Hannibal season 2 episode 4 review: Takiawase

Don't be put off by Hannibal's gore, says Laura, the real horror in this show has nothing to do with blood...

This review contains spoilers.

2.4 Takiawase

Of all the shows on TV, Hannibal would be among the very last I would have imagined taking up the “dying with dignity” moral Gordian knot. But not only did Fuller raise the question, he turned it into one of the more horrific episodes thus far on the show.

Kudos to him for the excellent casting of Amanda Plummer as this week’s psychopath, Katherine Pimm. While the episode focused only tangentially on the case in front of the team, we still got a deeply disturbing portrayal of the kind of Angel of Death psychotic who regularly makes appearances on shows like Criminal Minds and CSI (fill-in-the-city). These killers often murder those who they believe wish for death but cannot attain it without assistance. On those shows, however, the “angel” almost always flies under the radar, generally as a nurse or orderly and rarely seen as suspect by the audience until the “reveal” in the last few minutes. As such, casting directors usually fill such roles with mousy, non-descript unknowns.

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Casting Amanda Plummer, on the other hand, twists this often-used storyline in the best of ways. After all, when most of us picture Plummer, it’s standing on a counter in a diner, hysterically screaming at Samuel L. Jackson, shaking, and yes, pissing herself. In other words, she brings more than a little of the unhinged with her. That Fuller and first-time Hannibal director David Semel chose her very purposefully is evident in the slow reveal they do of her: her character’s face is obscured as she performs pain-relieving acupuncture on a patient, up until the moment where he tells her he cannot feel anything. Suddenly Amanda Plummer, with her almost trademark nervous and unstable expression, looms into view just before picking up the icepick and performing a lobotomy on her patient. Her follow-up, where she explains that she was helping her victims on their ways, that “people don’t get their own way because they often don’t know themselves where that way leads,” is equally unnerving and sets us up beautifully for the next scene where we see Bella Crawford trying to exert a little self-determination.

It is a powerful scene. Gina Torres is not an actress who often gets such scenes, which considering what we get to see her do on Hannibal is a real miss. She’s come a long way from Cleopatra 2525. And watching her and Mikkelsen play off each other is fascinating. Her entrance, needing his help (ostensibly due to weakness brought on by her chemotherapy) is in stark opposition to the strength we feel in the decision that she has made. Hannibal, the ultimate student of human behaviour, immediately sees the purpose of her visit and does nothing to stop it, despite pointing out that in her attempt to take control of her life by ending it, she has actually taken that control, or at least the illusion of it, from her husband. When she agrees—“I denied him a painful goodbye, and allowed myself a peaceful one”—we are struck by the look of what appears to be genuine compassion on Hannibal’s face.

Combined, of course, with his usual intellectual curiosity—he studies her as she slowly slips away.

At first, I was a little surprised that, at no point, does he reveal anything of his true nature, as we are used to seeing before someone dies in his presence. But it makes a certain amount of sense that he would allow her the peace of believing him to be exactly what he appears. After all, Bella is precisely his sort of people: controlled, graceful, unfailing polite, with sophisticated taste and an extremely keen mind. Still, in the end, he cannot deny that curiosity nor his own sense of irony. He answers her conscious choice with chance, flipping a coin to determine whether he lets her die or intervenes against her wishes. The compassion we saw seconds before is replaced with the more clinical version of the doctor as he unhurriedly retrieves the medicines that will keep her alive. The moment where he holds her head up and watches her realize what he has done is a gut-wrenching inversion of other such scenes. Usually, we see him forcing his victim to acknowledge the spectre of death that he is to them. Here, he gives life, and it is far more horrific than any murder he’s ever committed.

Will, on the other hand, is fighting to save his own life, and does so by apparently giving up his right to self-determination, or at least as much of it as is allowed by a cell. When he and Chilton face off, it’s telling that even the somewhat mutton-headed Chilton is able to see the manipulation Will is using on him—trading total access for the vain jailer for reduced access for Lecter. At first, we imagine it’s just to keep Hannibal away from him long enough to let him gather evidence to bring his nemesis down. And that he lets Chilton see what he is doing so that the doctor feels confident enough to take advantage of the offer Will is making—the agent basically encourages Chilton to believe that he’s smart enough to see through any manipulation that Will might attempt with him.

But neither Chilton, nor the audience, is prepared for the more important part of Will’s plan. Under Chilton’s care, Will is given Pentathol, or “truth serum,” a psychoactive drug which takes the profiler back to a couple of key moments during his blackouts. Under the spell of the medication, Will confirms not only Hannibal’s involvement in his episode with Dr. Abel Gideon, but that his “friend” actually manufactured Graham’s psychotic breaks, probably with the use of drugs, hypnosis, and strobe lights. This parallels not only Chilton’s pushing of Gideon (leading to a great scene in which Chilton calls Hannibal out, making it clear that they have the goods on each other) but also Pimm’s removal of free will from her own patients.

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I may never trust another medical professional.

And while Graham is doing everything he can to save his own life (since he is facing the death penalty), it appears Beverly is doing everything she can end hers. Hettienne Park has done a good job thus far this season of treading the fine line between wanting to believing Will and allowing herself to do so, and I hope Beverly’s missteps in ignoring Will’s warnings about Hannibal are not as deadly as the episode’s final moments suggest they are. I cannot wait to find out.

And for those who are not watching Hannibal because of the gore, Takiawase proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are worried about the wrong thing. Because as I and other reviewers have repeatedly pointed out, “gore” on Hannibal is more an aesthetic highlight than an actual horror. The real horror in this episode was entirely bloodless. Plummer with the ice pick, the skin-crawl-inducing audio, and the appearance of Hannibal behind Beverly seconds before he turns off the lights: these are the real reasons I may not sleep for the next week.

But I will definitely tune in on Friday. 

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

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