This Hannibal review contains spoilers.
Watch out, people. Hannibal has agency in the world. Dr. Lecter may still be behind “bars” in Season 3, Episode 12 (“The Number of the Beast is 666…”), but that doesn’t stop him from getting exactly what he wants — or at least taking steps to securing it. Last week, he went after the family he gave Will three years to build. This week, it’s Dr. Chilton’s turn. And, though it may be Chilton who suffers the most visceral consequences of playing the game, it is Will who continues to be changed by Hannibal.
As Bedelia points out, Will is the agent of Hannibal’s change here, just as much as Dolarhyde is. And, though Hannibal might not be going after Will’s family as literally in this episode, he is still making moves to destroy it. Now, Will can’t even look at his wife without seeing her dead, a victim of Dolarhyde’s and, consequently, Will’s. Furthermore, by getting Will to play the game, Hannibal pushes him further from the relatively peaceful, grounded family man he had become in Hannibal’s absence from his life. This isn’t merely Dolarhyde’s becoming; it is also Will’s — or at least it will be, if Hannibal has anything to say about it.
And part of what makes that dilemma so compelling is that Hannibal is doing it out of love — or at least his own version of it. “Is Hannibal in love with me?” Will asks Bedelia, a question that is met with the Hannibal equivalent of a “duh.” Hannibal blurs what most other shows treat as text in favor of bringing into stark focus the subjects most other shows treat as subtext. There is no subtext to Hannibal and Will’s relationship. It is not treated as an ambiguity that they are the most affecting presences in one another’s lives. This show, and its characters, do not dance around the nature of this intense relationship that acts as a planetary body, making every other orbital aspect of this story’s plot that much more compelling.
This episode was very much about the machinations of this group of Dante’s pets, and Will is not the only one who falls into that category. Much of the Red Dragon arc’s best stuff has come from the interplay between Jack, Alanna, and Hannibal. The same is true with this episode. When we see them discussing Dr. Chilton’s almost-end, Hannibal is in top form, delighted by what he sees as a fitting punishment for Frederick. Here, Dolarhyde is continuing the work he started in the paper Dr. Lecter wrote refuting Chilton’s diagnosis of Hannibal the Cannibal in his book. Dolarhyde does the same, spurred by the slanderous words Chilton spoke of him.
It was meant as a trap, and it worked like a charm, the situation only further complicated by the way in which Alanna, Will, and Jack let Chilton wander into the trap they themselves chose to avoid. These three may credit themselves as more moral than Hannibal, but they have not been left unchanged by Hannibal’s appreciation of manipulation. Here, they are playing the same game. And, as Will explains to Bedelia, “if you play, you pay.”
These characters have all paid in different ways, but — while they were, to different degrees, manipulated into playing before — here, they play with a full understanding of what they risk and who will be risking it. “That’s participation,” Bedelia tells Will, answering a question that was asked of her at the very onset of this season. She may not have killed any of Hannibal’s victims in Florence, but, like Will, she “struck the match.” Like Will, she wasn’t surprised what happened when she knowingly played a part in Hannibal’s game.
The only person who is not willingly playing the game here is Reba, and it is heartbreaking to see her so entrenched in the mess. She tells Dolarhyde “I’m not so scarred by life that I’m incapable of love,” and brings him soup when she thinks he is ill, not knowing that Chilton sits bound and terrified for his life across the room. Finally, Dolarhyde reveals himself to her, and it is tragic that he seems to think it is something she will understand. To him, he didn’t murder those families, but helped them to become something else. He is not a man, but a being tasked with enacting the becoming of others in the same way he has become something else. He decidedly did not choose this for himself. He, too, is a victim of this dragon, this madness inside of himself. It is a stark contrast to Hannibal, who responds to the delivery of Chilton’s lips with the equivalent of a #sorrynotsorry to Jack because “the tragedy of what happened to Frederick has put me in an excellent humor.”
If Will, Alanna, Jack, and Chilton are all Dante’s pets, then Hannibal is Dante. He is the author of this story. He is the devil/god to Will’s sacrificial lamb and Dolarhyde’s prophet. One can only hope that, in next week’s season finale, we get a chance to see Hannibal’s power in true effect once again because, as scarily impressive Dolarhyde is, this has always been Dr. Lecter’s story. And, in what will probably be this show’s final episode, we want to see the love story of Hannibal and Will played out not through proxies, but with these two men face to face, seeing each other.
In one of the more meta lines of the episode and show, Hannibal tells Chilton: “Fate has a habit of not letting us choose our own endings.” That hasn’t often been true for Hannibal, and we have a feeling it isn’t true for Hannibal, either. Here’s hoping for an ending worthy of this amazing, weird, gory, unique, and beautiful show.