibal.” That’s fair, I’d say, but I’m struck by all the heightened talk of Hannibal as the Devil, and each bride’s status in that light. Bedelia, like some Medieval witch, is a very willing bride of Satan. One imagines her gleefully stealing babies to make her potions, making nightly visitations in succubus form, holding unholy sabbaths, pledging her fealty with constant blood oaths. Will, on the other hand, is more like the pre-Christian bride of the underworld: Persephone, abducted from the earth by Hades when he was sick with love for her, and forced to return to his kingdom for a few months out of the year because she ate some Underworld pomegranate seeds. Hades is a much less dreaded figure than Satan, of course, but I think the comparison otherwise holds up. (Classics students, please feel free to correct me.)
As for that Devil, he makes it clear to Jack Crawford that he understands the Revelatory stakes. He speaks of the seals opening, and the Lamb of God returning to challenge the Great Red Dragon for dominion of the earth. Hannibal doesn’t challenge Jack’s labeling of Dr. Lecter as the Devil; he counters that Jack has therefore proclaimed himself God. Only because no one else will do it, Jack avers. Sure, Jack, sure. (Throughout most of Hannibal, Jack has been a sympathetic figure. This latter half of season three, however, seems to set him on the trajectory with which we’re familiar from previous adaptations: Jack Crawford, recklessly willing to send unprepared underlings to fight the battles he can’t or won’t fight himself. That does sound like God, to be honest.) The Lamb of God in this scenario is none other than Will Graham: the only one, according to Hannibal, who has even a whiff of a chance of stopping the Dragon. Perhaps, but Will can’t stop imagining his own wife as one of the Dragon’s victims, and imagining himself as the Dragon. Is his empathy getting the better of him, or is he glimpsing the future? Fuller has been reshuffling Red Dragon in such a way that it’s unclear how it will all shake out in the finale next week: is Will finally going to succumb to the Underworld tugging at him, and become what he fears the most? Will the Dragon surprise the Grahams again, and carve up Will’s face like a Picasso? I’m as afraid as I am desperate to find out.
And as for that Dragon: Francis Dolarhyde doesn’t live here anymore, it seems. After breaking up with Reba, he’s gone fully ’round the bend. He no longer considers himself a man. He is Becoming. In Red Dragon, the novel and the two movie adaptations, Will gives an insulting interview to Freddy Lounds (male in all previous iterations) to try to draw the Dragon out. Here, he does the same, but he enlists the services of fame-hungry Dr. Chilton to lend a “professional” voice to his insults. In the novel and the films, Lounds is abducted, tortured, and killed for printing such lies. Here, perhaps because Freddie Lounds is a lady and the show has taken a firm stance against torturing women for audience titillation, it’s Chilton who gets abducted, stripped naked, glued to a wheelchair, deprived of his lips, and lit on fire. I think the show did a good job of setting up Chilton to be the victim – although this Chilton has suffered an unreasonable amount already; more than one reviewer has noted that Chilton is a sort of macabre Wile E. Coyote in this series – and it certainly did an effective job of conveying the horror of his fate. I don’t think I’ve seen a gorier, more graphic representation of face-biting in any medium, anywhere else. How in the world this aired on network television, I have no idea.
On the subject of where this show airs: I am still clinging desperately to the belief that a show of this quality, this visual splendor, this psychological acuity, will have to find a home somewhere. All the talk of the Lamb of God was obviously tantalizing, since there’s nothing fans of the show would like to see more than Fuller’s take on The Silence of the Lambs. With Red Dragon, of course, it was eminently possible to improve on the prior adaptations. I don’t think it would be possible to improve on Silence, but I do think Fuller could find a way to make it just as great, in his own way. If there’s a God out there who loves us, then I hope he’ll grant us poor sinners the gift of a new home for Hannibal.