This review contains spoilers.
“Poke around a psychopath’s mind, you’re bound to get poked back.”
One of the themes of the universe created by Thomas Harris in his Hannibal Lecter novels is that when we entrust psychiatrists to use the skills at their disposal to help improve our mental health, we are also placing ourselves in jeopardy because those same skills can be used in nefarious ways. The mind is a delicate thing; in the hands of the wrong person, it can be easily destroyed.
Of course, the vast majority of mental health professionals are extremely ethical in their work. But much of the horror of the Hannibal stories comes from exploring the basic question of what happens when the person we trust with our mental health is both psychopathic and sociopathic.
And that theme runs particularly heavily in this episode. It is also one whose fullness is only apparent in light of the rest of Harris’ canon.
Rôti begins with a delicious scene (I could write an entire review just on this one-minute scene) where we see Hannibal serving a highly symbolic meal of mutton curry to Dr. Chilton, who has come to him for reassurance about his behaviour in reference to his “psychic driving” of the murderous Dr. Abel Gideon to “break down his personality.” Of course, what Chilton, an obvious narcissist, really did was lead his patient to believe that he was the Chesapeak Ripper in order, we assume, to enhance his own reputation.
Hannibal encourages Chilton, who is already leaning in this direction, to deny his role in Gideon’s murder of the night nurse and the inmate’s delusion that he’s the serial killer that Crawford has been seeking. Hannibal provides Chilton both the justification that he needs and gives it an authority he seeks because it comes from a highly respected mental professional. And Lecter drives him straight into the arms of the vengeful Gideon.
The fact that the supplicant Chilton in this scene will one day be Hannibal’s psychiatrist and that his hatred for his charge (hard not to hold a gutting against someone) will be palpable in his later consultations about Lecter is ironic, revealing, and for those in the know, deeply pleasurable since we understand that Chilton’s fate in such a turnaround is already sealed by Harris. While Hannibal’s last words in the scene are tied to Will Graham visually, we understand that they apply equally to Chilton. “The subject mustn’t be aware of any influence.”
How like Hannibal to serve sheep to the lamb he’s leading to the (perhaps deserved) slaughter.
This exchange has also led me to the unrelated conclusion that Lecter is an elemental wizard. Regardless of the weather we see in exterior shots, it’s always snowing outside his dining room window.
The majority of the episode weaves the disintegration of the personality of the escaped Gideon with the larger story arc of Will’s own disintegration: Gideon is attempting to sort out who he is and the possibility that he is the Ripper, while Will struggles to differentiate himself from the murderous Hobbs. The difference is that we know that Gideon is not the Ripper. But each episode has shown us the line in Will’s mind between himself and Hobbs is becoming less and less distinct.
The return of Eddie Izzard’s Gideon is good in that it gives him another chance at it. This is certainly not the bigger-than-life personality (and roles) we’re used to. It seems odd to give such an actor a psychopath to play and then have him dial his performance back so far, we almost have to strain to hear it. Still Izzard is better this time out. His conversation with the guard and the orderly is very low-key, despite the subject matter (Wives: “It’s easier just to kill them”). But he sells the whole thing with a final look… just before killing them both off-camera.
While Gideon is running around murdering those he holds responsible for his emotional state (by giving them “Columbian neckties” of all things), Will is in the throes of an all-out breakdown. Plagued by increasingly Lynchian (I’ve done my best to hold off on such an adjective, but I think we’ve finally crossed that line) hallucinations of being deluged, Graham, like Chilton, reaches out for help from Lecter, telling him that he fears not knowing who he is.
“You have me as your gauge,” Lecter tells him. Lord help him. By the end of the episode, Graham will be in the middle of a full-blown psychotic break, worsened by the fever brought on by a mysterious and very convenient infection.
The women make a bit of a comeback in Rôti, although it’s not much better than their complete absence. Dr. Bloom splits her time mostly between comforting Will and playing the damsel in distress. Even her face-off with Chilton seems less about what she has to say and more being backup to Graham who is having a hard time staying coherent at this point and being someone for him to defend. Freddie Lounds does better, holding herself together after she’s kidnapped by Gideon, even when she’s forced to participate in one of the more gruesome surgical assaults imaginable (think medieval torture).
But the simple truth is that women on Hannibal exist only to reveal the inner workings of the men around them.
Which leads us to the interesting case of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. Those who do mental health counselling are generally in counselling themselves (who else would watch the watchers?) so the fact that Hannibal is seeing someone is hardly surprising. But the more we see of Dr. Du Maurier, the more suspicious I become.
Based on the sessions we’ve seen, we know that Du Maurier has been attacked at some point in the past by a patient. This then led her to stop seeing all patients other than an insistent Lecter. Despite a rather incestuous show, she has no contact with any of the other characters, and in fact, none of them seem to know she exists. She is obviously able to go tit-for-tat with Hannibal, sharing the kind of insights that are potentially threatening to him, yet he seems completely unthreatened by her.
And in this week’s episode, I noticed something else. In his session with Du Maurier, the two of them are posed (unlike an earlier session between Graham and Hannibal) as mirror reflections of each other: their legs crossed, their outfits similarly formal, hands clasped the same way in their laps, and their overall posture identical. It’s easy to forget that Hannibal isn’t just a serial murderer: he’s a highly functioning sociopath and psychotic.
Is it possible that Bedelia Du Maurier is as much a figment of Lecter’s imagination as Hobbs is of Graham’s? Could she be, like Hobbs, a ghost-like product of delirium (you can form both “delirium” and “rude” from her name) returning to challenge the mind of the person who killed her?
With only two more episodes this season, and her appearing in both, we may soon learn the truth.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Buffet Froid, here.
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