Hannibal episode 9 review: Trou Normand

Hannibal continues to serve up its meaty main plot, even if the psycho-of-the-week gravy is somewhat thin. Here's Laura's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.9 Trou Normand

Let me get my one complaint out of the way about this week’s episode Trou Normand, so we can get to the good stuff.

This week, we see a second instance of something I sincerely hope is not going to be a trend: the casting of great and iconic actors who are given too little to do or are held in restraint. A couple of weeks ago we saw Eddie Izzard wasted as a Hannibal stand-in in Entrée, none of the actor’s trademark talents harnessed for a role that he should have been particularly good in.

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This week, we see Lance Henriksen similarly given short shrift, primarily because he is the psychopath of the week and therefore fairly inconsequential to the story. Again, this casting is brilliant. Henriksen’s deep and fairly sinister voice, along with his ability to deliver terrifying dialogue as though he’s describing his new duvet (okay, that sounds like bad acting, but the way he does it always adds a dimension of horror that makes your skin crawl), immediately makes us sit up and pay attention.

Here, unfortunately, he’s given one decent speech where he does shine, explaining the pleasure of talking to the families of those he murdered. But again, when it comes to this episode’s madman, the motivation falls flat. In previous episodes, it’s not delved into. In Trou Normand, it’s completely ignored save for a single victim. As for the others, the writers give Henriksen a great line which, if followed up on, could have been epic: “I had every reason to kill the others; they just had no reason to die.”

Instead, Graham and Crawford do their big reveal, and suddenly already-always-understated Henriksen has been replaced by a defeated old man who slaps his chair once and then disappears to wherever it is that retired psychopaths go. I get that he’s supposed to be that defeated old man. But what they have Henriksen do here comes off so flat that it no longer qualifies as acting. Consider the kind of the blow that his character’s been dealt, and you know the actor could have delivered something far better.

I’m actually starting to wonder if the writers believe that if they make the actual cases interesting or fulfilling, that will somehow make their main storyline less, rather than making the show uniformly compelling.

Luckily, the main plot is gathering momentum. Where the last few episodes have focused primarily on the interior lives of some of the main characters, this episode returns us to the Abigail storyline, brings the craven Freddie Lounds back into focus, and tees up a real make-or-break moment for Will.

Much has been made of the question of whether Abigail joined her father in killing and butchering young women or was just a victim of her father’s evil. Considering the subtlety of the show, we can hardly be surprised that the answer is somewhere in the middle and provocatively poses the question of where we draw the line between coercion and complicity.

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It’s certainly one that Will has to wrestle with, especially after he has a dream that makes him realize what Hannibal has known all along: she has killed someone, just not any of her father’s victims (if she is to be believed—we should also remember Alana’s admission that Abigail is manipulative). Instead, Will learns that Abigail killed Nicholas Boyle, theoretically in self-defense. This too is arguable as it is unclear whether Abigail made a conscious decision to do so or acted out due to the trauma she’s recently undergone.

What is not in dispute is that Will now understands that Hannibal not only knows what Abigail did but helped to hide the body, bringing us to a crisis: Will, who has always maintained Abigail’s essential innocence, must decide whether to continue to protect her (and now Hannibal—virtually his only friend) in one of the most delicately acted and perfectly lit scenes in the series thus far.

What Graham cannot understand is precisely how much he risks in this moment. By choosing to become an accessory after the fact, he may not only be facing jail time, but by stepping over that moral line, he places himself very much in Lecter’s power – the result of which we may have seen foreshadowed in the death of Tobias. Certainly the low light the director uses accentuates the dark place in which Will stands. And Lecter may have been looking for this moment all along. He certainly seems prepared in making his argument to Will when Graham asks why the psychiatrist helped Abigail get rid of the body: “You know why. Because Jack Crawford would hang her for what her father’s done. And the world would burn Abigail in his place. That would be the story. That would be what Freddie Lounds writes.”

And the best scene certainly belongs to Lound, who returns in another bid to get Abigail to let the blogger write her story. Invited to discuss the possible book, Freddie shares Hannibal’s table with Will and Abigail, and I’m wondering just how much bite there is in Hannibal’s comment “It never occurred to me that you would be a vegetarian.” Certainly, she has a thing for metaphorical red meat.

Equally and wonderfully suspicious is the way in which she entirely fails to apologize for calling Will insane, explaining, as she glances briefly at Hannibal, “We are all pathological in our own way.” How much does she know and is there a reason she won’t eat meat served by Lecter?

But if Chorostecki’s Lounds has the best scene, it’s Kacey Rohl that does much of the heavy lifting in an episode that requires just about every shade of negative emotion from her. Luckily, she handles it brilliantly, managing to keep apace with Mikkelsen when it comes to portraying reactions that are ambiguous without being ambivalent. This good at the age of twenty-one, she’s going to be worth keeping an eye on.

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With only four more episodes to go, there’s still no word on the fate of Hannibal on NBC. However, that’s no reason to give up hope, especially considering a rumour going around that Amazon and at least one cable network are interested in the property. In an odd way, being picked up by a cable channel could end up being a very good thing for the show, as it consistently exceeds broadcast network standards both in terms of acceptably violent content and outright quality. 

Freddie Louds’ opinion of one of Hannibal’s meticulously prepared dinners may, ironically, reflect the very problem of placing such a show on broadcast television in the first place: it is simply too meaty to please some palates.

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

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