This review contains spoilers.
1.10 Buffet Froid
The other shoe finally drops, with NBC announcing this week that it’s renewing Hannibal for another thirteen episodes. And thank goodness because with everything going on on the show, another three episodes just weren’t going to be enough.
This week’s Buffet Froid was certainly chilly.
First, there’s the case: a girl who’s literally rotting away and already thinks she’s dead – nothing colder than a walking corpse. This week’s psycho stood out both in terms of her particular mental illness and how the writers used her to tease out more about what Will’s been going through.
Unlike most of the killers we’ve seen on Hannibal, Will isn’t the only one who feels for/with her – we do. A great deal of this is likely the result of an overt attempt to humanise her. Rather than simply present the brutality of her crimes and then give a short but ultimately unfulfilling motivation for them, with Georgia, we are given a real sense of suffering. In other words, while all of the killers Will and company chase are psychotic, Georgia is instead positioned as mentally ill.
Let’s be clear: while psychosis is too broad a term to really be used clinically, in many cases, what we think of as psychosis is, or is caused by, mental illness. But when we use the term “psychotic”, we are generally eliding this: what we really mean is twisted and likely dangerous. And Georgia is definitely both. But by showing Will and Jack talking to her mother, who describes her struggles to get help for her daughter, we no longer see her as a threat but as someone who needs help. “I was almost relieved (at learning of her death). Hoping she was at peace. I just don’t want her to be in pain.”
In her mother’s description, Georgia becomes a foil for Will who is reaching out for help himself this week. He is convinced that his problem is physical – a blood clot or tumor, rather than mental illness: “I know what kind of crazy I am and this isn’t that kind of crazy.” His trajectory on this path is much the same as what Georgia’s mother recounts of her daughter. Dancy’s reaction during this scene make it clear that he see the parallels himself: “Blood tests, and brain scans and all of them inconclusive.” He has to believe that he is facing a descent into madness, even if its particular pathology is unknown. “And you still don’t know?” he asks the mother.
“They would say it was this or that. They were always guessing.”
Except, in this case, they aren’t guessing. Hannibal, it turns out, already knows what’s wrong, just by smell, and when the neurologist, Dr. Sutcliff (John Benjamin Hickey), confirms that Graham has NMDA-Receptor Antibody Encephalitis – a potentially lethal condition with a high recovery rate when treated – the psychiatrist goes to work on his medical colleague, convincing him to hide the cause of Will’s hallucinations and time-losses from the special agent so the two of them can study him.
This changes the perception of Hannibal that the last two episodes have set up, which led us to believe that the doctor’s feelings for Will were genuine and sprung from his own loneliness. When the neurologist questions him on this point – by asking him how far he intends to push their patient, Lecter replies that “Well, he is my friend. We’ll put out the fire when it’s necessary.”
The question of when “necessary” is, of course, depends largely on Hannibal’s motivations, and the fact that he kills Sutcliff in a way that must, at the very least, suggest the possibility that Graham murdered him, undermines virtually everything we think we saw in Fromage and Trou Normand and thus what we believe about what Hannibal really has planned for Will. He’s hardly the friend we thought we saw.
And although Will does not know he’s actually been diagnosed with a physical ailment, he is aware that Hannibal does see his suffering as an opportunity: “You wouldn’t publish anything about me, would you, Dr. Lecter?” Hannibal demures a bit, leading Will to ask him to defer any publication till after death. When Lecter asks him whether he means his death or Will’s, this change in our perception adds an edge to Graham’s response: “Whichever comes first.” One wonders if Hannibal already has plans around that.
But Lecter isn’t the only one Will has tough questions for. Earlier in the episode, he finally confronts Crawford about the way he’s being used. After Graham has an episode at a crime scene, Crawford asks him “officially” whether he should be worried about Will’s mental state, to which the special agent responds, “I thought the reason you had me seeing Dr. Lecter and not some FBI psychiatrist was so you could keep my mental wellbeing ‘unofficial.’” It’s about time that Graham stands up for himself, although there’s definitely a question as to how much of that backbone he’s suddenly found is actually his and how much of it has been created by the insinuations that Lecter’s been making about Will’s boss. There’s definitely a battle beginning here for Will’s soul but considering Crawford’s ongoing dismissiveness of the effect of these investigations on Graham, it’s hardly one between the forces of good or evil.
But we should hardly be surprised that such simple moral binaries don’t work in relation to Hannibal. With the abrupt turnaround in Lecter’s character, the writers are simply continuing the pattern they’ve already set. There are no easy answers on this show. In fact, there may well be no answers at all. And really, that’s a big part of the pleasure of Hannibal. For the writers who will get the opportunity to give us a second season, Georgia’s mother summed up not just the failings of the psychiatric profession, but the secret of Hannibal’s success:
“It’s rarely about finding solutions. It’s more about managing expectations.”
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Trou Normand, here.
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