This review contains spoilers.
It’s not unusual for a television series to be based around the question of “Who did this terrible thing?”: Who killed Laura Palmer? Who killed Rosie Larsen?
But the question that Hannibal has been asking approaches the problem from a slightly different angle: “Is Abigail Hobbs capable of doing this terrible thing?” The show has clearly established the guilt of her father, a serial killer who took the lives of eight girls who resembled his daughter. But this week’s Potage focuses on the possibility that Abigail was not just his victim, but his accomplice.
Abigail (Kacey Rohl from The Killing), in many ways, is the picture of innocence: the girl next door. But often, we are all too unaware of what is going on in the house next door to ours. From the outside, the Hobbs household seems normal enough. An apparently untroubled marriage, a strong bond between father and daughter, a shared love of nature and hunting. But inside, something was obviously wrong, and Will Graham, Alana Bloom, and Hannibal Lecter are responsible for trying to understand what that thing was and how far it spread.
Abigail, who has been largely unconscious since her father tried to kill her by slitting her throat, has now woken up, and Jack Crawford is insistent, over the concerns of Dr. Bloom, that she be questioned as soon as possible. Of course, the fact that her father attempted to kill her and that Graham, the authority on who kills and why, has steadfastly argued that she cannot have been a willing participant in the murders, makes us inclined to see the teenager just another victim of her father’s.
But people who have undergone something horrific often act in unpredictable ways, and this complicates the issue both for us and the team. Abigail asks questions that seem almost dispassionate: why is there no chalk outline around where her mother’s body fell? She negotiates with the unbelievably manipulative (and two-dimensional) Freddie Lounds better than the adults around her. She does not run in fear when confronted by either her neighbours (who have labelled her a cannibal) or a vengeful brother of one of the victims. Is she a traumatized teen who is protecting herself by shutting down, or a cold-blooded sociopath who is covering her tracks?
What is less uncertain is the way in which the writer and showrunner Bryan Fuller, along with writers Chris Brancato (First Wave) and David Fury (Buffy), are setting Abigail up as a parallel to Will Graham (possibly providing Graham with an unconscious reason to wish Abigail innocent). We’ve already seen evidence that Lecter is playing with Graham, providing him opportunity and justification for allowing the darker parts of him to grow. But in the relationship that quickly develops between Abigail and Lecter, are we seeing an accelerated journey on the path he’s been leading Graham down?
Either way, the interplay between the cannibal’s daughter and the cannibal shrink is delicate, fascinating, and very well-handled. Mikkelsen is turning out to be precisely the actor needed for the role of Hannibal. The Hannibal of the movies (and books) is largely out in the open. He is often broad, vicious, and straightforward about who and what he is. But in the series, Hannibal is still in hiding and thus he holds himself in check. This cultivated distance is one which his role as a psychiatrist invites us to read as professional: people in that profession are trained not to react, even to the most horrifying disclosures.
We see a lot of this in the scene where Graham is lecturing his class on the Minnesota Shrike (the colorful nickname given to Abigail’s murderous father). The suggestion that Lecter is himself responsible for at least one of the murders attributed to the Shrike has been firmly implanted in us in earlier episodes. Thus, when Crawford and Lecter enter the classroom and stand listening, we watch (and the camera highlights) Lecter’s face, looking for clues that he has, in fact, already become the murderer and cannibal we know he’s destined to be. Mikkelsen’s face is at first impassive at seeing a projected image of the victim that may have been his own. As Graham’s lecture culminates, however, Lecter’s face twitches into what could be a smile. It lasts a fraction of a second, leaving us unsure if we saw or just imagined it. But it is more than enough to keep us guessing.
This subtlety carries over into the scenes with Lecter and Abigail. Whether or not Abigail is guilty, she is clearly intelligent – perhaps even on a level with Graham. Bloom notes this and the fact that she’s manipulative (while still insisting that she’s likely innocent). And this combination of the character’s smarts and the actress’ skill is evident when she is asked if she recognized the voice of the person who called to warn her father. “I’d never heard it before (italics mine),” she replies, before glancing very quickly at and away from Lecter. Rohl gives nothing away in this moment, allowing it to read in contradictory ways. But if this were Lie to Me, Cal Lightman would be explaining that she deflected the question rather than answering it. And this deflection seems only to be noticed, with some sense of appreciation, by Lecter. Does she know he was the caller? Or does she seek to shield the caller without knowing his identity simply because he seemed to want to help her father? Either way, throughout the episode, well-written dialogue delivered by actors too smart to overplay keeps us guessing what Abigail knows and what it means to her.
By the end of the episode, however, something has happened which requires Abigail to be a lot more open with Lecter (not that it’s possible to ever hide much from him). The two know something important and damaging about the other, and while it seems an effective stalemate, it’s far more likely that this appearance is being cultivated by Lecter to lure Abigail into trusting him just that much more. While Lecter is still at the stage of convincing Graham to view him as a confidante, Abigail has already moved onto the point of co-conspirator.
But the truth is, it seems only a matter of time before we see Graham and Lecter sharing the same dialogue that sealed the deal between the teenager and the psychiatrist:
“I’ll keep your secret.”
“And I’ll keep yours.”
And we’ll keep tuning in. Because everything about Hannibal argues that that’s going to be a moment worth waiting for.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Amuse-Bouche, here.
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