This review contains spoilers.
Michael Rymer has become the go-to director for Hannibal, with Tome-wan serving as his seventh time at the helm – that’s two more credits than the man who defined the look and feel of the show, David Slade (counting the upcoming finale). The last time Rymer’s hand was this firmly on the tiller of a series was Battlestar Galactica, starting with the mini-series and then establishing the tone for everything to come with the brilliant opening episode 33.
The penultimate episode of this season has certain responsibilities and Rymer, with a script by Chris Brancato, Scott Nimerfro, and showrunner/mastermind Bryan Fuller, manages to do everything that is necessary to set up a season finale that promises to explosively establish a dramatic new starting point for the recently announced third season. This week the Vergers’ (Michael Pitt and Katharine Isabel) storyline comes to a grisly conclusion, we discover what really happened between Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) and Bedelia (Gillian Anderson), Jack (Laurence Fishburne) gives an ultimatum, and Will (Hugh Dancy) plays his final cards.
And it all leads up to this coming week’s violent brawl between Jack and Hannibal.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing for this series, I would imagine, is not just coming up with beautifully macabre murder scenarios, but is finding ways to incorporate elements of Lecter’s established history (through the novels and films) that allows the creators to tell stories true to Thomas Harris’ work while operating under the persistent fear of cancellation. In the first season we had our Silence Of The Lambs analogue with Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky) playing the Clarice role and Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) playing Hannibal (interesting trivia note: Gideon was Hannibal’s name in the early drafts of Silence Of The Lambs film scripts, before MGM had the rights to the character!).
This time around we get scenes culled directly from Hannibal (both novel and film) as Mason and Hannibal butt heads. From the way Hannibal kills one of his attackers, to the blood debt he is owed thereafter, to the dangling over the hungry pigs; these are all scenes that, if the series achieves Fuller’s goal of adapting all of the Harris novels, are going to have to be reimagined if we ever get to that point. But, given that having to reimagine Will’s discovery of Hannibal’s true nature has translated into one of the most spectacularly disturbing television seasons ever broadcast, I’m not really worried about what Fuller and company might have up their sleeves in the years to come.
But that’s the future. What about this episode?
I think it’s fairly safe to say that Will’s moral compass is completely skewed at this point. With the loss of his unborn child, he sees the opportunity to pit Hannibal against Mason as win/win regardless of who kills the other. By setting Mason against Hannibal he gets to see the man who has ruined his life and scrambled his mind strung up and punished in a way the FBI would never approve. And by setting Hannibal against Mason he gets to see a natural predator enact the vigilante justice that he can’t achieve himself.
But as Bedelia infers, whatever you think about Hannibal and the precariousness of his situations, that’s exactly what Hannibal wants you to think.
Ultimately, Hannibal achieves his goals in a way that is satisfying and still avoids the possibility of capture. Because he doesn’t murder Mason, Will cannot provide testimony to that effect. And because Mason will not admit what happened, Hannibal remains free and virtually untouchable. Will’s nudging proves to be not quite up to snuff for the good doctor, who slips his head from the snare.
If you were familiar with the Ridley Scott film adaptation of Hannibal, you already knew what Mason’s ultimate fate would be. The fun here, however, was in the journey. Michael Pitt’s extravagant Ledger/Joker-like performance suddenly and naturally morphs into the post-mutilation Gary Oldman intonations and damaged inflections of a man who has sliced off the majority of his own face.
It’s a grisly and affecting scene, as a drugged-up Mason feeds his face to Will’s dogs before, at Hannibal’s suggestion, cutting off his own nose and having it as a snack. The normal beauty and grace of the Hannibal murder tableaux is missing here, replaced instead by a psychological and physical brutality that sets Mason apart from other victims in the series. He’s not just rude, he’s vile. Killing him would have been too easy. Leaving him paralyzed and disfigured, in his (woefully underused) sister’s tender care, is righteous punishment; it’s Hannibal embracing the power of god in a way that is tempered by Will’s own sense of righteous justice.
He wasn’t lying when he said he was exploring Will’s perspective as much as Will was exploring his. This is a Hannibal who inflicts vengeance rather than just punishing the brutish. It’s a Hannibal who still feels that he and Will are best when together, two lonely souls finding a disturbed connection, but he clearly knows that Will has ulterior motives.
When Will suggests, in a manner that seems a trifle more desperate than he wants it to appear, that Hannibal should reveal himself to Jack, it becomes plain that Will could never really stand up to Hannibal’s scrutiny. I don’t believe for a moment that Hannibal is taken in by this move. If anything, Will’s last-ditch effort to hook Hannibal is going to lead to something horrible happening.
Something that will trigger Jack coming to Hannibal’s home and initiating a brutal, bloody brawl. A brawl that will, no doubt, leave us all clamouring for more next season.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Ko No Mono, here.
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