Hannibal season 2 episode 3 review: Hassun

The seams of Hannibal Lecter's "person suit" are unravelling in this week's episode. Here's Laura's review of Hassun...

This review contains spoilers.

2.3 Hassun

A bit of an emergency kept me from reviewing last week’s episode (Sakizuke), which established that not only is Will Graham quite clear now on who his adversary is but that he has geared up to fight him. We see him put on an act in front of Hannibal which seems to convince the not-so-good doctor that Will has accepted the argument that he likely committed the murders but that the pressure put on him by the FBI and his own bout with NMDA-Receptor Antibody Encephalitis are the root causes, and thus he is essentially innocent and looking to Lecter to help him. Dancy is finally delivering the kind of performance necessary to keep up with Mikkelsen, and the skill with which he moves from the grovelling and doubtful version of himself to the clear-eyed and obviously calculating “true” version after he is taken back to his cell makes it clear that this previous deficiency was more a matter of the narrative than Dancy’s abilities. Fuller has given him something new and interesting to do, and it’s a wicked pleasure to watch him begin to work against Lecter.

But the best moments belonged to Gillian Anderson’s Bedelia du Maurier, which is unfortunate considering this also appears to be her swan song in relation to the show (she’s on two other series, so I think we’re safe in assuming she won’t be reappearing anytime soon). In a story that has made a great deal of hay out of who knows what, du Maurier has been the biggest question mark: how much insight does she truly have into the monster who visits her regularly for psychological guidance? This week’s episode had her referring again to Hannibal’s “very well-tailored ‘person-suit’”, and however meticulous Lecter has been in maintaining it, the seams are unravelling.

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Meticulous seems the perfect way to describe her departure. There is a precision to her last moments as she goes about breaking contact with the world only after setting things in motion which may help to destroy Lecter’s suit altogether. She promises Hannibal that she will keep his secrets, but following his own penchant for playing with the limits of truth, she affirms the doubt that is growing in Crawford’s mind about Will’s guilt and then conversely confirms to Graham that his new clarity is justified. She believes him because she has been forced to look into the mind of the evil behind it all until she can no longer stand it. And as she checks items off her list, we get the sense that she knows that she’s a dead woman walking, that all of this is prologue to her eventual murder at the hands of the patient who first set her up and then saved her. So when, at the end, we find that she has set both him and us up instead, Hannibal is not the only one left smiling in appreciation.

This week, for those who have been concerned that Hannibal could become just another procedural, Hassun might have caused some brief alarm as most of the time is split between the lab and the courtroom. But in the end, while both settings are important to driving the larger story forward, this week’s episode was largely a courtroom drama, a genre where the stakes involved can push people to important moments of realization and where even a single word can turn everything upside-down and inside-out—something which works quite well for a show like Hannibal.

Fishburne’s Crawford, for instance, gives us just such a moment while testifying by contradicting the prosecutor’s theory that Will got off on working with the FBI, helping to find killers less clever than himself. “He hated it. He didn’t fake that. But I kept making him do it.” Why? “Because he was saving lives. I had been warned by more than one person that if I pushed Will, I’d break him. I put those checks and balances in place, and then I ignored them.” In fewer than fifty words, Crawford signals to Inspector Purnell that he will not go along with her arse-covering plan to pin all responsibility on Graham. More importantly, it’s the first time that he acknowledges, in Will’s presence, his own sense of guilt and responsibility for what’s happened. His mea culpa is answered almost imperceptibly as Graham breaks his dead-eyed stare for just a moment—is that hope we see flickering there? As Purnell exits the courtroom, Crawford slumps in the witness stand, resigning himself to the fallout of his decision to tell the truth (as he understands it) which in turn brings a smile to Hannibal’s face, which, while harder to read than most responses to the testimony, almost appears to be a spot of pleasure at Crawford’s decision to do the right thing. It’s a lot to communicate in a scant few seconds, and all before the opening credits.

And it leaves us again wondering what drives Lecter. It might be easy to chalk his new series of machinations up to a love of chaos. But really, that’s out of character: Hannibal virtually worships order in a variety of forms—music, cuisine, wardrobe, interior decorating—so it seems hard to believe that he would be going to all this trouble just to watch people dance for the hell of it. In fact, considering his love for the superlative cultural products of humanity, it’s tempting to see this as his quest to find out if humans can achieve, on a personal level, the heights of something as pure and moving as Mozart’s Don Giovanni (which plays over a lush and symbolic scene in which Hannibal and Graham dress for the trial) or if such artifacts are essentially freaks of nature.

If so, what we have is a reversal of Hannibal and Graham in more than the way suggested by the inversion of the Silence of the Lambs geography with Will inside the cell and Lecter outside. Certainly, the Will who wanted to solve murders in order to save people, the altruist, is not much in evidence right now (even as he feeds Beverly just enough information to keep her coming back—and willing to look with a more neutral eye on the evidence of his own guilt). Graham now seems determined to bring Lecter down not out of a desire to stop a monster but to personally avenge himself for what that monstrous presence has done to him. Conversely, much of this episode points to Hannibal sincerely wanting to help Will—not only in his spectacular murder of the judge who makes a ruling against the accused—but in all but wearing his heart on his sleeve with Graham. At several points, he talks about the ear and the man who sent it: “Such a gift has great significance… Perhaps he now wants to be seen.” Why would the true murderer want to be seen at this moment? “He cares what happens to you,” Hannibal admits (while thinking he’s let nothing slip).

One possible answer as to Hannibal’s motives is posed by the testimony of Dr. Chilton, in what is arguably the best performance of the episode. Esparza’s Chilton began as a bit of a buzzing insect, but over the series has become such an amalgam of resentment, spite, and damning mediocrity that it’s becoming impossible to hear him speak without one’s skin crawling. In his testimony, he describes a version of Graham to the court, but really vacillates between describing his own shortcomings and what could very well be the clearest statement of why Hannibal has involved himself in this game to begin with:

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“He has carefully constructed a persona to hide his true nature from the rest of the world… Will Graham is driven by vanity and his own whims. He has a very high opinion of his intelligence. Ergo, he caught the other killers simply to prove he was smarter than all of them too. Saving lives is just as arousing as ending them. He likes to play God.”

And yet, it seems that God has a blind spot. Earlier in the trial, when the prosecutor states that Graham is the smartest person in the room, a confident smile crosses Hannibal’s lips. But there’s irony there too. After all, we already know how this all ends, and who ultimately proves to have the greater intellect.

But regardless of who wins the war, it’s always the individual skirmishes and battles that capture our attention. And it looks like Lecter and Graham are just warming up. Pass the popcorn.

Read Laura’s review of episode one, Kaiseki, here.

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