This review contains spoilers.
One of the regularly recognized and commented upon aspects of male culture (in the West anyway) is the way in which some men will attempt to diffuse potential homoerotic tensions with aggression or violence or other shows of hyper-masculinity. We frequently see this in a lot of male-centric environments: fraternities, prisons, and the like. The closeness of the men (physically or emotionally) in these situations, coupled with the intentional or forced lack of women, raises questions about the role of sexual desire in these relationships, and thus these men will often act in ways meant to send the message that, whatever the appearance or suspicion may be, they are “real men” (read: not gay)—and those ways tend to involve, if not actual violence, threats of it or other hypermasculine posturing. In other words, violence and aggression becomes a cloak to hide or deny any actual intimacy—sexual or otherwise.
Now, I’m not about to argue that Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter are secretly sleeping together or anything like this. But what I do find fascinating is the different spin that the Graham/Lecter relationship is putting on this connection between male friendship and violence. In the more usual version of this phenomenon, men will be bonding—having a moment of emotional intimacy—when they both realize that they are getting dangerously (according to societal standards) close to raising some doubt about their feelings for each other and will shift gears to “correct” any misperceptions. Think of two men hugging and then parting quickly and slapping each other’s backs hard or punching each other on the arm.
For Graham and Lecter however, violence is not the cloak for intimacy; it’s the gateway.
It’s been clear, since almost the beginning of Hannibal, that Lecter is looking for someone with whom he can share—although maybe not as equals (I think we have to wonder is such a puppetmaster could ever consider anyone a true equal)–his views on the nature of life and death and the creative violence that results from his personal ethics and philosophy. While this may not have been clear to Will last series, it certainly is in this one. A large part of Will’s long game at this point is to convince Hannibal that he is ready for such a relationship, and the way he does this through violence. When Graham appears at Lecter’s house with Randall Tier’s body laid out on the table, he cracks open the door in a way that Hannibal cannot mistake—not only by killing but in how he talks about that killing: “It was intimate.”
This leads to what is the most intimate scene we’ve been given thus far on the show: Hannibal caring for Will, tending his wounds the way the heroine might care for the somewhat injured hero of an epic romance—washing his hands, cleaning and binding his wounds, whispering to him “Stay with me.”
“Where else would I go?” Will responds, baiting the hook.
And if the death, or rather killing, of Randall Tier is not enough to start luring Hannibal in, then certainly Will’s supposed murder of the reprehensible Freddie Lounds is. After all, Will was in both legal and ethical bounds in killing Tier. And Hannibal knows it. So he also knows that Graham can justify that killing in his own mind. Will has not yet crossed that irreparable line yet to join Lecter as one who kills for sport or pleasure.
And in this game of cat and mouse, Will knows that Lecter knows that. And knows that in order to get Lecter to fully reveal himself, Will must appear to cross that line and thus apparently put himself completely at Hannibal’s mercy.
So nice of Freddie Lounds to offer herself up in this way.
Not, of course, that we’re really supposed to think that she’s dead. Although Fuller and company stage the scene between Lounds and Graham to mirror Beverly’s final scene with Hannibal, there are enough clues that Will has not gone over to the dark side…yet. Whether he will may, to a great extent, come down to just how good a job he does of snowing his shrink. As long as Hannibal thinks that Graham is at least mostly under his control, the more actual control (and emotional safety) Will has. Things might change very quickly if Lecter felt the need to pull out all his manipulative stops.
But for now, the scene where our three main characters are ostensibly examining the displayed remains of Randall Tier seems to suggest that, if anything, Hannibal believes that Will is even further down the primrose path laid before him than the cannibal had hoped. When Lecter first gives his observations, he seems as though he is trying to lead Jack from the truth. ”This is a humiliation—the final indignity.“ When Will instead contradicts the man who helped him create this spectacle by revealing a bit of what Hannibal believes the display really means (based on his earlier conversation where he encouraged Graham to do justice to Tier by treating his remains this way—that it is repaying Tier with a type of respect) Lecter looks surprised and immediately changes his tone, joining Will in one of his own favorite games: telling just enough truth to both mislead and indulge his own sense of mischief.
Of course, I am not buying that Jack is buying it. We have good reason to believe he’s in on the whole thing with Will at this point.
The one person who seems oblivious to most of what is going on around her is, clearly, Alana. Her ease with Hannibal is virtually inexplicable considering everything that’s happened, and Fuller’s restaging of the pottery wheel scene from Ghost, with the theramin standing in for the wheel, is obviously meant to make our skin crawl. But it is nothing compared to the reaction evoked by the hazy, dream-like three-way between Hannibal, Will, and Alana.
Theoretically, it’s interesting. The practice of men sublimating same-sex desire by both focusing it on the same woman—using her as a weird way of each keeping one foot on the floor—is hardly new. The spin here, where that desire seems so alien to one man (does Hannibal actually have a sex drive?) and so confused in the other (is Will attracted to both Alana and Hannibal, or is the former real and the latter a smokescreen?), is perfect in a series based this much in twisted psyches and labyrinthian machinations.
However, the dream-like, gauzy cinematography and the actual length of the scene (about three times longer than is necessary to make its point, which particularly stands out on a show that generally runs incredibly lean) undercuts and confuses what we are seeing and feeling, and the fact that Mikkelsen and Dancy are projecting far more desire than Dhavernas, while the overtly mismatched character of Margot seems to be the one enjoying the virtual orgy most leaves the scene feeling poorly thought out and constructed.
On the other hand, the scene between Margot’s brother Mason and Lecter is spot on, a difficult task considering the over-the-top nature of Mason’s canonical storyline and the more subdued version of Lecter that we have here. Unlike most of the other psychopaths that Hannibal has shared with us, Mason does not need to fear detection: money covers all manner of sins, and Mason enjoys sinning even more, it appears, than Lecter. And murderous eccentricity is easy to portray. But Vlaming’s dialogue, coupled with the way Mikkelsen and Michael Pitt play off each other, instead invest the scene with the same subtlety that runs through most of the series.
With only three more episodes left this series, the triangle between Alana, Will, and Hannibal may turn out to be nowhere as interesting as this one between Mason, Margot, and Hannibal. Who murders whom and how will make for a good time. And not just for the audience.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Shiizakana, here.
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