Hannibal episode 7 review: Sorbet

Bryan Fuller's crime drama finally delves into the fascinating psychology of Hannibal Lecter. Here's Laura's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.7 Sorbet

As Hannibal teeters on the edge of cancellation, we finally get to the good stuff: the psyche of the serial killer.

This week’s episode is a bit of something different, both for the show and for Hannibal stories in general. So often, we see what the deadly psychiatrist does, while a careful curtain – a human veil- keeps us from looking into his own emotional and mental makeup. That obstacle began to fade as we followed Hannibal himself through something remarkably like a-day-in-the-life-of.

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This week’s case was, as usual, weak in and of itself: a doctor-wannabe performing organ harvesting. While the forensics team seems compelled to believe his work is that of the Ripper (or that he is, at least, an accomplice), it’s perfectly clear to just about everyone else that there’s no such connection.

We’ve always known that Hannibal Lecter, in addition to his culinary predilections, enjoys the finer things in life. But until this week, it appeared that that was, at best, an intellectual exercise. In the opening of Sorbet, however, as indeed in the entire episode, we begin to see that perhaps Hannibal is capable of actually being touched by the world around him. And that he seems to have a specific way of allowing himself to open up to it.

As he listens to the music of the opera singer, he begins to tear up, obviously affected by the music. This becomes the first of several times when the episode shows us a very different Hannibal, always in conjunction with his interaction with women.

We get particularly intriguing insights during the scene between Hannibal and Dr. Bloom. While we knew that they worked together, it initially appeared that that relationship was both professional and casual. But watching them interact in Hannibal’s kitchen as he prepares for the dinner party at the end of the episode, we learn that it may have been something else.

As they cook together, Hannibal offers her a drink, and when Dr. Bloom declines, telling Lecter that she prefers beer to wine, he removes a bottle of beer already chilling in the refrigerator and offers it to her, explaining that he himself brewed it, using a wine barrel, in a process that has taken two years. When she asks him if he’ll be serving it at the party, he replies that no, this is for her, her own “private reserve.”

It’s one thing to be a gentleman with impeccable manners, and Hannibal is always that. But to spend two years making a beverage one doesn’t drink (at least there’s no evidence that he does) for a colleague far exceeds polite behaviour.

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When Hannibal goes on to inform his guest that when they worked together, some people “thought we were having an affair,” it first reads as one of his “let’s poke so-an-so and enjoy the reaction.” But as he continues his line of questioning, it becomes clear this is something else entirely: “Why didn’t we?”

Hold the phone a damned minute…

In the book Hannibal, we get to see Lecter as a lover of sorts as he systemically seduces (and drugs) Starling into becoming his romantic partner. But in that case, he’s doing something he loves doing, emotionally and mentally twisting someone for his own pleasure and benefit. Their relationship, while fascinating, is unique.

The idea that Lecter is someone with whom someone might “have an affair” is startling to say the least, and especially when paired with what feels like the first spark of actual warmth we’ve seen in him: his interaction with Alana feels natural and genuine. But we are even further surprised when Alana reveals that Hannibal was already having an affair at the time they were working together. What on earth would such a relationship look like and would it actually fulfill something like a romantic or sexual emotional need in him? Or is he the closet case, sporting a beard, to allay questions?

The other woman in his life is his own psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, played with precision by Gillian Anderson. Their exchange reveals something even more surprising about the title character: he’s lonely.

It would take one of two kinds of people to act as shrink to someone like Lecter, either someone who is his intellectual equal or someone who believes he or she is his equal. Anderson’s Du Maurier quickly establishes which one she is as she calls Hannibal on his lack of honesty about himself: “I have conversations with a version of you… Naturally, I admire its meticulous construction, but you are wearing a very well-tailored ‘person-suit’…Maybe it’s less of a ‘person-suit’ and more of a human veil.”

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Generally, we would worry that such insight might get her killed. But what the scene also reveals is not just great insight on the part of Du Maurier, but impeccable boundaries and polite behaviour. She calls him on his lack of authenticity in a way that shows that he is the one behaving in an impolite manner, both in terms of being less than honest in his sessions with her and in insisting that she keep him on as a patient despite her retirement.

But the best moment is when she tells him that this lack of openness must leave him lonely. The moment she says this, we see, in Mikkelsen’s expression, the veil in effect. He becomes distant, insisting that he has friends, and that he considers them to be friendly. When Du Maurier rebuffs him, saying while they are colleagues but not friends, the veil slips and we see an entirely new expression on Hannibal’s face – something that looks remarkably like pain and disappointment.

What is it about women that gets past that meticulous person-suit? Is it that women are raised to be more aware of the social rules that Hannibal finds so attractive? That they are less boorish and more likely to pick up on the subtleties of personal interaction? Or is it that, according to novels Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, it was the murder and cannibalizing of his sister Mischa which first turned him into a killer. That much of what he is is a response to what was done to the women he cared about (first Mischa and the Lady Murasaki)?

Either way, I’m really glad that they have this effect on him for two reasons: obviously, learning anything about the interior life of Hannibal Lecter is fascinating in and of itself. But also, this show, thus far, has spent a lot of time on the psychology of its male characters, and used the women purely as plot devices. While this week’s episode doesn’t change the latter – they are still devices to unlock the secrets of Hannibal – but at least it means we get to see more of them. And with the excellent performances turned in this week by Anderson and Dhavernas, that’s good news all round.

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Entree, here.

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